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Since the turn of the 21st century and more apparently from about the mid-2000s, educational malpractices have eaten deep into the fabrics of the Nigerian secondary and tertiary academic institutions. Cutting corners and cheating the system through actions such as paying for grades, plagiarism and other forms of academic malpractices have become the norm so that non-conformists are regarded as fools, ridiculed and in some cases even punished. Various strategies have been devised to tackle these issues, in part and in entirety by governments and private academic enthusiasts alike some of which include mass accreditation of private institutions, online examinations, etc. Most of these have barely scraped the surface of the issue. According to Professor Peter Okebukola, a former Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) and renowned advocate for improved educational standards in Nigeria, Academic Integrity is the key reason for the poor ranking of Nigerian Universities on the global index. Academic Integrity of staff and students as well as pedigree and global professional recognition of the institution’s professors are key considerations in these rankings.
The concept and practice of academic integrity seems to be completely foreign to Nigerian institutions even to such an extent that some Nigerian scholars misrepresent the concept in their publications. While most scholars, students and faculty members may know the meaning of academic integrity, the concept and practice are grossly understated or totally misunderstood among many affected circles in Nigeria. Academic integrity includes a lot more of several basics of academic honesty than what is required under examination or assessment conditions. It is very inappropriate to misconstrue academic dishonesty as examination malpractice alone. It’s like interpreting the word sin to mean stealing and killing alone; excluding other more common types of sins such as lying, anger and hatred. To better understand the issue and what constitutes Academic Integrity globally and in Nigeria, it is important to consider factors such as the current system of education, pedagogy, socio-cultural and economic clime, infrastructure, technology, institutional policies, and management systems.
Therefore, creating climate of academic integrity in the Nigerian institutions is equivalent to making a major cultural change. The effort and attention it deserves are much more than a once-for-all, automatic or quick-fix solution. The route to this process of change is one that requires gradual, systematic and repeated efforts; all directed more towards correcting wrong perception than instituting strict disciplinary measures. Disciplinary measures should only become compulsory and widespread in situations of flagrant violation of correct and adequate knowledge of rules and regulations already existing and embed in a system.
This discussion would not be complete if the quality of contributions and spirit of educational stalwarts like Professor Peter Okebukola, a former Executive Secretary of the NUC who has led some of the most difficult discussions and presentations regarding Academic Integrity at national and institutional levels, Professor Felicia Olabisi Olasehinde-Williams, a Professor of Educational Psychology with the University of Ilorin who’s publications and radical tinkering have provided the necessary framework to begin institutionalizing Academic Integrity in Nigeria and Professor Oluwole Morenikeji, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) Federal University of Technology Minna who led the first research and study on anti-plagiarism in Nigeria and the Secretary-General, Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC), Professor Michael Faborode who led negotiations for the pilot national roll-out of Turnitin a leading anti-plagiarism software to about 40 University’s in Nigeria between 2013 and 2015. These and a few others who are not mentioned have pioneered the mounting fight to sustain Academic Integrity in the country.