The President’s Speech: Plagiarism, Shame And Lessons

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The President’s Speech: Plagiarism, Shame, Lessons, By Ken Tadaferua

During the 2015 inaugural speech of retired General Muhammadu Buhari as President of Nigeria, he made a statement that instantly became the defining soundbite of that speech and possibly the only quotable quote of his administration so far. He said: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” It was an instant hit with the media and networks. It went viral on the net and Buharists framed it as the ultimate pointer to a mind unyielding to political godfathers or primordial interests.

This piece was written by Ken Tadaferua. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

A new era, they proclaimed, was born. I am sure that speech writer (usually anonymous to the public) must have gotten a few congratulatory pats on the back for a job well done. And he must have sworn to continue in his style of excellence. Today we seriously doubt that claim of originality and excellence.

Long ago on May 1958 or 57 years before the Buhari inaugural speech, another army General, Charles de Gaulle, first President of the fifth French Republic and its 18th President, made a most famous quip. He had said: “Je suis un homme qui n’appartient à personne et qui appartient à tout le monde.” The English translation is: “I am a man who belongs to no-one and who belongs to everyone.” Notice how this 1958 statement seemed to have resurrected in Buhari’s 2015 speech?

Was the new era of Buharism born with plagiarism? Did that speech writer who possibly got accolades knowingly plagiarise de Gaulle without due acknowledgement? That is for the reader to judge and come to his conclusion. One thing is clear though. The hint of plagiarism was lost to all who applauded the speech and sound bite. Why? Possibly because unlike the English and the Americans, the political literature of the French is not popular with Nigerians or perhaps it was the euphoria of the times.

READ ALSO: Plagiarism Scandal: Buhari To Punish Those Who Inserted Obama’s Speech Into His ‘Change’ Speech

But when possibly the same presidential speech writer sought to employ the same strategy in President Buhari’s speech of September 2016 at the launch of the Change Begins With Me campaign project, all hell burst loose. The president’s speech was found out to have shamelessly plagiarised the 2008 inaugural speech of the American President, Barack Obama.

Just as in the Charles de Gaulle’s case, the Buhari speech repeated almost word for word, practically all of these Obama soundbites:

“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.

“In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

This time the speechwriter did not get away. He miscalculated. He did not reckon with Nigerians affinity for British and American political speeches, particularly that of the popular first black American President Barack Hussein Obama II whose every word is hung upon by so many adoring folks and analysed ever so critically. This time the speechwriter is not getting pats on his back. Instead President Buhari has swiftly (quite uncharacteristic) announced that: “This serious oversight will be investigated thoroughly and appropriate sanction meted.” Poor speechwriter. The social media has thoroughly roasted his speech and embarrassed the president. Now the president promises to bake him too. Seriously? I don’t envy that dude right now.

But then plagiarism is a serious offence. It is not an oversight as Buhari puts it. It is a deliberate act to steal that of another person without acknowledgement and passing it on as your original creative idea for which you expect to be applauded or rewarded for brilliance and deep philosophical thinking with adoring praises and promotions. Just as President Buhari was wildly applauded for his outstandingly brilliant inaugural speech soundbite: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.” Charles de Gaulle probably turned in amused horror in his grave at the brazen theft of his original thoughts.

Plagiarism leaves a sour taste in the mouth when caught out. Ask Melania Trump who plagiarised Michelle Obama’s speech. It embarrasses everybody – the speechwriter, the office of the president, the president himself and his team, the country. It casts the pallor of intellectual dishonesty on persons and opens one’s views to doubts, more critical assessments and long side looks.

In a few days time, President Buhari will address the 71st regular session of the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York. He would also meet President Obama. Without doubt, he must worry about how his speech at the UN will be analysed. Will it be cockroached for plagiarism? Would world leaders, including Obama, snigger behind him over his plagiarism scandal which spread like wildfire through the Internet around the virtual global village?

It is a big lesson for all. Many folks copiously copy and paste the writings of others without acknowledgement and posing as the authors of such beads of inspirational lights. Lacking in deep original thoughts and incapable of crafting words and ideas, they resort to plagiarism. They love the appurtenances of great writing but are unwilling to sweat the blood that produces the works. It drives many creative minds crazy to see how the result of days of deep research, philosophising, constructions from stream of consciousness to creative writing is passed off by some lazy lout as theirs and to make matters worse, to profit from such arrant dishonesty. It is the same principle with pirating movies, music and books, where one creates and another copies to enjoy fruits where he did not sow.

One hopes, Nigerians are now awake to the criminality driving plagiarism and pirating. President Buhari’s speech writing team must be reorganised to professionally write, sub and edit the president’s speeches. It is not a job for the boys. It is serious business. Any speech the president makes goes around the world in nano seconds. His words define him and the nation in many ways. If he is rightly accused of plagiarism, which is a euphemism for stealing, the resultant foul stench not only puts a toga of shame on the president but the entire nation. I am proud that Nigerians rose up to the occasion to denounce without equivocation the decadence of the plagiarising speech. I am also glad that the President wasted scant time in addressing and denouncing the shame. We hope, as Buhari promised, it will never happen again.

Ken Tadaferua is a media and marketing communications consultant. Twitter: @ktadaferua

This piece was written by Ken Tadaferua. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of



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