© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
INTELLECTUAL TRAFFICKING: How librarians of top Nigerian varsities exchange student theses for money [part 2]
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 theses one way or another, change the author’s names and details, and submit 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 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 report.
OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY: ENGLISH LIBRARY UNDER SIEGE BY HOD
For nearly four years, the library of the OAU Department of English has been placed under lock and key, on the instructions of Professor Niyi Okunoye, the Head of Department (HoD), the ICIR have learnt.
A student of the department told the ICIR that, Adedayo Adeniyi (also known as Dayo Nigeria), an alumnus of OAU who graduated from the department in 2011 and was with Fela Durotoye during his visit to the school on May 30, and was upset when he learnt he could not gain access to the library to see his thesis.
“The library has been locked before I became a student,” he recalled. “The HOD said they want to rebuild the library. But I don’t know what he is rebuilding. There are chairs; there are tables; there are shelves and books. But the HoD said there is no WiFi, and students will not have access to the library until he is able to get funds to fix the library. In fact, it is said that previous presidents [of the departmental] have been paying N50,000 for the rebuilding of the library, and I believe this should have accumulated to an extent.”
The ICIR also learnt that the HOD demanded for a share from the annual departmental levy charged by the student association. According to the source, he had asked for N500 per student member as against N200 offered by the association. When this request was not granted, he compelled the association to charge less fee of N700—N1800 lesser than the original proposal, which included the basic dues and money for other packages―and demanded for N200. However, only N500 was eventually charged per head, with nothing going to the department or the HoD.
Another student of the department who spoke to the ICIR also confirmed that the library is locked because the HoD said “we should pump money into the library”. He said he does not think even lecturers get to make use of the library because of how dusty the books and furniture have become. According to him, the HoD keeps saying he plans to do things he most likely will not do, such as replacing the chairs or tiling the floor, as excuses for keeping the library inaccessible.
In a phone conversation with the ICIR, Dayo Nigeria confirmed the report of what transpired during his May visit to the school. He said as a former national executive of the association, he was interested in what the student members were going through, and that was how he got to know the library has been locked for four sessions and the student association has been equally side-lined. According to him, it is unpardonable and, as the library really belongs to the student association, the involvement of the department should be limited.
“When I was in school, it would never have happened,” he said. “I think we were more alive then compared to what is obtainable right now. The consequence is that a lot of students who have free periods and want to read would be deprived of that opportunity. You cannot find all you need at the school library, and that is why we have the departmental library. It is a department that should encourage reading more than any other, so it is an irony that it is preventing access to its library.”
When Okunoye was contacted, he replied that he was “away for an academic conference”, and asked to be given till the following day to get back. Texts sent to him since then have, however, remained unanswered.
“YOU WILL TEACH US HOW WE ARE GOING TO TREAT YOU”
At the library of the Education Faculty, the librarian, an elderly man in his late fifties or early sixties, told the reporter his friend has to come personally even if he is able to fulfil all the requirements. He lamented his past experiences with students of the university.
“You know, many things are happening,” he said. “So, it is you people that will teach us how we are going to treat you.
“A lady came here last year to collect project, and I explained to her that we don’t normally take this thing out. I asked if she will not misuse the chance, she said ‘no’. I collected her ID card despite the fact that it expired in 2016. I will show you. Since then, I have not seen anyone that resembles her.
“She thinks she is wise. I am just waiting for a while longer before going to report her. The management must not hear of it, if not I would have taken her details to the Head of Department. We don’t allow people to take them out, but it depends on how you present yourself. Whatever you want to do, you consult the project here.”
Asked what the requirement is for consulting theses in the library, he replied; “school identity card.” And asked if students are allowed to make duplicates, “it depends on how you present yourself. We cannot, however, attend to you,” he said, because “after all, you are not a student here and even the person you are helping is not a student”.
NO LIBRARY, NO LIBRARIAN
On Tuesday, June 19, 2018, the ICIR was at Obafemi Awolowo University, one of few first-generation higher institutions of learning, located in the ancient city of Ile-Ife. Out of ten departments and faculties visited, it was discovered that some—including the Departments of Biochemistry, Political Science, Guidance and Counselling, and Educational Management―had no libraries.
Also, librarians for six of these places―namely Departments of Sociology, Geography, Mathematics, Physics and Engineering, as well as the Faculties of Law and Administration―were said not to be around. A number of the libraries and reading rooms were instead manned by student librarians who are also executives of various student associations.
Damilola Ojetunde, an alumnus of the university and a 2016 graduate of demography, however told the ICIR that most of the departments have libraries of their own, but they are typically managed by student associations, while departments oversee the affairs. Librarians, elected by the students, are therefore saddled with the responsibility of administering the libraries and watching over the resources.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF PLAGIARISM?
