The state of Open Access in Nigeria: Let’s stop talking, and start doing! – Obinna Ojemeni

Open Science is a global issue. This series has so far highlighted perspectives from our open science stars from around the world, and we believe having this diversity is critical to have a well-informed viewpoint on the state of research in general.

So this week, we are absolutely delighted to have Obinna Ojemeni with us from Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria.

Hi Obinna! Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I am from the South-eastern part of Nigeria and the third/last of the three sons of my parents. I attended Nnamdi Azikiwe University where I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Science Education & Mathematics. After my National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) program, I proceeded to the premier University of Ibadan where I obtained both Master of Education and Master of Information Science in 2010 and 2014 respectively. A Science Educationist and Information Scientist by training, and presently a University Teacher in the newly formed department of Library and Information Science, Enugu State University of Science & Technology. I am also a Doctoral (PhD) student in Nnamdi Azikiwe University where I’m studying Information Science with special focus on developments in Nigeria’s Open Access publishing landscape and bibliometric studies.

When did you first realise you wanted to be researcher? What was it that turned you?

That would be probably after my Master of Education degree program in the department of Teacher Education, University of Ibadan, which is also where I learnt how to do research and had academics that inspired me too. Besides having been trained as an Educationist, the best career would be to educate the younger generation and encourage them too as well as change the poor perception about the teaching profession.

I would rather emphasize that I come from a family of teachers, both my paternal grandparents were secondary (grandfather) and primary (grandmother) school teachers respectively. While my Mother was a Secondary school teacher, which is why I decided to take the family legacy to another level by becoming a University Teacher 🙂

When did you first hear about Open Access and Open Science? What did you first think about it all?

I was introduced to Open Access by my Master of Information Science Project Supervisor, Dr Williams Nwagwu at Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (popularly known as ARCIS) in University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Before then I was proposing a bibliometric study of a local journal published by a scholarly society and suggesting its’ inclusion in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), but had no knowledge of the concept of Open Access. So I was mandated by my supervisor to read up studies on Open Access which gave me background knowledge of the concept and the BBB declarations that facilitated its adoption globally.

My first thought was the reality that little or no research would have been possible in Nigeria without the free availability of OA publications via the internet. And we as Nigerians especially Academics, are doing little or nothing to foster its sustenance.

What do you think the biggest problem with the current scholarly publishing system is?

There are numerous challenges with scholarly communication but mainly the dominance of commercial publishers who charge huge amount of Author Processing Charges (APC), lack of diversity in the Editorial Team members of most top and internationally acclaimed journals and closed peer review system as well as long delays between time of submission and publication.

Can you tell us a bit about the research environment in Nigeria, and at Enugu State University?

The Nigerian research environment isn’t encouraging for 21st century scholarship to thrive. Within the university system in Nigeria, academics are burdened with huge teaching commitments for both undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as with numerous non-academic obligations like administration and supervision of examinations, marking of examination scripts, computation of students’ results, project supervision and some other administrative responsibilities. All these make it extremely difficult for an academic to be productive in carrying out research. Ironically, assessment of academics hinges on research productivity and, publishing in Scopus and especially Web of Science indexed journals primarily because of the impact factor syndrome. Same applies to Enugu State University of Science and Technology, but acknowledges and weighs local and international conferences equally which I find to be interesting as well as encouraging local science. The entire system needs an overhaul in order to rescue academia from this Publish-or-Perish syndrome. Regrettably, Nigeria’s National University Commission seems to be ill-informed about current developments in Research Evaluation and Scholarly publishing landscape. This has driven most academicians in Nigeria to resort to publishing in obscure and questionable journals as well as in mainstream Toll Access journals hidden behind paywalls and out of reach from Nigerian scholars that will most likely need these publications.

The entire system needs an overhaul in order to rescue academia from this Publish-or-Perish syndrome

How does Open Access play into your personal research?

The issue of lack of access to scientific literature isn’t yet at the forefront of research studies in Nigeria and providing solutions to it seems to be emerging predominantly from western scholars who have access and enormous resources. And most OA advocates are from the west too, but in order to foster local understanding, solution and participation in the OA movement, making it my primary research interest is inevitable. Recently I discovered the OpenCon initiative which I find to be innovative and engaging numerous young scholars from around the world. Hope to be part of it someday! 🙂

Is lack of access a problem in your experience? What about for your colleagues and students?

