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The Epidemic Of Intellectual Theftery In Nigeria: Who Do We Blame?

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I was reading an article published by Premium Times on the “Allegation of Intellectual property theft blights Nigeria’s ‘Change Begins with me’ campaign where investigation suggests intellectual dishonesty on the origin of the campaign. Although this may be a mere allegation, it is still bad for a campaign that aims, among other things, to motivate Nigerians to renounce dishonesty and widespread impunity to kick-off this way. Like many scholars, I wasn’t surprised, because intellectual dishonesty engulfed our system a long time ago. The practice of borrowing without acknowledgement or deliberately stealing of the ideas of individuals is now a national pandemic. Whether the intellectual property theft labelled against Lai Mohammed on the ‘Change Begins with me’ campaign’ is a mere allegation or not, the evidence brought forward is already having a knockdown effect on the credibility of the campaign, especially among educated Nigerians.

Notwithstanding, what Lai Mohammed is being accused of is nothing new, in Nigeria, it has become common for people to develop project ideas, submit a proposal to government officials, only for the idea to be hijacked. I have personally encountered Abuja boys who have had their project ideas hijacked by government officials or people closer to the government, who should ideally only serve to facilitate a proposal based on its merit. But the question that continues to linger in my mind is – what is the cause of this widespread intellectual theftery in Nigeria – who do we blame? As an academic, I hate to think that our higher institutions may have contributed significantly to this problem. One dogma for educational institutions is the preservation of knowledge transfer that inspires independent thinking and development of original ideas. But when intellectual dishonesty is also rampant in such institutions, its seeds the spread of corruption in all sectors of governance. We have heard many stories in academic institutions where people submit grant proposals to awarding bodies, only for the ideas to be stolen or modified to a bigger project by people with competing interest in the grant review committee or for the committee to deliberately refuse to endorse or delay the funding for a project despite its merit. An idea, even when not written, is an intellectual property, that must be properly acknowledged – this is a fundamental principle of scholarship!

I have encountered situations where a proposal belonging to a different scholar was directly plagiarised and submitted elsewhere for consideration into a postgraduate programme elsewhere. The main reason for most of these seems to be a chronic ignorance and disregard to the rules of scholarship in our system. Many students and their teachers plagiarise materials without acknowledging its source. During my undergraduate days in Nigeria; you hardly get questioned to defend the origin/inspiration of your written work. Many times, you see lecturers reading or presenting from a prepared note/PowerPoint presentation, without acknowledging the source of the material, which might help the students should they wish to consult the source for gaining a broader understanding of the subject. In the more competent systems, like the UK, intellectual theftery is considered a major offence that attracts severe punishment. While I was a Masters student there, all pieces of material we submitted, even a half page journal club review, is intensely scrutinised by our academic mentors to ensure not a single statement was plagiarised. This is why many Nigerians I have met in the UK complain about the excessive hardship they go through in the first few months of their studies in the UK. The “Turn it in” software which detects plagiarism from a piece of submitted work is very popular there. It drastically helps in curbing intellectual theftery and this way, scares students into thinking deeply to produce original material, free of stolen content. Although the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC) signed a deal with “Turn it in” in 2013 to enable our universities to practise global standard for plagiarism detection, it is evident this hasn’t been incorporated broadly in our higher institutions.

In a research we published in 2014, we found that 90% of our study participant who were students of Gombe State University have plagiarized at one time in the past, 68% have included textbooks and other sources in the bibliography of assignments, out of which 50% had written books that they didn’t even consult. The proportion of students who were aware of plagiarism (17%) was far lesser than those who were unaware (83%). We also found that 90% of the participants plagiarise from the Internet and believe that plagiarists deserve no punishment (See Maina et al. 2014). Although this is a case from a single Nigerian institution, and even though I lack research evidence to back my argument, but as someone who was nurtured in the system, I strongly argue that plagiarism is widespread in Nigerian universities. However, when we look at it critically, we can’t blame the students entirely for lack of awareness about something they should have been taught to avoid. Although plagiarism detection can be tough without technological intervention, many university lecturers also indulge in widespread intellectual “copy and paste” in the classroom and their published articles.

In the case of typical day to day debates or discussions, people can be forgiven for claiming to be the originators of some ideas.  Our brain unconsciously allows us to copy some ideas/experience we came across in our lives, thinking that they belong to us – a condition called cryptomnesia. But in most cases, in Nigeria, you see active, rather than passive intellectual theftery. Funnily enough, the social media has become a super-hub for such practices. Nowadays, people go to the extent of copying common Facebook post to their walls as if it was their’s originally. It is clear that this attitude has become ubiquitously embraced by many – educated and uneducated, and its is inhibiting the synthesis of original thoughts among Nigerians.

Unchecked plagiarism leads to big scale intellectual theftery, which spreads dishonesty. Our higher institutions produce most people that go on to lead the country, thus the training of graduates that have a nonsensical attitude towards intellectual theftery only create a domino effect in the system, where these people perpetuate this corruption in other sectors of governance. This is why I blame our institutions and why they need to embark on a serious campaign to cleanse the educational institutions from such unethical and immoral practice.

Mahmoud Bukar Maina is a Ph.D. Research Fellow in the Serpell Laboratory, Sussex Neuroscience, UK. Twitter handle @mahmoudbukar

 

Reference

  1. B. Maina, M. B. Maina, and S. S. Jauro, 2014. Plagiarism: A Perspective from a case of a Northern Nigerian Universty. International Journal of Information Research and Review, V. 1 (12): 225-230.
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