by Samuel Ogundipe
President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign suffered a setback Friday following a newspaper report that the president allegedly plagiarised President Barack Obama in the speech he delivered while launching the project.
The government says the campaign will help curb “widespread act of immorality” by Nigerians.
The report, which detailed how Mr. Buhari allegedly lifted quotes from a 2008 speech by Mr. Obama, came on the heels of another damaging allegation that the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign contained elements belonging to another anti-corruption effort, ‘Not in My Country’.
Mr. Buhari on August 8 launched the ‘reorientation’ campaign in Abuja as part of his government’s strategy to make Nigerians eschew “dishonesty, indolence, unbridled corruption and widespread impunity” and embrace daily introspection over their “immoral” conducts.
He also used the occasion to sue for national consensus amongst Nigerians on issues ranging from spirit of service to patriotism.
“We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long. Let us summon a new spirit of responsibility, spirit of service, of patriotism and sacrifice, Let us all resolve to pitch in and work hard and look after, not only ourselves but one another.
“What the current problem has taught us is that we cannot have a thriving army of rent seekers and vested interests, while the majority suffers,” Mr. Buhari said.
But facts have emerged indicating Mr. Buhari did not author those quotes.
Adeola Akinremi, a columnist with Lagos-based THISDAY Newspaper, was the first to spot possible instances of plagiarism between Mr. Buhari’s speech and a speech delivered by Mr. Obama when he was first elected in 2008.
In a speech delivered after his victory on November 4, 2008, Mr. Obama said to a crowd of enthusiastic supporters:
“Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.
“So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other. “Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.”
After highlighting the seeming plagiarism, Mr. Akinremi said the act was “unethical” and lampooned Mr. Buhari for allegedly indulging in it.
“It is immoral to plagiarize other people’s work, but even worse to use dishonesty to launch a campaign about honesty.
“When you use another person’s work without acknowledgement, you have plagiarized. You simply pretend as if it is your own. It is unethical. It makes a mess of the campaign from the start. That is what Buhari has done, nobody will believe in the ‘change begins with me’ campaign, because it was built on lies,” Mr. Akinremi said.
When contacted Friday morning, presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said he was just becoming aware of the allegation and that the presidency would investigate.
Mr. Akinremi’s column was published a week after associates of Akin Fadeyi, creator of ‘Not In My Country’ accused the Buhari administration of stealing his concept to launch ‘Change Begins with Me.’
The associates said Mr. Fadeyi, a creative artist and former head of communications at Airtel Nigeria, met with the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in December 2015 to intimate him of ‘Not In My Country,’ an episodic narrative that deploys humour to underscore societal ills and appeal to Nigerians to shun sharp practices.
They said Mr. Mohammed declined interest in the concept, only to turn around to adapt it for ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign.
But Mr. Mohammed denied the allegations, saying he started ‘Change Begins with Me’ before he was appointed minister.
“We started working on ‘Change Begins with Me’ before the honourable minister was nominated and we’ve been working with the agency that produced the campaign,” Mr. Mohammed’s associate said.
The ‘Change Begins with Me’ campaign had earned Mr. Buhari widespread criticism, with many Nigerians accusing him of shifting blames to them and wondering why they gave him their mandate if he would ultimately saddle them with the duty of effecting the change he promised.
But the government said the campaign became necessary to rally all Nigerians in the effort to cleanse the country of corruption and other malaise plaguing it.