Lack of access to scientific literature is a major impediment to scholarship in Nigeria. I’m not in a position to make a general statement pertaining to issues on access beyond the few universities I have interacted with, but very sure that lack of access prevails in most cases.

Lack of access to scientific literature is a major impediment to scholarship in Nigeria

Has this changed throughout your education and research career? Is ease of access getting better?

Much hasn’t changed yet so far, because Library and Information Professionals in this part of the world haven’t stepped up their roles within academic institutions beyond the traditional book-keeping role. Poor information literacy among students is one issue while inaccessibility of relevant academic resources is another. I have resorted to Google search since my studentship and still as a University Teacher.

As a researcher, what other barriers have you faced in your work? And how have you overcome them?

My primary research interest is in Informetrics/Bibliometric/Scientometrics, which requires access to scientific databases e.g. Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar, etc. for publication and citation data. But among the three mentioned above, only GS is openly accessible with some limited services and structured framework for optimal data retrieval. Both WoS and Scopus which are the mainstream citation indexes are subscription-based or Toll access services. Lack of access to this set of major scientific databases has hindered most of my research efforts in bibliometric studies. Despite the fact that both databases under-represent the state of science production in most developing nations, and especially Nigeria, it still serves as a globally accepted platform for research evaluation of nations and universities regardless of geographic location.

The global research community should endeavour to be open-minded so as to enhance the realisation of an open and truly democratic society.

A recent experience would be when I was executing my Master of Information Science research project on Bibliometric analysis of Nigeria’s Biomedical Open Access Journals perceived to be predatory, I identified that some of them were formerly indexed in WoS/Scopus. But due to the inaccessibility of the databases, I streamlined my options to just two OA journals that were delisted by WoS. In order to compliment the limited metrics from GS, I asked for WoS citation data of the two OA journals via an emailing list where I surprisingly received Professor Eugene Garfield’s support. In as much as my interaction with Thomson Reuters was a very long and exhausting process which delayed my project defence immensely, it further drew my attention to how hard access to scientific data is for scholars from this part of the world. I really appreciate Professor Eugene Garfield’s openness and assistance, but if I was in a western institution my information needs would have been satisfied via the click of a button. Open Access, Open Science, and Open Data for all, please!!!

Open Access, Open Science, and Open Data for all, please!!!

Do you feel there is a North-South divide in scholarly publishing? What can global research communities do to help overcome this?

Regardless of one’s location whether in the global north or south, let’s all stop talking and start doing. Because actions speaks louder than words, the west sometimes claim to be projecting an all-inclusive society but clamps down on little efforts from young scholars like myself (speaking from personal experience). For instance, on E-mailing Lists, you find that when you make contributions or ask questions or seek for assistance, it goes with the wind in most cases with few exceptions though! Another striking example would be that a Librarian/PhD student from a developing nation who tried assisting me at some point, after our academic interaction via an e-mailing list, I then realised that the name used on the lists isn’t the real name. I just never bothered to ask for reasons, but when I made further reflection on it, I realised that it was for acceptance or inclusivity. So, the divide is beyond scholarly publishing and social interactions too. The global research community should endeavour to be open-minded so as to enhance the realisation of an open and truly democratic society.

Regardless of one’s location whether in the global north or south, let’s all stop talking and start doing.

Do you feel that publisher-led initiatives like HINARI are beneficial for researchers and students in developing nations?

Well, there seems to be some iota of benefit in some cases, but HINARI by World Health Organisation might be useful to those in the biomedical sciences. But what I can say for sure that has been beneficiary in my own experience would be MEDLINE (PubMed) database and its services. Most of these access initiatives, for instance, JSTOR, are very limited and provides access to old literature which doesn’t meet the needs of a 21st century academic. My recent interaction with JSTOR due to access via my University’s subscription was not satisfactory, because an apt example is that of when I needed a textbook to prepare my lesson note for a course but it could only provide reviews of the book. I saw their recent Usage statistics on number of downloads which is about 25.1 million downloads, this brings me to my doubts about altmetrics. Does this set of downloads translate to satisfied information needs of its users? Google Scholar tends to satisfy most of the needs of scholars & students in the developing nations, which is evident in the research productivity of the region so far. I do believe that a survey of most authors in the region reverberate this stance and not these access initiatives by Research4Life, WHO etc. Just my thoughts!