During the course of the ICIR’s investigation, a student of the department of Philosophy at OAU, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, confirmed that buying and selling of theses takes place in the department, and it is rampant especially among lecturers.
“I even know somebody who did not do any project but got passed with just N70,000,” he said.
A class representative of one of the sets who spoke with the ICIR also confirmed the irregularities.
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UNIVERSITY OF ABUJA: WHERE ARE ALL THE LIBRARIES?
One feature that stands out about the University of Abuja is the scarcity of faculty and departmental libraries, and heavy reliance on the central libraries. The faculties of Science and Education, the departments of History, English, Geography, Chemistry, Sociology, Economics, Public Administration, Arts and Social Science Education, among others, were all said to be without libraries.
It was discovered that the library of the Faculty of Agriculture is in fact located at and merged with that of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Though the Department of History has a “Departmental Library/Resource Centre”, a member of staff who spoke with the ICIR said it is “not a public place”.
When this reporter visited the Central Library at the university mini-campus to request access to the Economics section, he was informed the facility in fact houses no student theses.
“We don’t have project materials here because of space,” the male receptionist explained. “But you can go to the Department of Economics.”
When the reporter told him he has been to the department and could not find a library, the receptionist claimed they have one and advised he talked to the department secretary. At the said secretary’s office, she appeared surprised to hear there are no theses at the central library.
“We don’t have here,” she said. “At the central library, they said they don’t have projects there? Even in the department, we don’t have library.”
Asked where students then submit their theses to, she replied, as if unsure: “they submit it to… to their supervisor.”
HOD SECRETARIES: A NEW BREED OF LIBRARIANS
With the widespread lack of local libraries, an alternative needed to be sought, and it was found nowhere less than the offices of departmental heads. Many of the HoD offices are noticeably stacked with numerous theses, with a good number of them having nowhere but the secretary’s office to call home. The ICIR therefore paid a visit to a couple of these offices to observe first-hand what the practices are.
At the Department of Art and Social Science Education, one of the secretaries, Yakubu, was all too willing to help. During the first visit, he said the reporter could not get the topics that day as he had to “file them down” after searching. The next day, he in all gave out three theses submitted by students of Economics Education: Inyama Perpetual (2015), Ige Folashade Tope (2005), and Femi Godwin (2013).
He then asked for the reporter’s name and phone number, packed all three theses and pushed them under his desk, with the reporter’s contact firmly placed above. Asked if the reporter could come back after a topic is approved, Yakubu replied: “No problem now…after approval you [can] come now.”
In another section of the building, right next to the Art and Social Science Education Department, is the Department of Educational Management. In the HoD Secretaries’ office were four persons—one male and three female―with two appearing to be visitors. The young man, sitting by a corner close to the window (the only means of ventilation), was pointed to when the reporter asked for the secretary.
When two or three random topics were asked for, he sprang to work, scanning through the bookshelves and piles of theses lying around. During this period, which lasted three to four minutes, a conversation started between the two older ladies.
“So this place is like a library?” asked the eldest, who was apparently also visiting.
“Not really, but at least we have past projects for both undergraduate and postgraduate,” replied the other. “At the library, their processes are stricter and they may not allow access.”
“Oh, I didn’t know one could get projects here,” said the lady-visitor.
“This one now is a visitor; we wouldn’t give it to him. But he can photocopy or take pictures with his phone.”
The reporter was eventually given three theses: Pemida Magdalene Ohunene (2018), Ekwenugo Abunuchukwu Bridget (2018), and Ajik Danladu Paul (2016). While he accompanied the secretary as he moved down towards the rest room, he asked if he could return for the materials after the supervisor’s approval. Yes, he said.
At the Department of Geography, one of the receptionists insisted the reporter’s friend should have come personally and suggested the reporter was acting based on a business transaction.
“Yes!” he cried. “It means he is not serious. If he is serious, he would have come himself…”
He continued, raising his voice and sounding a bit more condescending: “Take my number, and tell him to call me and come by himself here. Immediately, there’s a question I will ask him but I will not tell you.”
A lady, who was at the desk earlier to operate the computer and seemed to be the secretary, then interjected to say there was no need for the exchange of numbers. “Let him come,” she suggested.
“Ehn ehn,” he said. “If he comes, let him ask for either the secretary or Mr Yakubu.”
LONG WAIT FOR LIBRARIAN
Out of all departments visited by the ICIR at the University of Abuja mini-campus, only the Department of Political Science was found to have a library, but there was no librarian.
When the ICIR visited on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, he was nowhere to be found on three separate occasions—12:33pm, 1:00pm and 2:00pm. During the second visit, this reporter met a young lady on red tee shirt and jeans sitting at the corridor, who said she was waiting for her supervisor. Asked if the librarian was around, she chuckled, signifying a negative response.
“Is it usually like this?” the reporter asked.
“Oh! My dear, everything about the University of Abuja is waiting,” she replied, with the tone of one who has seen it all.
