The Viral Effects of Plagiarism: in the Nigerian Higher Education Sector

Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional. Under the regulations for examinations, intentional or reckless plagiarism is a disciplinary offence.

University of Oxford

The scene had been set, history had just been made and for the first time in the history of democratic rule in Nigeria the leadership of the country was changing hands from an incumbent president from a ruling party to a successor from an opposition party. An inaugural speech befitting of a president was to be delivered and it was delivered successfully and applauded internationally. Suddenly, it all started filtering out that the new president’s “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody” quote might have been lifted from a French source, Late Charles De Gaulle. As events unfolded, the suspicion of the quote’s source got louder and then the unthinking happened, part of the president’s speech was actually borrowed – sorry, I meant plagiarised – from the speech of the former American president, Barack Obama, and suddenly the international applause became an international embarrassment! Alas, the virus had already caught up with the newly inaugurated president of Ghana, although his team had put in a bit of more effort and chose to do a bit of more research and appropriate – sorry, plagiarise – from the speeches of two former American presidents!

Ever since the virus of plagiarism started spreading it has infected almost all the important intellectual institutions in Nigeria. Neither the mainstream media has been spared from it nor the country’s higher education institutions, popularly known as the ‘Ivory towers’. Unfortunately, these two sectors – media and higher education institutions – are the cornerstones of the country’s cultural and intellectual capital. Although, the international media as reported in Emmanuel Odunmorayo’s ‘It’s about time we recognize that plagiarism is a global problem, not peculiar to Nigeria alone’ and iThenticate’s ‘Top Plagiarism Scandals of 2014’ is not immune from the virus of plagiarism. However, there is one sector of the Nigerian society that the virus has heavily infected and turn it into a national disaster and that is the country’s higher education sector.

Plagiarism is a silent killer within the Nigerian higher education sector that is viral in nature and effects. In the past there have been instances of lecturers in the country’s higher education sector that were prosecuted for plagiarising other people’s work. Unfortunately, plagiarism doesn’t seem to be a problem that will go away very soon. According to an investigative journalism report by Sahara Reporters’ ‘Intellectual Trafficking: How Librarians of Top Nigerian Varsities Exchange Student Theses for Money’ four librarians in four universities in the country accepted the offer of bribes – as low as #3,000 ($8) – to pass on submitted undergraduate theses in their respective institutions to the journalist for duplication as a new research work by the journalist. It was unknown to these librarians that the journalist who claimed to be an undergraduate while seeking for theses to plagiarise was actually an investigative journalist. However, the problem of plagiarism is not new to the Nigerian higher education sector as duly reported in The Nation’s ‘Two UNICAL teachers face sack for plagiarism’ and Punch’s ‘DELSU sacks errant lecturers’  nor is it unique to it. I know for certain that I have attended post graduate lectures in the UK on plagiarism and academic referencing in which the facilitators have mentioned the tremendous efforts the university puts in to make sure that it stops students from plagiarising other people’s work.

While I was engaging in one of such lectures during my MA studies at the University of Huddersfield, it was made clear to us (students) that the university has very high standards and expectations as regards plagiarism. For instance, the inability to reference one’s previous work appropriately is regarded as plagiarism, likewise practices like ghosting and personation. These elements of plagiarism can be found in the university’s Academic Integrity Handbook 2017’. However, it is not easy to lay hands on a similar document for many of the higher institutions in Nigeria. And without an easy access to a law or guidance that deals with issues of academic integrity, it becomes almost impossible to effectively eliminate the virus of plagiarism from the Nigerian higher education system.

But in Nigeria’s higher education sector there seems to be an issue on the definition of what plagiarism is. According to Orim (pp.208-209, 2014) (PDF):

From the results, there were diversities in the understanding of what plagiarism was. It was observed that both the lecturers and students mostly had an incomplete understanding of the concept…
…majority of the students stated that they were not aware of the academic writing requirements while in the Nigerian universities. Although, their lecturers and management staff suggested that they should have learnt about plagiarism and the requirements of academic writing from the ‘Technical writing’ course they offer in the first year of study. Findings from the interview with the students suggest that this skill transfer failed to take place.
Regarding its occurrence, a few of the management staff and a number of lecturers maintained that the perceived occurrence of student plagiarism was rare while most of the students observed that it was common with 64% self-declaring that they might have plagiarised. Some expressed in the focus group that discussion that they did not know the concept previously by that name.
The finding from the students further suggested that student plagiarism was not much of a concern to their lecturers who expected them to repeat exactly what they are taught using their lecture notes…
The data suggest that the lecturers did not think it was much of a problem as they stated that ‘it is not a problem’ and ‘it becomes a problem at the point of writing a project or dissertation’. The students appeared to have a similar belief based on their perceived understanding from their lecturers.

While in the past it might have been harder to detect plagiarism, it is far easier to do it now with the help of anti-plagiarism software like Turnitin. Although, there could be the claim of the cost of acquiring such software, however, the NUC in 2013 had acquired it on behalf of all the higher institutions of learning in the country as reported in Turnitin’s blog posts ‘Turnititin Licensed Across All Nigerian Universities’  and ‘Nigeria takes the lead in tackling plagiarism’; what remains is the political will to maximise the use of the software on a national level. Furthermore, there is need to have a national repository of theses published in the nation’s higher institutions of learning – you can check out the Ethos project by The British Library – for easy access to previously conducted research work, referencing and sourcing of published academic theses in the country. Although, Ahmadu Bello University’s ‘OpenAir @ABU’and Covenant University’s ‘Institutional Repository’ are examples of online repositories of theses published in Nigerian universities.