What is the current state of Open Access in Nigeria? Is there much movement from the government on this?

Lack of OA awareness among LIS professionals (both Educators & Practitioners) is a major hindrance to OA adoption while lack of OA policy, ignorant policy makers and inadequate ICT infrastructure makes it unrealisable yet. The scholarly publishing landscape is poorly defined and has no appropriate structure in place to facilitate its development in the nearest future. Unfortunately, most OA journal publishing efforts from Nigeria are either blacklisted or delisted from international indexes and bodies like Web of Science, Beall’s List, Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), and most recently, DOAJ, I think. The Malaysian MoHE case was quite a funny development because a flaw by one of the OA journals by a Nigerian OA publisher, made them blacklist all other OA journals owned by the same publisher. Such action is ill-informed because a certain Malaysian author erred, is that enough reason to blacklist all other Malaysian authors? Did the MoHE assess the article contents before drawing conclusions? Or was it just a convenient and easy one since it is a Nigerian OA journal?  Well, I am of the opinion that the bad online image incurred by the country in the cyberspace as a result of the email scam, have been transferred to its OA publishing efforts. It can also be attributed to poor perceptions of western leaders about Nigeria, describing it as “fantastically corrupt nation”. Most western scholars are also of the view that no quality study can emerge from a region with limited resources, but guess what we are thriving against all odds!!

Unfortunately, most OA journal publishing efforts from Nigeria are either blacklisted or delisted from international indexes and bodies

Nigerian government on the other hand, is known for lack of making informed decisions, and the academia isn’t helping matter as well. I wrote a seminar paper on the Assessment of Nigerian Universities’ role in both Green and Gold OA via DOAR/ROAR & DOAJ, but found out there was limited impact. Interestingly, I also discovered that only one private university in Nigeria has an OA policy for its academic staff.

What role do the major publishers, like Wiley, Taylor and Francis, and Springer play in Nigeria? Is it easy to publish in their journals, and is it easy to access the content they publish?

They play no role in the Nigerian scholarly publishing landscape, probably because they know that our scholars cannot afford the author fees that they charge for publication, and probably that the content might not be attractive to their intended customers in the Ivory tower. These set of mainstream journal publishers are not accessible for use in terms of consultation and contributions. I rarely see African and Nigerian authors publishing with them except for few contributions from those affiliated with international institutions. I would reiterate the known fact which states that publishing in such sources can be regarded as publishing to the wrong audience and buying into the broken system of scholar/research assessment in this Publish-Or-Perish crusade era.

Where do you see the future of scholarly publishing? And what steps do we need to take to get there?

The future lies with Mega-journal publishing model especially the option of non-APC OA journal. Well, I’m not very familiar with PeerJ’s publishing model yet, but I perceive it to be a wonderful development.

If you could give one piece of advice to a student wishing to start a research career, what would it be?

To be open-minded and self-reliant, and most importantly, embrace social media platforms like mailing lists, Twitter etc., to facilitate open discussions on issues of interest.

Thanks for your insight, Obinna! I hope our readers found it useful, I know we certainly have. 🙂

Image credit: Obinna Ojemeni
Image credit: Obinna Ojemeni

Obinna is a Master of Education (M.Ed) and Master of Infomation Science (M.Info.Sc) graduate of University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Presently, he is a Doctoral Student in the department of Library & Information Science, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka-Nigeria. Recently, he received a teaching appointment in the new department of Library and Information Science, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Agbani, Nigeria. Obinna has great interest in Informetrics/Scientometrics, Open Access publishing in Nigeria and ICT4D. Open Access is a major area of interest in his Doctoral research, as well as facing challenges with accessing mainstream Toll Access LIS journals for his research, and other LIS journals within Africa as well.

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