How to Avoid Plagiarism by Dr. Ottah Gabriel

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In the wake the controversy that has continued to trail the accusation of plagiarism leveled against creative writers for President Muhammadu Buhari against the backdrop of the recent launch of the national reorientation programme: “Change Begins With Me”, University Orator 2 for Kogi State University and lecturer at the department of Mass Communication at the institution provides some insights on how to avoid reoccurrence of the act in future.

Plagiarism occurs when someone publishes another person’s published idea either in written, spoken, broadcast or other forms without giving due credit and recognition to the originator of that work or idea. To label it borrowing is to be euphemistic. It is not borrowing. It is stealing, a breach of intellectual protocol and an infringement on copyright law. Plagiarism is aberrant both to morality and the law, thereby finding whoever commits the offence liable. Plagiarism assumes a dangerous dimension when a writer, speaker, motivator or leader in any capacity, lifts a substantial proportion of another writer, speaker or leader, and makes it look like his own original idea so that his audience would give him a standing ovation at the expense of the originator of that extract.

If you say plagiarism is a form of academic or political or even social malpractice, you are correct. Perhaps because the law is not quick to catch up with offenders of copyright law , we see incidences of plagiarism in many places especially among the academic and political communities.

In the higher institutions, plagiarism flourishes as students, mostly the unserious ones, say “cut and paste the work. ” To do assignments and undergraduate research projects, many students fall back on copying wide pages of authors without acknowledgement. Some dubious lecturers are not exonerated. That is why you will come across two different books by different authors each having longlines of semblance with none referring to the other. In such instances, it is either both of them stole the intellectual property from a different author or one of them stole from the other. It is an unfortunate trend that has bedevilled our academic world.

I decided to write this article because recently, the media were awash with the recent, already-confirmed case of plagiarism by no other person than the number-one political personae of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari.

In a speech to launch the “Change Begins with Me ” campaign, Baba Buhari “advertently” lifted a considerable portion of the speech of victory given by President Barrack Obama of the USA in 2008. Even though Buhari’s “creative writers” were seemingly smart to have changed some words, it did not evade the apparent copy-pasting mechanism they adopted in designing the speech. Thus, what was published as Buhari’s original idea ran like this in paragraph 9:

“We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long… Let us summon a new spirit of responsibility, spirit of service, of patriotism and sacrifice. Let us all resolve to pitch in and work hard and look after, not only ourselves but one another. ”

And Barrack Obama’s victory speech in 2008 ran: “In this country, we rise or fall as one nation. As a people, let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Admittedly, the lines above are too long and similar to be branded a coincidence. Obama’s speech was mindlessly lifted and pasted on President Buhari’s well-intended “ChangeBegins with Me” speech. It is very unfortunate that the media aides of Mr. President were not very sensitive to this critical aspect of speech writing and delivery.

In the first place, the speech is a re-enactment of the first National Day’s Address by Mr. President. In the October 1, 2015 speech, Buhari, towards the last paragraph, said the change he clamoured for, which brought him on board as president, was for every Nigerian to have a change of orientation everywhere: office, home, market, park etc. He implied that every Nigerian should begin the change manifestation at the individual level. Just like the Biblical New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34, the change ideology should be in the hearts of everybody, so that when for instance, one in an office is tempted to steal public funds, he would say “Taa! Dare not! The change from corruption begins with me!” Or when one is on the ATM queue and is tempted to jump line because his friend or relation is nearer the machine, the change bell would restrain him from his heart. This is my interpretation of “Change Begins with Me”, considering the speech holistically.

To drive home his points, the president employed creative speech writing skills like the use of figures of speech, cohesive ties and use of simple language. He also relied on speeches of other notable leaders particularly President Barrack Obama. As a teacher and public speaking expert, I say it is acceptable for any public speaker to garnish his points with a related statement made by a writer, speaker or leader. What is not legally and morally acceptable is to present the original version of another person’s work and make it look like your original idea. That was where Baba and his media aides missed it. I particularly blame the speech writers for this. If president Buhari quoted some lines of Obama’s speech and acknowledged it, would it have reduced the credibility and genuine intentions of the speech? It would have even added weight and credence to it. Some people would have said Mr. President is well-read. But now, what Mr. President did, irrespective of who caused the huge mistake, is plagiarism. The speech would have  been described as the product of a thorough research, but now, it has resulted in attacks from all fronts against Mr. President, and it now aggravates a beam of search lights on President Buhari’s other beautiful speeches before now.

In my opinion, what the President should have done to avoid this embarrassment was to design that paragraph like this: “Leaders of great countries of the world have sought the personal commitment of individuals to change ideologies that brought about positive developments. President Barrack Obama in his victory speech to the people of the USA in 2008 said…. (quote Obama). And I say Nigerians must…. (put the president’s version).

By this, nobody would have raised any dust concerning the lifting. As I pointed out earlier, if you prepare a speech, you are at liberty to quote any person of your choice, so long as the idea of that person would help drive home your own points and make listeners or readers understand you better. What constitutes plagiarism is to do so without acknowledgment.

The following also constitute plagiarism:

  • Not putting a quotation in a quotation mark.
  • Not giving the correct information about the source. For example, you plagiarise if you quote a primary author from a secondary source and you give credit to the secondary author.
  • Copying so many words or ideas from a source such that it makes up the bulk of your work. In this case, whether you give credit or not, it constitutes plagiarism.

How then do we avoid plagiarism? First, we cite sources appropriately and provide audience with information needed to find them. If you refer to another person in your academic work, you follow any of the formats accepted by your area of study such as APA, MLA, etc.

Using the APA 2006 style, you cite an author following the format of Name-(year, page number). An instance is, if you are citing from my book entitled African Communication Systems, you may say “According to Ottah (2016, p.25), …(quote the relevant items). At the end of the chapter or work, you give full details of the author, like:

Ottah, G.A. (2016). African Communication Systems. Lokoja: Onaivi Publishers. If it is a speech, we can give full details of the author such as stated in Buhari’s case.

We also avoid plagiarism by using our own construction completely even if we got some of the ideas from other authors. That way, you would only be sharing similar views with an author, not his own. And to succeed, you must be creative and vast in vocabulary.

Finally, to avoid plagiarism in both academic and non-academic works, you need to read many books on the same subject matter. A compendium of ideas from different authors will furnish you with sufficient materials with which to come up with beautiful works to your own glory.

– Ottah Gabriel Alhassan, PhD is a Public Speaker, a lecturer, Department of Mass Communication and the University Orator 2, Kogi State University. +2348056931686. Email :Ottahgabvoice@yahoo.com.


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