For a government trying hard to convince its supporters and opponents about its “change” agenda, the insertion of two paragraphs from the United States President Barack Obama’s 2008 victory speech in President Muhammadu’s Buhari’s September 8 address at the launch of the “Change Begins with Me’’ campaign is an unfortunate development.
To err is human, but an error of this kind can arm critics who are not interested in focusing on the message of change. But the slip as noted by the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, in his press statement, should have been avoided.
Notwithstanding the massive support that brought the federal government to power, it must not lose sight of the fact that there are enough ‘wailers’, apologies to Femi Adesina, and even disappointed supporters who will not spare any wrong-doing, however minor.
The culprit of the embarrassing insertion in President Buhari’s speech should have known that with the Internet, virtually every claim can be cross-checked, while similarities in statements or outright plagiarism can easily be found out. All you need to do is to put any suspicious paragraph in a search engine and the original source will show up.
Recently, Malania, wife of the US Republican Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, was accused of plagiarising a speech by Obama’s wife, Michelle. It was hard for the Trump’s team to deny the accusation when the two speeches were aired.
If any speech writer finds any quote irresistible and it cannot be completely rewritten, what should have been done is to attribute it to the original owner. For me, there is nothing wrong in giving credit to another author. It confirms how widely you have read and your readiness not to take credit for what is not yours.
Sometimes after several readings, it is possible to forget that a particular quote is from another writer. But at the level of a presidential speech in a politically-charged situation like we have in the country, such an error can be very costly as the present instance has turned out.
Good enough, the Presidency has admitted its fault and promised to take appropriate disciplinary measures to prevent a recurrence. There should be no room for any overzealous staff, like the one said to have been responsible for the insertion, to write any speech which should not be subjected to critical scrutiny.
Beyond the Presidency, there is a major lesson for all to learn from the incident.
While the faceless presidential speech writer can be the plagiarism offender for the moment, he or she is not the first and will definitely not be the last. Plagiarism is not new to us. Many, including university lecturers, have been found guilty in the past, while many others yet to be caught are currently engaged in the act.
The Internet seems to have made it easy to plagiarise and unfortunately not many see any wrong with it. While plagiarism at the Presidency stands condemned, it should not be condoned at any level.
Many students nowadays simply search on google and get write-ups by other persons which they submit as their own. There are cases of complete academic projects edited minimally and submitted to earn degrees.
There are also many websites and blogs that violate the copyrights of original content owners with impunity. They profit from contents they didn’t pay for to produce. It is not enough to copy stories and credit the source without the permission of the owners in some cases.
These unethical practices will continue as long as offenders are not named and shamed. We must all learn to give credit to whom credit is due.
Lekan Otufodunrin is a columnist with The Nation, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.