In light of the pathetic situation in the country’s academic writing standards, I am offering my own 2 cents, like the Americans would say, and these are:

  1. The establishment of a national research ethics committee
  2. The publishing and regular updating of a national research ethics handbook
  3. Mandatory utilisation of anti-plagiarism software by all higher institutions in the country
  4. Free access to up to date academic research materials – books, journals, published theses etc. by undergraduate and postgraduate students in Nigerian higher institutions of learning
  5. Provision of high quality academic writing programs/courses by higher institutions in the country. You can check out these video collections by Lynn Nygaard
  6. Training of research/project supervisors on recent development and happenings in the world of academic research
  7. Training of librarians on their roles in the academic writing/ research process
  8. A nationally centralised online theses repository portal
  9. Registration of, with unique ID number, every postgraduate research thesis published in a Nigerian higher institution of learning
  10. Academic sanctions for any individual found to have deliberately plagiarised an existing thesis i.e. withdrawal of degree certificate
  11. Mandatory – should be a statutory requirement – setting up of research ethics committee at faculty and whole institution level in all higher institutions of learning in the country
  12. Banning of any individual found to have plagiarised for a minimum of 5 years from joining any professional body or contesting or occupying a public office in the country
  13. Introduction of financial penalties to individuals found to have plagiarised other people’s work.

Finally, for a more detailed research work and report on plagiarism in higher education in Nigeria, you can check out and download Orim’s (2014) PhD thesis on ‘An investigation of plagiarism by Nigerian students in higher education’ (PDF).

Please, leave your thoughts on this post in the comment section and feel free to share the article with your contacts. 

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  1. says: Hauwa

    I agree completely. And as a student myself in Walden university, USA. I know that detecting plagiarism is very easy all is needed is the will power. Besides original work is still very possible and not so difficult at all. I have had a lot of academic work written by me and submitted to turnitin with zero percentage of similarity in the body. Some times only the references are similar.
    If we hold ourselves to higher standards we all can continue to bring in new knowledge to academics.

    1. says: Abdulghaniy Kayode Otukogbe

      I agree totally with you that all is needed is the willpower and having a high standard of expectations in the sector. Hopefully, we will get to a point where plagiarism, just like book piracy in the book publishing industry will be taken serious by the gov’t.
      If I may ask, what are some of the ways that your university have been able to make it easy for you to write academically and eliminate plagiarism?
      Thanks for reading my blog and the comment. Cheers!

  2. says: Halima

    Very apt! Your recommendations are spot on. I’m currently doing a module on research methods and methodology and one of the units required that we compare and contrast research ethics guidelines in our country with the ethics guidelines of the British Education Research Association (BERA). I spent days scouring the internet at first hoping to find a national one. When I couldn’t find any, I reduced my expectations to finding one for any university in Nigeria, and I still couldn’t find one. In the end, I had to settle for comparing and contrasting the University of Roehampton ethics guidelines with BERA which I found quite boring. I was really looking forward to doing some in-depth analysis which would have a meaningful impact on my dear country but was really shocked to find out that millions of students and researchers have been carrying out research without any ethical guidelines (at least to my knowledge) which means that anything goes! Sad!

    1. says: Abdulghaniy Kayode Otukogbe

      What a shame that you couldn’t get any equivalent of BERA’s research ethics guideline from a Nigerian university or institution to make comparison with. Even BERA just published an updated version of their research ethics guideline to reflect some of the changes that are taking place in the research world, particularly in the area of digital research.
      Thanks for reading my blog and the comment.

  3. says: Aloaye Wilson

    Plagiarism is more else entrenched or already acculturised in 99.9% of Nigerian institutions. I do NOT have any iota of doubt that IF all post graduate these ate subjected to plagiarism check more than 70% will cross the threshold. IF NUC were serious , a process of restoring sanity in our institutions by asking all academics that had their studies here submit hard and soft copies of their dissertations for scrutiny.
    This malaise is gradually transfered into students by those who are supposed to teach needful.
    Honestky, the NUC is not serious about its enforcement IF those in charge are likely to be victims themselves. It is no longer news that students visit other libraries to LIFT topics by changing names, dates and institutions !nd present such works as theirs for grading.
    The most single learning point where all your learnings have convergence is in the thesis or dissertation writings as everyyhings is embedded in the process that shapes the students skills, thoughts sequence, writing skills !Ming many others. This singular opportunity is what these “lazy” students willingly jettison. This is the maim reason why most can’t even write or even read discerningly. It’s the height of corruption . If have to laugh next time you are conducting employment interviews, ask the candidates to come with their thesis !nd run a session on same document they purportedly claim to have been written by them; you’ll be shocked down to your bones. The process should start from VC, a clean VC will enforce it down the line.

    1. says: Abdulghaniy Kayode Otukogbe

      Great insight on the issue but going retrospective in addressing the problem might lead to unnecessary political and administrative lethargy, hence, I would prefer a situation in which things are taken forward from wherever and whatever situation the state of things are as regards plagiarism in the sector.
      Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

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