Understanding academic integrity and plagiarism
Just recently, a man accused the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed for plagiarising his idea as contained in the presentation of the new national re-orientation programme; “Change Begins with me”, launched by President Muhammadu Buhari as one of his administration’s pivotal programmes of social change and transformation. This may sound bizarre but it is neither new nor peculiar.
Recently, wife of the US Republican politician, Donald Trump was accused of plagiarism and the media was agog with comments about the implications for such a public figure. Similar news was aired in Germany of two ministers (Education and Defence) accused of plagiarism and both of them lost their appointments and university degrees.
Although, Nigerians know that plagiarism has a negative connotation; many do not really understand what it means and the gravity of the offence, which relates not only to the academic world. Plagiarism occurs everywhere; in schools, business organisations, politics, government, religious and social circles.
What is academic integrity?
A simple interpretation for academic integrity is “academic honesty”. It means using the words, ideas, unique expressions, images and illustrations that belong to (or created by) another person and confessing that they belong to that person (original owner or creator) rather than taking credit for them directly or indirectly.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the opposite of academic honesty; it simply means academic dishonesty. However, plagiarism is not the only form of academic dishonesty but the most popular one in Nigerian are the series of examination malpractices such as cheating, bribery, collusion, forgery, document swapping amongst others.
Plagiarism implies using the words, ideas, unique expressions, images and illustrations that belong to (or created by) another person and parading them as though they belong to the writer expressing them at that point in time.
Cultural perspectives and implications
The concept and practice of academic integrity seems to be completely foreign to the Nigerian institutions even to such extent that some scholars misrepresent the concept in their own discussions and publications. Many of the existing studies on academic integrity seek to unravel what seems to be a mystery in plagiarism; they often ask the question “why do students plagiarise?” Answering this question should help in further explaining academic integrity in ways that its meaning would not be lost within context.
Truly research has shown that the reasons for plagiarism vary across culture; and for Nigeria, the reason is that “there is just no reason not to plagiarise. Even until now, it is not certain if there are documented and popular academic integrity policies in most of the Universities; either for the faculty members or the students. So the rule guiding academic integrity and anti-plagiarism in the Nigerian institutions are pretty much discretionary or at best, psychological.
The faculty and students know and they agree that plagiarism is an offence but many of them have not seen the documented declaration, let alone signed a copy by themselves or other colleagues in another institution. Students do not know what it is; lecturers do not really understand it and the universities rarely make tangible issues out of it because it never counted for much if at all.
Many Nigerian institutions have policies and undertakings signed by students for reducing academic dishonesty but judging by what is available from those schools, it is obvious that the only known and most punished example of academic dishonesty in Nigeria is examination malpractices. This grossly undermines the true meaning of academic integrity and limiting dishonesty to cheating in tests and examinations alone is a crass compromise on the meaning and importance of the concept of academic integrity as practiced in the other universities in most part of the world. This constitutes a major indictment on the quality and originality of the knowledge created and shared by the Nigerian institutions.