Friday, 6 December 2019

Is Plagiarism a Virtue? – Abdulyassar Abdulhamid


The world today is taking giant strides in terms of technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs. Not only the field of engineering or production like the invention of printhead arrays and fabric making the machine that produces bales of cloth at interlacing of threads is shaping the world, but other things like newspaper printing, research, reading and writing have also all been made easy.

At a click of a button, one can assess a poem, a gripping novel or an essay on, say, cloud seeding or artificial insemination, within the comfort of one’s room. However, the daunting task of travelling hundreds of thousands of kilometres to conduct a search has been relieved with the invention of modern means of transportation.

In 2013, one of the few scholars in ‘drama’ Bayero University, Kano, has ever had, Professor M. O. Bhadmus told our class that he baby-slung a textbook on ‘drama’ all the way from the USA. The professor was referring to how research particularly scholarship (serious academic study), for that matter, has been simplified compared to those days.

Yet, despite these prodigious changes and advancements, as well as innovative infrastructural development the world is witnessing, the world is losing something. As Bradford G. Schleifer rightly put it the ‘old-style’ morality is under assault like never before. Many have come to wonder what is right and what is wrong’ – what will earn one respect and what will destroy one’s image. Our obsession with the material – as one is measured not by the capacity of his or her intellect or integrity but by one’s worldly gains – has done irreparable damage to the ‘human race’. 

Yet, one wonders why some people, as conceited and narcissistic as they are, can’t smell the odorous smell of plagiarism although they bear the stink wherever they go. The most annoying part of this intricately dishonest attitude is that some of them are satisfied with the filthy smell the crime bears. As the practice persists, one suspects whether the dividing line between what is moral and is not has been blurred by the sand of selfish interest that some people mistake plagiarism for virtue, or are on a mission to forcefully substitute the former with the latter.

Marvel of marvels, going by how unashamedly people, on almost a daily basis, copy and paste others’ works without attribution or proper citations, one is left flabbergasted by how “plagiarism” and “virtue” can be used interchangeably by those miscreants. 

A little scratch reveals that neither plagiarism is synonymous to virtue nor had it ever been – it is wrongful appropriation of someone’s works and passing them as one’s own – besides if ‘plagiarism’ has anything to do with the ‘virtue’ that can only be measured on the invisible scale of ‘morality’, since the word “plagiarism” finds its rightful place, as using cribs notes, unauthorized collaboration or similar dishonest acts, on the pages of academic dishonesty; and the word “virtue” may well mean a ‘behaviour or attitudes that show high moral standards’, says Oxford Dictionary of English.

I was novice then; I hardly imagined how it felt to be dispossessed of the product of one’s sweats. Imagine someone burning midnight candle, brainstorming, penning down, assembling, de-assembling, adding, correcting, polishing and finally coming up with a clean sheet only to be dispossessed at last by a brazen opportunist, not only for monetary gain but also for that power only ‘pen’ bestows upon good writers. Isn’t it sad?

My brother, many years back, narrated of how a professor – a supposed custodian of knowledge – robbed him of a book he authored under the pretext of giving it befitting proofreading. “I seek for your kind indulgence to include my name as the co-author of this all-important work. That will add more weight to the book,” said the professor to that brother of mine student of his. There was the professor’s name written larger-than-life ushered by the word ‘author’ and my brother’s name torturously placed in one obscure corner of the book. Who cares? He is a scholar and my brother nobody. 

My brother kept mum. What could he do? Universities are, so to speak, high moral grounds. But the truth is that the scene is a replica of a dramatic encounter where scholarship and malevolence are juxtaposed. A guardian turned torturer or a friend foe.

A man or woman dispossessed in a similar deal can only be compared with Black Americans, who were not only dispossessed of identity and God-given rights, but also driven insane by the horrors of segregation, Coloureds in South Africa of the days of yore whose ancestral lands were dispossessed by the very agents of Apartheid or Kimathi’s Kenya that closed its eyes and there were its lands gone – owners assuming the position of serfs. Isn’t it?

My brother’s accusation was many years later proven right. In May 2019, the Head, Education Desk, the Guardian Newspaper, Iyabo Lawal wrote one revealing report entitled ‘Nigerian University and Plaque of Plagiarism’. The report drew its inspiration from the scary disclosure the former Executive Secretary, Nigerian Universities Commission, Prof Peter Okebukola made over the rising cases of plagiarism in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.

Okebukola was reported to have said that many students at Nigeria’s tertiary institutions – even lecturers – go to Wikipedia, copy some pages and paste as if they were the rightful owners. And lazy lecturers that cannot go through the works due to their pretentious bulkiness awards mark for the mediocre practice, and in some cases engage in it.

The practice has now graduated to intellectual laziness – having little desire or interest, or the absence of both, in pursuing or engaging in serious academic learning or study.

Unlike those days when the practice is limited to students paying their lecturers at especially our colleges of education to write their projects, now there is the suspicion that some senior lecturers employ the services of their extraordinarily intelligent students to write papers for them to get promoted; or, by far worst, steal ideas from the students – so said a prominent Nigerian professor.

Is this less torturing? Some time ago a man who is bragging of being an editor ran to me with a request of writing a promotional article in respect to his boss’ achievements, a household name in Kano politics. So I did. 

Like a monk there I was single and solitary. I meditated, visualized, numbed all my senses but my brain, and ultimately came up with, exaggeratedly perhaps, a buy-at-sight article.

A month later, that conceited opportunist had summoned Napoleonic courage. He wanted it all for himself. Truth to the powerpoint presentation, there I saw him posting the work – the product of my sweat – on various social media platforms, a piece at a time, with his name towering over the lines, assemblages of words and sentences my humble self produced. The only task he did was that of courageously removing my byline and replacing it with his.

This selfish opportunist and his likes take plagiarism for virtue. They are not embarrassed at all, nor are they apologetic. Immorality is gradually replacing morality in this regard. Definitely, an academic thief cannot reveal the source of his or her “possessions” for fear of losing face or social status as most plagiarists are pompous, over-confident, treacherous and deceptive – the only qualities in their kits.    

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