To qualify for a degree in a Nigerian university, every undergraduate in his final year is expected to fulfill an all-important academic requirement, which is to write and submit a thesis or long essay, also known as project.
Unfortunately, investigation by our correspondent shows, many final-year students are no longer willing to go through the rigour of conducting the detailed research necessary for the attainment of that goal. Rather than exerting themselves intellectually, they prefer to contract the research work to mercenaries for a fee.
Nowadays the outsourcing of thesis writing is a booming business in most tertiary institutions in Nigeria. Although it is fast becoming a flourishing source of livelihood for the mercenaries who operate unchecked, those who are involved in the business do not want to talk about it.
Hundreds of thousands of naira are made by these mercenaries who come in different disguises as business centre operators on campuses, class representatives, brilliant students, postgraduate students, some supervisors and online merchants.
This racket is gradually assuming a global dimension. Reports from the United Kingdom indicate that in some tertiary institutions an Indian syndicate speciallises in writing theses for all levels of students at specified fees.
The story could be worse here in Nigeria. For instance, a former Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission, Prof Peter Okebukola, said 60 per cent of theses submitted by Nigerian undergraduates were plagiarised works. He also added that at Master’s degree level, the rate was between 15 and 20 per cent; and eight per cent at PhD level.
Business of thesis writing: Strategies used
Although plagiarism is an age-long activity in tertiary institutions, newer strategies are now being deployed by those involved in it to achieve this fraudulent act.
A visit to both government-owned and private institutions across the country revealed that these mercenaries are everywhere on campuses as business centre operators.
One of them, known as Emeka (not real name), holds a degree from a federal university in Nigeria. Nicknamed ‘Prof’ by his customers who are mainly undergraduates, he runs a thriving business centre on the campus of a popular university in the south-western part of the country and was introduced to our correspondent by a student.
Students were seen moving in and out of this mini-shopping hub. Some loitered around Emeka’s computer service shop as he attended to their needs.
When our correspondent approached him to contract her thesis to him, Emeka lightened up and received her warmly. With a smile, he said, “I am the best in this place and that’s the reason they all call me ‘Prof’. I can even help you choose a good topic, if you don’t have one.”
He promised to give our correspondent a well-written long essay, which would earn her a good grade. He chose a topic and gave an analysis of how he would go about the task.
Emeka’s fee was N60, 000. Eventually it was negotiated down to N50, 000. He accepted and promised to get it ready within a week on condition that our correspondent paid 50 per cent of the agreed fee upfront.
“There is nothing you want that you will not find on the Internet, but I make sure I use my own words so it doesn’t look like a plagiarised work. I have been writing theses since 2008 when I was an undergraduate. The least grade my customers get is a C, but majority of them get a ‘B’,” he said.
There are many ‘Emekas’ in various tertiary institutions in Nigeria who operate as computer service business providers, but in reality they are thesis mercenaries.
Also, there are ‘students to students’ mercenaries. They include class representatives and exceptionally brilliant students, who also help their mates to write long essays and assignments in at a fee.
Yemi, who was a former class rep in a tertiary institution based in Ibadan, is one such person. He revealed, in an interview with our correspondent, that class reps always acted as middlemen between lecturers and those students who were interested in paying to be awarded good grades in their project work.
“During my time as a class rep in 2019, some supervisors actually asked me to charge N50, 000 for any student who showed interest in being helped with his or her project.
“What I do to collect the money and hand it to the lecturer, who in turn gives me a commission. The size of the commission I receive depends on the lecturer’s personality. When an appreciable number of students have paid, the supervisor would give me some projects, which I would photocopy, bind and submit in their names. The students don’t have to see the lecturer to get their topics approved. As the class rep, I helped to check their result, which is usually a ‘B’.
Yemi also confessed that he also wrote theses for his classmates, who, for one reason or the other, refused to commit themselves to research.
“I usually charge between N3, 000 and N5, 000 for an assignment. I charge between N20, 000 and N35.000 for project work. I make sure I don’t charge as high as our lecturers so I can have more of my course mates’ patronage,” he said.
Yemi also said he was still in the business of thesis writing for final-year students in his school and neighbouring institutions.
It would be interesting to learn that the business of thesis writing is also done digitally. A search on Google showed some websites where some people had uploaded several research topics and works that students/researchers can make use of, pay via electronics, get a code after payment is confirmed and download is completed.
