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Plagiarism: A criminal act of dishonesty

By Anne-Funmi Fatusin
14 June 2021   |   12:45 am
Plagiarism has always been a dishonest practice replicated in various ways, particularly within the educational sector. Students who seem very complacent with their studies

Plagiarism has always been a dishonest practice replicated in various ways, particularly within the educational sector. Students who seem very complacent with their studies, tend to copy one another’s work. The level of complacency can be so bad that some students copy word for word and thus very easy for them to be caught.

According to the famous American Merriam-Webster Dictionary, plagiarism means ‘to steal and pass off ideas as one’s own, to use another person’s production without crediting the source, to commit literary theft, to present as new and original – an idea or product derived from an existing source’. In simple terms, it is the practice of copying another person’s work or ideas and deliberately or intentionally making others to believe that you are the originator. In essence, it is misrepresentation and fraudulent.

Students are given assignments or tests to assess their level of knowledge in what they have been taught. In some instances, students are requested to make presentations, or defend their thesis which is a formal approach, where they are asked questions by lecturers (Bachelor’s or Master’s degree students) or Thesis Committee (PhD students). The open ended questions enable students to critically think about their work and provide reasoned, logical responses as well as clarifications of issues raised.

To inculcate strong work ethics as part of the school curriculum, some primary and secondary schools create awareness of plagiarism as a fraudulent and criminal activity which has serious consequences. To deter students from plagiarism, some universities use Turnitin software which is web-based prevention/detection system against plagiarism. Educational establishments realise that plagiarism is very rampant and on their virtual learning portals, have plagiarism guidelines and stiff penalties against violators. Hence, students are encouraged to produce their original work and uphold the integrity of the academic registry. In addition, it empowers students to develop ‘original thinking skills with high quality, actionable feedback that fits easily into the lecturers’/teachers’ existing workflows’.

As the backdrop of this, students would have in-depth understanding of Intellectual Property (IP), which is an intangible creation of human intellect, such as writing an artistic work or symbol or invention or simply writing a story. As there are several types of intellectual property, recognition of it varies from country to country. However, the popular types are patents, trade secrets, copyrights and trademarks. Therefore, if someone wants to replicate what has already been produced or written by the original owner, permission must be sought and approved, usually in writing. Infringement of an intellectual property can have serious consequences such as costly litigation.

As we all know, ignorance of the law is not an excuse but to prevent such action, both parties can come to an agreement to settle the dispute, out of court.

The fundamental objective of this write up is to expose how some Intellectual Property Violators – IPV (coined the phrase) or Plagiarists who are either within the educational sector or law makers, tend to deliberately commit such appalling, unscrupulous and criminal act in a country like Nigeria.

Two real life situations will be used as illustration and the intention is to distinguish how each one has been addressed so far.

The first case – as the Founder, Convener and Social Justice Influencer, I have a discussion platform called Renewing the African Mindset (RAM) which focuses on creating awareness on social issues which are rarely discussed in the open within African communities especially in the United Kingdom due to cultural/religious beliefs, tradition, family background, etc. Diverse topics are discussed one of which included Child Adoption. The person who shared his personal journey of adoption was a high profile Cleric. As usual, discussions are recorded and downloaded to You Tube. An opportunist You Tuber took the recording and brazenly rubber-stamped her name on it. Thus, used my intellectual property to mislead the public that the recording was hers. Both my voice and that of the Cleric were distinctly heard in the recording. It was the most unintelligent act particularly in the digital world where verification of any information is in seconds.

By the time the theft came to my attention, the IPV had accumulated over 50,000 hits on You Tube which had been monetised. I contacted the IPV to inform her that she was using my intellectual property. In addition, I requested her to credit the source of her recording and remove her misleading logo which she had placed over mine. She refused to oblige, and I contacted You Tube ( the online video sharing and social media platform owned by Google) with documentary evidence to confirm ownership of contents of the recording. The IPV was given a strike for the copyright violation. You Tube copyright policy states that once three copyright violations have been committed, the ‘violator’ would have his or her You Tube account, with other associated channels, subjected to termination. Some You Tubers have been known to lose hundreds of video recordings for copyright violation. Strangely, the IPV found a way to contact me to plead that I should write to You Tube and have the strike removed. There was no mention of any compensation for this flagrant violation. What an effrontery!

The second case – I will deliberately mention the Culprit’s (Plagiarist’s) name because to whom much is given, much is expected. Also, the fact that the offence was committed within an educational facility for which the individual was recognised for ‘his intellect’ and subsequently celebrated by the learning institution. I wrote an article entitled ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Alumni Associations’ published in the Nigeria Guardian Newspaper on 9 May 2019.