The following day, another visit was paid to the departmental library but the library was no where to be found. A passer-by informed the ICIR thT some of the librarians had travelled.
NO ID CARD, NO ENTRY?
Securing the Faculty of Law, located at the university’s mini-campus, is a gentleman who would not let his guard down. The reporter, for not providing a means of identification to confirm he is truly a student of Ambrose Alli University, was not allowed to enter the faculty premises.
“We cannot allow you to go in without a means of identification,” he said inflexibly. “If we do, it means we don’t know what we are doing. We don’t work based on assumptions.”
“Even the librarian will not attend to you without an ID card,” he added, when the reporter asked if he could at least be allowed to see the librarian. But he was wrong.
The next day, a second visit was paid. Another guard manned the security post; and with no questions asked, he gave directions to where the faculty library is. At first the librarian demanded for a “letter of acceptance from the school”. “That is how it is officially,” he said.
“But now that you are here, what do you want?” he added. He chuckled briefly when he was told project topics, and then instructed another man who appeared to be his assistant to show the reporter to a separate room, where theses are shelved. 2015 submissions by Mattew John Ogheneruona and Nimzing Sarah Mama, and the 2014 submission by Olobayo Toluwalase Mosimibale were noted. As the reporter left, he asked if he may return for the materials of topics copied. The short response: “It’s alright.”
UNIABUJA ROLL OF HONOUR
As in other universities, the many requests to duplicate theses did not all have a hitch-free ride at the University of Abuja—particularly in two instances, one of which was at the Department of Chemistry. The response of the secretary to the HoD, who was alone at the office, was both straightforward and politely stated:
“…We don’t allow anybody to photocopy any project. That’s the rule, because I know some of them are interested in doing that.”
The second instance was at a library which serves both the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture. Managing the vast space was a librarian, who identified himself as James. According to him, he had been the university main library before he got transferred. He also revealed that, there [at the main library] theses are digitalised to detect cases of plagiarism. He had initially granted access to the thesis catalogue, but the tide soon turned when the reporter returned to hand it over.
“Project is something you need to research for,” he lectured. “This one will serve as just a guide, not that you will just photocopy. Duplication is not allowed, because they will capture everything into the net. If somebody catches you that you photocopy his project, you know it is a problem. He can sue the person to court.”
“What is there is just to guide him in his work,” he continued. “There are other things he can get from the shelves, journals and the rest.”
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IT IS WRONG, CONDEMNABLE, SAY EXPERTS
Nwalo Kenneth Ivo Ngozi, a Professor of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of Ibadan told the ICIR librarians are meant to be good custodians of the resources placed under them and have guidelines governing their conduct. According to him, theses, being reference materials, are part of the books in a library that cannot be borrowed.
“In fact, they are under strict control,” he added. “Before you can take a thesis in a library, you are supposed to sign in, drop your ID card, and the use is monitored; perhaps you are to use it for a period of time. You are not allowed to start making any photocopy. And if at all there should be photocopy, not the whole thesis. There is what we call fair use for publications generally needed for educational purposes.
“It is against copyright laws and ethics of librarianship. It is malpractice. We call it ‘user delinquency’. So in any university, if that is found to be true, the whole practice is condemnable. It shouldn’t be allowed. If any librarian is caught doing that, there should be disciplinary action.”
Nwalo said most of the individuals aiding the malpractices are library workers or other staff and not librarians. “Librarians have taken an oath and would not normally do that,” he said, but added that they are expected to supervise what their subordinates are doing and take responsibility if things go wrong.
He recommended the use of closed-circuit television in libraries to allow librarians monitor activities in the library from a remote office. He also emphasised the importance of user education.
“We should educate users so that other users of the library who find them doing such can raise an alarm,” he advised. “The resources in the library do not belong to a particular person; they belong to generations of users to come. It takes time to write. And after a person has suffered and taken pain, for someone to come and photocopy to submit somewhere is unacceptable.”
A senior official of the Librarians’ Registration Council of Nigeria (LRCN) who also spoke to the ICIR revealed that since the council was established in October, 2009, it has certified over 5000 librarians across Nigeria, in not only university libraries but in public, private libraries among others. But information on what percentage of university librarians are presently so certified is unavailable.
She said universities, particularly, should not be found using “quacks”, instead of professionals, to manage library resources. She noted that it is possible other individuals, such as printers and typists, also engage in the practice of selling theses taken to them for one reason or the other.
According to her, the LRCN’s mandate only covers human resources, that is the librarians, while it is the National Library which regulates the management and protection of material resources such as books, theses, and dissertations.
However, various attempts to get a statement from Lenrie Olatokunbo Aina, CEO of the National Library of Nigeria, all proved fruitless. Calls placed to him on different days were not answered, nor were several texts sent to his phone replied.