Intellectual Trafficking: How Librarians of Top Nigerian Varsities Exchange Student Theses for Money

A thesis―what many Nigerians refer to as a ‘project’—is defined as “a dissertation on a particular subject in which one has done original research, as one presented by a candidate for a diploma or degree”. “Original research”, or sometimes “personal research”, is a phrase that comes up regardless of what dictionary is consulted. Yet, it is a common practice for students to pass off the exact opposite. They obtain theses one way or another, change the author’s names and other details, and submit as theirs. Worse still, such students are often aided by university librarians employed to safeguard these documents.

Between Monday, June 11, 2018, and Tuesday, June 26, 2018, the ICIR’s ‘KUNLE ADEBAJO paid visits to 41 faculty and departmental libraries in four prominent federal universities in Nigeria and posed as one interested in buying or duplicating a thesis for a friend in his final-year. The universities were Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria; Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife; University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka; and University of Abuja (UniAbuja), Gwagwalada. He shares his findings in this two-part report.


Adjacent the central library at the Ahmadu Bello University’s Kongo campusknown as President Kennedy Libraryis the Law Library. It is a magnificent two-storey structure, dazzling in a bright paint of yellowish beige. Behind a large, wooden table at the reception area was Ibrahim, who identified himself as the librarian and a “lawyer also”. 

The ICIR reporter explained his mission to him: to get about three topics for his friend, a law student at Ambrose Alli University, and to come back for the thesis as soon as his supervisor approves one of those topics.

“Number one, the issue is that it is not allowed to photocopy projects,” said Ibrahim, leaving the reporter to wonder what number two would be. “There is what we call copyright. If you photocopy somebody’s work, you know you are converting all his work to yours.”

“But, yet I may help you,” he added.  “I will collect your number and get some topics for you. I will text you some of the topics for you to select. For any of them that is approved, I promise you I will get the material for you complete. You understand ba? I will text at least ten, so that he can select three and forward that other people may also select.”

Law Library, Ahmadu Bello University

He gave his MTN phone number and promised to send the topics the following day. His only prior requirement was that the reporter gives him money to recharge his mobile account. When he was handed a N500 note, he declined and suggested it is doubled.

“I will text all the thing for you. I will see wonder, wallahi,” he maintained. “Anyone they approve, there is no problem. If you want complete work, whether hard or soft copy, I will get for you. There is no problem.”

True to his words, the following day, this reporter received a series of texts from Ibrahim, containing up to eight project topics: 1. An Appraisal on the Activities of Boko Haram Sect in the Light of Freedom of Religion, 2. Legal and Institutional Arbitration under International Law: A Case Study of Nigeria, 3. An Analysis of the Theories of Implementation of Treaties under the Abuja Geographic Information System, …, 8. Challenges on the Prosecution of Serving Heads of States by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

He also called to confirm receipt. Again on June 18, 2018, he called to emphasise that this reporter’s friend should share the topics with his colleagues, with each person taking about three, “so that the remaining topics will not be in vain”. Asked how much it will cost to buy the materials, he replied that it depends on the topics chosen, because some of the documents have more than 100 pages. The reporter has missed numerous calls from Ibrahim since that conversation.


In charge of the Library of the Department of Public Administration is a gentleman who, in writing, identified himself simply as Bayero. As this reporter introduced his plan, he quickly interjected with the word “alright”, repeated thrice, to indicate he understands. He allowed access to the thesis catalogue, where the reporter copied details of 2011 submissions by Mohammed Murtala, Mohemmed Musa, and Musa Garba Hadija.

Asked how much it would cost to buy the document once a topic is approved, he quickly signaled the reporter  to keep mum, as his eyes darted across the room, where a library user sat. Stuttering, he asked when the reporter would return for the document, as he signalled for writing materials. He afterwards penned down 3000 and, upon request, his name and phone number.


INTELLECTUAL TRAFFICKING: How librarians of top Nigerian varsities exchange student theses for money [part 2]

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