Different scenarios stated in the article resonated with several Alumni Associations that some posted the article on their various social media platforms – crediting me as the Author, including the prestigious University of Lagos on their Facebook page and Bloggers including Jimi Disu. I had the greatest shock when I received a WhatsApp post of my article but had the name of Engineer Akeem Olatunji attached to it. He gave a lecture at the Ansar Ur Deen High School, Liberty Road, Ibadan, Oyo State. Engineer Olatunji was celebrated for his ‘brilliance’ when he delivered the lecture titled – ‘The Essence of Alumni Associations’

on 2 January 2021. The funny but lackadaisical approach was that he plagiarised my article verbatim! He could not be bothered to remove my name from it other than change the title. On investigation, Engineer Olatunji’s Facebook page showed him being celebrated by Ansar Ur Deen High School that a dinner was organised in his honour after the plagiarised speech, followed by a photocall of all attendees including the academic staff. Several accolades were poured on Engineer Olatunji by unsuspecting friends, colleagues and associates.Numerous institutions and alumni associations had been misled to attribute the authorship to Engineer Akeem Olatunji.

Anne-Funmi Fatusin is a Freelance Writer, Motivational Speaker, Social Justice Influencer based in the United Kingdom. Convener of the Renewing the African Mindset (R.AM.) – a discussion platform for African social issues.

I contacted Engineer Olatunji on Twitter to check his profile which he stated as ‘Oyo PDP PRO’. I was flabbergasted that such an individual who claims to be the Public Relations Officer/ Publicity Secretary of one of the biggest political parties in Nigeria could commit such an unscrupulous and dishonourable conduct. I sent a tweet to him that I saw the article he had ‘written’ but that he should have been courteous by crediting the source. I tweeted him again and copied two handles – one for the Governor of Oyo State – His Excellency, Seyi Makinde and the other claiming to be ‘Oyo PDP PRO’ – PDP Public Relations Officer for Oyo State Government. Yet there was no response.

I was determined to proceed with my investigation, to ensure Engineer Olatunji is held accountable for his offence – the blatant stealing of an intellectual property with no regard to the Author but more importantly, committed within a learning environment. When I realised that Engineer Olatunji had been avoiding me, I decided to instruct a paid lawyer to write to him with proof (screenshots of photographs he took at Ansar Ur Deen High School during the lecture and dinner, my Tweets to him, his Facebook post on the article and comments from some of his followers and friends) of his ineptitude and fraudulent act regarding the plagiarised article. The letter was hand-delivered by a courier company. He was requested to ‘remove all copies of the plagiarised article in every form and/or title from all social media platforms, blogs, journals, newspapers, etc. referencing him as the Author’. In addition, Engineer Olatunji was to tender a public apology to me, which must be published in two national daily newspapers, one of which must be The Guardian – where my article was originally published. I discussed this issue with fellow Nigerians and was disappointed by their reactions. Some responded that I should let the matter rest as “plagiarism is no big deal”. Others said “that is Nigeria for you. Learn to cope with the way things are done”.
I beg to differ. If we want a better Nigeria, with competent people in the right positions and no more, ‘square pegs in round holes’, we ought to start changing the mindset and narrative that it is no longer ‘business as usual’.

To date, Engineer Olatunji has failed to respond to my Lawyer. I have now decided that Engineer Olatunji’s plagiarism will be used as a case study in several Nigerian learning institutions to create awareness about Intellectual Property and that engaging in plagiarism is a fraudulent and criminal activity which is unacceptable and must not be tolerated. I shall therefore be pressing charges against him in court to serve as deterrent to other violators, in due course. Within a work environment, one of the key attributes sought by an employer is INTEGRITY. An individual who lacks integrity should not be in a position to represent any organisation, let alone a political party.

I realise that plagiarism is on the increase in Nigerian universities and no wonder there is a total lack of human capital development as several graduates find it intellectually challenging to operate successfully within a professional environment. If people who are supposed to be role models in the society or in leadership positions fail to demonstrate good examples, how can the youths possess credible qualities expected in a competitive global environment?

In the words of Oscar Wilde -– “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (that mediocrity can pay to greatness)” but it moves to the realm of criminality when committed in the manner described in this article.

Anne-Funmi Fatusin is a Freelance Writer, Motivational Speaker, Social Justice Influencer based in the United Kingdom. Convener of the Renewing the African Mindset (R.AM.) – a discussion platform for African social issues.

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