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How Should Buhari Handle Plagiarism Scandal?



What President Muhammadu Buhari copied from the speech of his United States’ counterpart was substantial but there wouldn’t be any need for an apology. What we can canvass is that the person that wrote the speech should be sanctioned. He does not have any business in the presidential communication team.

It was embarrassing. The President has taken the right decision by directing that the official should be punished. As part of the punishment, the official should be redeployed to another unit. It is obvious that the official cannot continue to be in the media unit of the President.

Henceforth, the entire team should do a thorough preview of the President’s speeches. It should not be left to an individual to handle. It also means that the Presidency needs to acquire technology to guard against plagiarism. If it is not yet part of their working tools, they should procure one.

What happened was quite unfortunate because it was avoidable. The President may not have the time to scrutinise his speech. But the spokesperson should coordinate the speechwriting and do it well.

The similarities between the two speeches are too close for comfort. It was embarrassing. That must not happen to the President again.

President Muhammadu Buhari should apologise to both President Barack Obama and the young Nigerian who was said to have originally initiated the ‘Change begins with me’ idea. He should, thereafter, go ahead and sack the speechwriter(s) and prosecute him/them for corruption.

Plagiarism is not just corruption but a worst form of the social vice. It is odious and cancerous as it amounts to an intellectual theft. It is a worst form of larceny.

It amounts to reaping where one did not sow. It constitutes a fundamental flaw on which a supposed national rebirth is anchored. The whole change mantra is, therefore, dead on arrival. The circumstances surrounding it have defeated its essence.

What many people who are criticising the President should know is that he cannot scrutinise every speech that is written for him. So, he could not have known that a part of the speech was plagiarised.

The problem is entirely the fault of the speechwriter. So, I do not think the President needs to apologise. Rather, the writer should tender an apology to the President, Nigeria, and the world at large. Even if the speechwriter is not known, he or she needs to appear before the public to apologise.

We should be fair to the President. It is not his responsibility to check his speeches paragraph by paragraph. What is clear is that the President would not trust the speechwriter anymore.

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What happened is typical of Nigerians’ attitude to work. Many of us take up a responsibility without doing our best to ensure that we deliver quality job. Obviously, the writer took the easy way out. The result, unfortunately, has embarrassed not only the President but the entire nation.

The writer should see apology as a path of honour. Plagiarising is not a serious offence except that it infringes on the right to intellectual property.

In any case, I do not agree that the controversy diminishes the change campaign or the integrity of the President. The theme was originally crafted by John F. Kennedy in 1963. Many people have long used it for different campaigns.

Attribution is one of the hallmarks of intellectual integrity.  Plagiarism, on the other hand, is the unpardonable sin of intellectual property theft. With power comes responsibility. That is why the two allegations of plagiarism against the Presidency cannot be dismissed and swept under the carpet, especially when one considers that the administration rode to power on the wings of integrity and anti-corruption. Celebrities, politicians and statesmen worldwide are known to have speechwriters. It is normal.

The job of these writers is to synthesise and articulate the thoughts and ideology of the speaker in a wholesome, persuasive and most effective language that would resonate with the target audience. Hence, although the writer is different, a speaker could take credit for a great speech as it is, in substance, his thought.

When a speech is quoted, it is also attributed to the speaker. If a speech is good, the speaker takes credit. When it is bad, the blame would not go to the writer. When the President made his famous “I am for everybody, I am for nobody” inaugural speech, it was hailed as a great speech and the President enjoyed the accolades the speech generated. He took the credit; he did not publicly acknowledge the speechwriter. It was his speech. When the ‘Change begins with me’ campaign was launched and he gave another powerful speech, it was also hailed as a great speech. People clapped and the media praised him for a wonderful speech. He enjoyed the adulation of the moment and did not tell Nigerians that he was not the one that wrote it.

Now that the bubble has burst, it is worrisome that the Presidency refuses to take responsibility but starts looking for a scapegoat. Now that the change campaign is enmeshed in an intellectual property scandal, the President should take a look at the mirror to see where the change should actually start from. A leader is only as good as his team and a team cannot be better than the quality of the thinking of the leader.

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In the meantime, let the change begin with Mr. President. He owes Nigerians an apology for hiring a fraudulent speechwriter. He owes the American who wrote the original speech an apology for corruptly misappropriating the intellectual property without attribution.

Whether the President would apologise to the United States and Nigeria or not is a test of his integrity. When integrity is put to the test, it takes an individual of very strong, humble and honest character to weather the storm and take the path of honour.

According to copyright law, plagiarism is a criminal offence. But we must remember that intention is fundamental when proving an allegation against an accused person.

The tasks of the President are enormous hence, there is no doubt that he would not have the time to write his speeches. When one considers the demands of the office of the President, it is clear that one cannot prove an intention to plagiarise in this case.

But the accusation also calls to question the competence of the President’s communication team. In my view, an apology to Nigerians and the United States would suffice.

The President, who is an apostle of change and an anti-corruption crusader, should have known that plagiarism is a crime. He ought to have known that intellectual works are protected by copyright law. Hence, he should apologise to Nigerians.

If Obama granted him the permission to use his speech, Buhari does not need to apologise to anybody. But if he (Buhari) used the speech without the consent of the original owner, there is the need to tender a public apology.

It is embarrassing to know that the President does not have a competent speechwriter who could write original speeches. So, Buhari should apologise to Nigerians for the embarrassment this has caused the entire country.

Nigeria has much more important challenges to bother about than the plagiarism accusation. President Barack Obama, I am sure, has accepted the apology. Nigerians should accept the apology tendered by President Muhammadu Buhari and move on.

This should be the least issue that should worry us as a country. The economic crisis and many other challenges are there to be attended to. So, I do not think there is still any controversy about the plagiarism issue.