There are also various registered companies whose major service is to write theses at specified fees. One of such is a health NGO in Ibadan, Oyo State, which specialises in writing thesis for health/medical students at all degree levels for a fee. It was discovered that, the least fee collected was N50, 000, depending on how bulky or tasking the thesis is.
In another development, our correspondent also made a call to an online merchant, project.comng, to converse via SMS.
This sms was sent to her: “Entrepreneurship education as a tool for reducing unemployment In Nigeria.”
Good morning, here is the topic. My supervisor has approved it yesterday. Thanks.
She replied: “Project will be delivered within 1-3hrs once payment is confirmed”.
When our correspondent complained of not being able to make online payment due to poor network, she sent three different account numbers with same account name.
“The price is on our website please, pay into 1KDEAL HUBLET; Stanbic ibtc, GT BANK or Diamond Bank”, she said.
She told our correspondent that she would get 55pages of the topic above for N3, 000.
Below are some of the websites that render thesis writing services:
www.projectwriters.ng, www.projectwriters.ng, www.projectguiders.com www.projectguiders.com and projectsxtra.com, to mention a few.
Forty-two-year-old Bolaji, who works in one of the new generation banks, said the practice of plagiarising long essays had been in existence for a long time.
According to him, during his time as an undergraduate in the University of Nsukka, students always travelled to universities in other states to get old theses and make photocopies before submitting them to their unsuspecting supervisors.
“We call it ‘dubbing’ during our time. Students do it a lot. It is just that digitalisation has made it easier for them as they now go online to download and submit. Although, some people still try to get the fairly old research works from another school to use. Since the theses are not online, it would be difficult for the supervisor to check originality with any software whatsoever,” he explained.
Some students gave various reasons for not committing themselves to writing their thesis themselves.
Francis, who is a postgraduate student in a private university, said, “I don’t know how to conduct research. When I was an undergraduate, we were not well taught, so I contracted it to someone on campus who did a great job for me then. I’m a brilliant student but I haven’t been able to understand the nitty-gritty of thesis writing.”
Busola holds a NCE and about rounding up for her B.Edu also paid her class rep who would help her get her thesis done and also give some tip to her supervisor so her thesis would not be scrutinised. She complained that it had not been easy combining work and marriage with schooling so she had to engage the help of her class rep.
Likewise, from interactions with some students, it was gathered that some are just lazy while some others have been trained by their parents to always depend on mercenaries for academic success.
Findings revealed that students no longer commit themselves to thorough research work and writing of their theses. They prefer the easy and fraudulent style of outsourcing, downloading online or ‘dubbing’ hardcopies. Observers noted that was one of the reasons the education system would keep churning out graduates with fraudulent grades and degrees.
If the education sector would want to be relevant and valuable, it is high time the government deployed means of tackling this menace which has eaten deep in to the fabrics of the academic sector.
Outsourcing of thesis, engaging in pure copy and paste of available materials online would lead to an array of graduates who do not have basic research skills needed in workplaces and they would not be competitive with their counterparts globally, they noted. The result, they claimed, was that the nation was loosing capacity for innovation.
A personal development enthusiast and lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Dr Temitope Aladesanmi, said the use of mercenaries in writing thesis was as a result of loss of value in society. This, he noted, was the reason for the promotion and celebration of mediocrity over and above merit being witnessed in the country nowadays.
“Our society is such that much emphasis now is placed on material acquisition over and above knowledge. Consider a student whose life has been characterised with the use of mercenaries right from secondary school, through sitting for the UTME etc. It is wishful thinking to believe such a fellow will suddenly change because he or she is now in the university,” he posited.
Aladesanmi explained further that when mercenaries were used, it means students could not effectively defend the certificates, adding that such people formed the bulk of ‘unemployable graduates’.
“A student for instance who worked on a project topic, say an improved method for ballistic missile launching, then in an interview do not even know the meaning of ballistic. These are typical of what one encounters daily. The quality of graduates is dropping but more saddening, the quality of research too. Thus graduates are turned out enmasse yearly yet most problems in our society persist. So research does not lend itself to the problems in society” he explained.
Likewise, the Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, University of Lagos, Dr Dele Ashiru, also emphasised that contracting theses to mercenaries had become a thriving business in Nigerian tertiary institutions.
“It is dangerous for the education system in Nigeria. What it inadvertently does is to confer on students the legitimacy that they don’t have,” he said.
Also, a lecturer at the Lagos State University lecturer, Dr Gbenga Owolabi, added, “The implications are grave. It will diminish the quality of research output we present to the outside. Many of the students who indulge in such act will never be able to carry out any research on their own. To study in a sane society will be difficult for such students.”
