FEATURE ARTICLE

Chidi Oguamanam, Ph.D.Wednesday, November 30, 2005
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coguamanam@hotmail.com


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ADEWOPO, NCC AND DREAM KILLERS


any have the impression that this President is not overly excited about the idea that Nigeria's dream of transformation can be entrusted in the hands of its younger generation. If clues from the first term of this presidency are guide, there is enough support for this perception. It is not news that the President is more comfortable with and trusting of folks around his age bracket.


On few occasions, when the President has given consideration to younger Nigerians in dispensing presidential favours by way of political and non-political appointments, he has been drawn toward a particular category. His targets are younger Nigerians from a "recognizable" family pedigree. The idea is that if the parents are unavailable, then we can make do with their children. It is not surprising that from the first term of this presidency most of the younger players in several sectors of federal public/political service are sons and daughters of "prominent Nigerians" alive or dead. This is a trend that has been exported from the presidency to the states and symbolically exemplified by the President's daughter who is a serving commissioner in their Ogun home state.

Despite the presidency's disposition toward gerontocracy and, some may suggest, nepotism, there are isolated instances where certain appointments are manifestly based on merit. A fair minded critic could not but acknowledge those. It makes no difference whether those are exceptions from a general rule. Instructively, such appointments, whether of younger or not-so-young Nigerians, have been self-vindicating. There are a few scattered examples of where square pegs have been placed in square holes by commission or omission. I will shun any elaborations here save to mention that the subject of this piece is one such example.

The appointment of Mr. Adebambo Adewopo as the Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) could only have come about on merit. Adewopo, until his appointment, was a senior lecturer in intellectual property law with bias for copyright at the Lagos State University. He is one of Nigeria's few accomplished professionals and academics in this increasingly important socio-economic and legal field. As a professional and scholar, Adewopo's voice, passion and vision in the area of copyright protection is well known to both users and creative communities in Nigeria and beyond. Although from a family of lawyers, Adewopo's first passion is scholarship; he has no political godfather and did not lobby to be the boss of NCC. I am confident his credentials spoke for him. His appointment gave hope to the shrinking role of merit in our polity. Indeed, my friend and scholar, Okey Ndibe, captures this aptly when he described Adewopo as "a perfect man hired for the right job".

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Upon assuming his position at NCC, Mr. Adewopo left no doubt that he came with a sense of mission. He knew the urgency and timeliness of his task at a time when intellectual property is pivotal to economic survival of nations in the emerging global economic order. Perhaps only few have the know-how and insight required for his job. After extensive consultation with stakeholders, the NCC boss launched the Strategic Action Against Piracy (STRAP), an elaborate and well articulated program designed to combat the all-pervading monster of piracy in all sectors of creative endeavour in Nigeria. At a time when Nigeria's local movie industry is rated the world's third, after United States and India, the need for a strong NCC is as important to the economy as a strong regulatory regime in the oil sector.

Only few would feign ignorance of the impact of Adewopo's mission since his appointment to the NCC. His performance has been described as "competent and conscientious". Nigeria's powerful and multi-faceted pirate communities have become quite uncomfortable. The yet-to-ripe analogy between the success of NAFDAC under Dr. Akunyili and Adewopo's burgeoning mission at NCC is at this point compelling, albeit prematurely. The havoc wrought by fake drug mafias may be more obvious than those perpetrated by pirates. However, the negative impact of the latter on creativity in Nigeria and the economy as a whole is only comparable to the effect of fake drugs to the health of Nigerians. For stakeholders in multi-billion naira Nigerian copyright industry things have started to look up. There is no doubt that for professional jobbers and turncoats in the copyright arena and army of parasites on creativity in Nigeria, Adewopo's clear-cut determination is a signal that the era of business as usual was over.

It is not surprising that the recent indefinite suspension of Adewopo from his position at the NCC has aroused outrage from discerning Nigerians. Reports have it that Adewopo was alleged to have ignored due process in licensing a rival collecting society, the Musical Copyright Society (MCS), and thereby broke the monopoly of Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (PMRS). Insiders believe that breach of due process was failure to get the approval of the relevant minister. It is a public knowledge that the PMRS have been embroiled in litigation with MCS for sometime now, a development to which Adewopo has been privy before he took over the helm at NCC. It is relieving to know that Adewopo has not been associated with unethical or corrupt conduct.

There are some pertinent issues to be examined. Does the NCC boss require a ministerial approval to exercise the power to recognize or license a collecting society? Not really. Section 32 (B) of the enabling Act is clear on this. Second, why should the Director General be sanctioned for not obtaining an approval that is not required by statute? Why should such unwarranted sanction take the form of an extreme measure such as indefinite suspension of a committed public officer with no previous record of wrongdoing? Why the brouhaha over multiple collecting societies in Nigeria when that is the trend globally? Shouldn't creators and copyright holders be the appropriate complainants? It should be noted that the PMRS, was licensed under a military regime. Then, no ministerial approval was obtained. The association has existed for over 10 years without giving a good account of its monopoly. The popularity of democratizing the "collecting space" amongst stakeholders is a testament to the incompetence of PMRS. It is a development that opens the door to healthy competition. Nigerian creators and Nigerians are the best for it.

Adewopo is an apolitical professional with a sense of mission operating in terrain littered with political landmines and serviced by intrigues. Not one to pander to any political godfather or act the script of those who do not wish Nigeria well in the sensitive task at the NCC, Adewopo's current travails implicates an aspect of the Nigerian factor. Specifically, it speaks to our perverted bureaucratic ethic, particularly our commitment to pursue shadows and sideline substance, especially if by so doing we get rid of "uncompromising obstacles" to our business as usual mentality. Rightly, some have called this suspension "reprehensible and diversionary". It is a wrong headed decision that should be rescinded forthwith.

This summer in Montreal, Canada, I had the opportunity of listening to Mr. Adewopo speak at the world Association for Advancement of Teaching and Research in Intellectual Property (ATRIP). This is a prestigious organization that brings together world leading academics and practitioners of intellectual property law. It was one of those rare moments I came out with the impression that qualitative Nigerian voices can be heard in global fora beyond the shopping spree, opportunism and scramble for estacode that have been the preoccupation of our public servants on foreign trips. Adewopo was quite engaging. I felt proud that our public service could be attractive to his ilk. He seemed fully aware of the place of intellectual property in the global socio-economic constitutive process and the challenges posed by relevant international treaties to developing countries.

In discussing the STRAP program, I expressed my concern that copyright legislation, policy and enforcement strategy must be mindful of a need to draw a balance between the competing interests of creators of proprietary works and users; between the private and the public domain. I prodded Adewopo on the need for the public enlightenment aspect of STRAP to have a component on user empowerment and public domain safeguard so that we should not allow pirates to set the agenda for our intellectual property policy. As we parted to our hotel rooms, I prayed that he would not be a victim of the Nigerian factor. Adewopo's mission at NCC is an urgent one that should not be sacrificed at the altar of intrigue, mischief and short-sighted politics. Whosoever was responsible for his suspension, the presidency or the Minister of Culture and Tourism, should lift the suspension immediately or otherwise erase the inscrutable veil surrounding this suspension for a worried Nigerian public.