When Professors Plagiarise

Yesterday, I was visited by my best mate from university. He had gist, so we had a great time reminiscing, catching up and pretending guys don’t gossip. He also had news. One of our old university teachers, then a PhD, has been made a professor.

There was silence.

The silence was followed by anger – from my friend. A lot of anger. He was angry, not because his longtime romantic interest in this professor’s daughter ultimately came to nothing, but because he wasn’t sure if finding a way to disgrace this professorial fraud was enough punishment for the intellectual crimes we know he is guilty of. He wasn’t sure how far he should go to knock this man down.

My friend, like me, is passionate about education, and equally depressed at the direction Nigeria’s education system is headed. His father graduated first class in mathematics, and his lifelong dream has been to teach in a university, and this professor we were discussing was the worst example of who a man of letters should be.

Money for grades, harassment and sexual exploitation by Nigeria’s university teachers have long since become a staple (and the man we were discussing should have got a second PhD on those subject matters), so that is not what we were fuming at. We’re not numb, but we would better allow the police deal with crimes. Academic fraud however, is a very different kettle of fish.

In our second year in university, we were ‘mandated’ to buy a book written by the good doctor who also happened to be running for Head of Department, so it was a no brainer that buying this book was key to even getting an evaluation for exam papers. So we all bought the book. There couldn’t be much harm in that, right? Except a few of us had bought this fantastic book by an American professor, which was the holy grail for an entire course year, and it turns our huge patches of this book had managed to lift themselves wholesale, smack onto the book ‘authored’ by our dear Dr. At least 70% of the book’s core were from our ‘holy grail’.

At that time, we fumed, but we were powerless students, so we stayed silent. It also happened that the same man published a few more books, which by some weird coincidence, managed to bear word-for-word resemblance to works by foreign authors.

Time flies. But last night, I could not imagine how hundreds of peers in the Nigerian academic community, especially those in those sacred professorial committees, would manage to not have caught this man for the wholesale fraud he had published for years, and made him a professor! It brings one to a painful realisation that this man, for the next decade or more, is going to be paid to teach university students on nothing more than fraudulent, empty publishing records, which by the way, forms a big part of the professorial qualification process. I’m not going to delve into the authenticity, or qualification of those panels.

So this morning, I’m thinking if it wouldn’t be a wise idea to purchase 100 copies of that American text I owned in second year, along with 100 copies of my professor’s book, review and stick notes to them, and mail them to the university senate, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and also publish the review in a national daily. What do I gain – maybe nothing more than potentially losing a man his job, but it would feel good to have one fraud thrown out of our university system.

But then, maybe, nothing would happen. He’s a Nigerian professor after all.

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The farmer and the burning farm

A millet farmer, living on the edge of the dry Sahel decided to burn his field after a harvest. He had had a particularly large harvest, and the dry millet stalks piled sky high, towering over his home, which was at the edge of the farm.

Late in the day, as the sunset cast dark shadows around his home, he lighted a dry branch, stuck it into the smaller piles of chaff, striding around the harvested field as he did so. One after the other, each heap of dry millet stalks was set afire. Then the man, with great ceremony, set fire to the largest heap of them all. There was a great roar, as the giant heap went up in flames, lighting up the early night sky, as the sun was in its final descent beyond the end of the sky.

There was a great fire. The fire was so bright, it looked like daylight. The man then thought, the fire is so bright; why don’t I save some of my oil, and use this light to eat dinner? So he went into his home, which was now very warm, a welcome change from the harmattan cold. His wife and son were already making the evening meal by the light of the roaring fire, which looked very bright indeed. It was better than his bush lantern, and the family was happy that they were saving their oil. They made a great meal and ate with no small amount of joy.

Heavy with the evening meal, the man and his family lay down on the grass mat in the middle of their home and fell into a deep, warm sleep, contented in the warmth of their home.

Deep into the night, a great wind blew. It was a terrible wind, because it blew the glowing embers of smoldering branches back into a burning fire. Some of the grass and chaff, which had not caught fire in the evening were blown into the air, and caught fire too. Some of the flying grass, burning red in the windy night, landed on the grassy roof of the farmer’s home. In no time, the farmer’s home had been burned to the ground, and no one had come running out of it.

The morning after the fire, the farmer woke up in the afterlife. He was very angry. He was angry because he had lost his home, his wife and his son. He was angry that he had made a fortune in the harvest, but because of the fire, he was not going to enjoy that fortune. Angered as he was, he went before the Creator, demanding justice for the fire.

After much thought, the Creator asked that the fire be brought before him to answer for itself. The great fire, which had burned the night before, was brought before the Creator, and before the great throne, was accused of burning the farmer’s home, and in doing so, murdering the farmer, his wife and his son.

The fire, afraid for its fate, thought for a long moment, it’s raging tongues now nearly still. Deep from its thoughtful belly, the fire murmured, saying it was the wind that lifted it to the farmer’s roof. The fire said it had no will of its own, and only burned where it is placed.

The Creator was impressed by the wisdom of the fire’s defense. The fire may as well have been innocent, the Creator thought. So he ordered that the wind be brought before Him. It took a long time to catch the wind, which indeed could not be caught, but out of respect for the Creator, the wind agreed to appear to defend itself.

Like the fire before it, the wind protested its innocence, saying that it blows where it pleases, and was not to blame for what he carries. In the case of the fire, the wind said it cannot be blamed for the fire, because it did not start it. The wind told the Creator and his assembly that it met the embers already glowing when it passed through the field. The wind also said that the Creator can only find the guilty if he found who started the fire.

The all wise Creator nodded in contentment. He was glad that the wind he had created was able to reason with such wisdom. Rising from his throne, he asked with a solemn voice: who started the fire?

The farmer, staring at his feet, did not say anything.

The Creator, to show the farmer who was guilty, said to all “a man who starts a fire must take care, lest it burns his own home”.

I grew up reading Achebe, whom I greatly respect, admire and regard as Africa’s greatest story teller. I have read his latest story, and I’m still gathering my thoughts on the subject. Respect must be paid though, for him bringing us back to where we are discussing history, whatever our conclusions from that discourse may be.

On the subject of the core of Achebe’s Story, specifically on the origins of the war, I have thought it over, and I thought to deal with it the way Achebe would – tell a story.

These are my thoughts on Achebe, Biafra and ’66