Is thesis writing necessary?
In as much as thesis writing helps to build research skill of an outgoing student, it also helps to build innovative capacities. On the contrary, some observers believe that not every degree or field of study actually requires thesis writing.
Aladesanmi, however, faulted the presence of some students in the university system.
He said, “Beyond this, in specific to universities, let us ask ourselves, why do people come to the university nowadays? It is not much for searching for knowledge but more of a trend. It is trendy to be in the university. There is the other part that has to do also with craze for certificate. Nigeria is a certificate-centric country.
“So, we need to begin to interrogate the underlying reasons for coming to university and determine if it aligns with the global mission of universities all over the world which is to, among other things, impact useful knowledge, just not any knowledge. Once there is an agreement in objectives of coming to the university, then those who patronise mercenaries will either not even have business being in the university or re-evaluate their ways. I can say categorically that quite a lot of people enroll in postgraduate programmes nowadays as a way of ‘whiling away time’. So the desire for postgraduate studies is not fuelled by love for research or desire to solve societal problems.”
However, an associate professor with the Babcock University, Ogun State, Dr Jumoke Yacob-Haliso, urged the NUC to stop mandating final year projects for all types of degree programmes.
Apart from being a fraudulent act, outsourcing thesis diminishes the quality of graduates the tertiary institutions produce. For the country to achieve impactful growth in development, it is necessary for stakeholders in the education sector to tackle this fraudulent act.
As such, Ashiru called for a total clampdown on all the mercenaries who operate on campuses.
“If there are no sellers, there can’t be buyers. Those mercenaries and organisations should be clamped down on. If we handle it from there, this social menace will become a thing of the past,” he said.
In his own view, ASUU chairman, OAU, Dr Deola Egbedokun, said those found culpable (students and lecturers) must be dealt with in line with the provisions guiding the conduct of students and lecturers.
“In the first instance, lecturers have the sole responsibility of adequately teaching their students all they need to know on research procedures. Also, students must be ready to learn and always pay attention in classes to acquire the requisite knowledge. In fact, students must be willing to learn the art of writing research projects. Institutions of higher learning must also provide conducive environment and opportunities for students and lecturers to achieve this aim.
“As much as possible, the town-gown relationship should be encouraged. Research outputs should necessarily be made applicable outside the walls of the university. Companies, industries and ministries must buy into sponsoring and using research outputs. By this, students and lecturers will be challenged to do innovative researches,” he said.
However, Aladesanmi said resources and facilities to carry out research should be provided; capacity building in the area of research methodology should be improved; contact time between students and teachers should be enhanced; while a stimulating environment for creative thinking should be provided.
He added, “One other thing is for the NUC, as it is done elsewhere, to begin to consider different categories of teachers in the university vis-a-vis those who are researchers, those who are teachers and those who are practitioners. Well, some may be able to combine two or more. Being a good teacher does not necessarily make you a good researcher. So this one size fits it all approach to education must be reviewed.”
On what can be done to reduce plagiarism, Owolabi said, “What can be done to discourage such practice and which I use to adopt is this. When you asked them to bring their research topic, what they normally do is to go online or to the library of another school to get an old project they wish to plagiarise. I will then change the topic or change the research design so as to make wholesale plagiarism impossible.
“Another way of checkmating the trend is to have plagiarism checker that will reveal the originator of the project. One can buy Turn-it-in software. The school can also buy a customized one. It is less than N1m. Another way of stopping this problem is to ask the student to go and bring all the materials he/she claimed to have consulted for verification. If he cannot, then you will know it is a plagiarised work. You can also invoke heavy sanction on whoever is found guilty. You may also not allow students to pick topics for themselves.”
Similarly, Yacob-Haliso mentioned that teaching of research courses should be practical and not theoretical, adding that students should be taught research skills from 100-Level to 300-Level before they reach the final year.
“Originality of topics makes it hard to outsource final year project to a mercenary. Supervisors should be vigilant, by taking time to actually supervise stage by stage, ask questions, give direction on next step, watch out for wrong signs and use plagiarism check software,” she said.
Efforts to know how NUC intends to solve this unethical act proved abortive as the Director of Public Affairs, Ibrahim Yusuf, who promised to get back to our correspondent refused to pick his calls when our correspondent called him again.
However, it is now crucial for the government, administrators of tertiary institutions and other stakeholders in the education sector to beam their searchlight on all aspects on which the business of thesis writing thrives.