A thesis―what many Nigerians refer to as a ‘project’—is defined as “a dissertation on a particular subject in which one has done original research, as one presented by a candidate for a diploma or degree”. “Original research”, or sometimes “personal research”, is a phrase that comes up regardless of what dictionary is consulted.
Yet, it is a common practice for students to pass off the exact opposite. They obtain these one way or another, change the author’s names and other details, and submit them as theirs. Worse still, such students are often aided by university librarians employed to safeguard these documents.
Between Monday, June 11, 2018, and Tuesday, June 26, 2018, the International Center for Investigative Reporting – ICIR’s ‘KUNLE ADEBAJO paid visits to 41 faculty and departmental libraries in four prominent federal universities in Nigeria and posed as one interested in buying or duplicating a thesis for a friend in his final year.
The universities were Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka; and University of Abuja (UniAbuja), Gwagwalada. He shares his findings in this two-part damning report which indicted all librarians of all the major federal universities.
While the majority of the librarians visited by the ICIR, particularly those without company at the time, yielded easily to the unlawful request, there are a number of exceptions. One of them is Abubakar Aliyu, who is a librarian at the ABU Arabic Department.
He started by requesting for the reporter’s identification card and suggested getting possible topics for a thesis does not necessarily need the consulting of previous publications. He showed the reporter two samples from the shelves and allowed topics to be copied from the catalogue. However, when the reporter informed him he would be returning to duplicate after a topic is settled for, he immediately replied that it is not allowed.
“We don’t allow people to photocopy theses, unless if you come and jot what you want,” he said.
This reporter had a more embarrassing encounter at the library of the university’s History Department, which faces that of the English Department. After introducing the purpose of his visit, the middle-aged librarian donning a light brown-coloured hijab did not attempt to hide her scorn.
“You want to get topics so that you will go and give your supervisor and he will approve and you will come and make photocopy… We don’t do that,” she said.
“Are you no longer getting the topics?” she asked as the reporter made to leave, then immediately added with a wry grin: “Oh, there’s no need? Okay.”
Likewise, at the Department of Economics, the ICIR’s request to get a thesis met a brick wall. In the poorly lit room was a middle-aged man and woman, who later gave her name as Kafewo and informed the reporter she hails from the Basange tribe in Kogi state.
“We don’t give out our undergraduate materials,” Kafewo said, politely. “We don’t give out projects generally.”
Asked whether the materials can be duplicated if not allowed to be borrowed, the male librarian replied that would be piracy.
“Definitely you can’t do your work without making reference to another person’s work,” he added. “The essence of research is you do your own research and then somebody will build on it. But some, instead of building on it, they will just do copy and paste, and change only the title page. You have done nothing. It is plagiarism.”
He said many departments, including Economics, have started acquiring anti-plagiarism software and requesting that students submit soft copies of their works. He narrated a story of how a student of the university had his certificate withdrawn, after years of graduation, following a complaint lodged by the author of a thesis which he plagiarised. He further said, in the past, students of the department have had to spend an extra year because they plagiarised their thesis.
“But the students feel they are smart and they can do it this way,” he said. “The truth is you are not helping the student if you do it that way. You will think you are, but by the time it backfires you will realise you are not. It is better for him to do the right thing.”
The reporter faced similar resistance at the Faculty of Education library. The Chief Librarian requested that the reporter’s friend come with an introductory letter from his institution as a requirement for collection. However, when he thereafter instructed the junior library worker to grant access to the library catalogue, this reporter discovered not all the theses are available.
“These are the topics but don’t write this and this, we don’t have this one,” the library worker said, pointing to topics of theses submitted in 1988. “You can start with this one from 1994.”
Source: International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.