How to Change to Next Level As we were saying.

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SATURDAY COUNTERPOINT 

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

The premise of our discussion last week was on the possible stimulus that could accrue to the Nigerian economy when a paradigm-shifting instrument dubbed the Nigerian Entertainment Development Commission, NEDC, is legislated into being, for the sake of the creative industries. Let us continue:

“The objectives of the NEDC are direct and actionable:

1: To protect, promote, preserve and permit activities, regulations, practices and procedures that shall produce and provide conducive conditions for the attainment of high productivity, excellence in production standards, training and development.

2: To act as arrowhead and driving force in the capitalisation and establishment of critical infrastructures; and the mobilisation of corporate financial institutions towards deepening and expanding professionalism and investment super-highways.

3: To encourage and stimulate the positive, clear-sighted promotion and preservation of our sundry cultural and traditional mores, diverse lifestyles, customs, etc.

 In the pursuit of the foregoing, to activate a strong sense of patriotism and deep appreciation of the potentialities of our inherent diversity – in culture, practices and customs – and its sensitive and responsible presentation to the larger world.

 Some of the major organs of the NEDC shall include the following:

– A new National Copyright Administration (the NCC Act shall be amended to subsume the current effete body under the NEDC) will act as the intellectual, orientational, documentational and informational arm of the NEDC, especially in the critical forth-coming anti-piracy war.

– War Against Piracy (WAP) unit (with adequate and well-remunerated enforcement and prosecutorial personnel and competences). The crack-force units of armed forces, police and paramilitary corps shall be in action across the states/LGs/major urban centres (akin to a ‘Piracy Police’). The units shall include lawyers proficient in criminal litigation of intellectual property infringers; PR/Information officers (reverse propaganda is essential), etc. We have to win the war on piracy, as the statistics is worse than distressing – a recent international media report blatantly revealed on this scourge that Nigeria accounts for 80% of internationally pirated music CDs!

– A corollary of the above is the establishment of counterpart judicial units… for example, the establishment of Special Tribunals in every geopolitical sub-zone (senatorial district). A spin-off from that is the urgent need to review the Copyright Act in which punishments are now outdated and are no longer commensurate to the gravity of criminality. As we speak, punitive fines range from N10,000 to N100,000 for individual infringers, and N50,000 to N500,000 for ‘body corporate’! The longest jail time is 12 months… with that sort of kid-glove knocks, it is no wonder piracy is quite lucrative here.

Even more despairing is the apparent ignorance (or may be indolence) amongst copyright owners. They seem to believe only the Copyright Commission can prosecute infringements. A former senior law lecturer at University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Dr. F.O.B. Babafemi lamented in his 526-page book (Intellectual Property: The Law and Practice of Copyright, Trade Marks, Patents and Industrial Designs in Nigeria, 2006): “In my view, the Commission is now doing a very good job. More cases are being taken to the Federal High Court. However, be this as it may, when one examines the civil cases brought before the Federal High Court, one is indeed dismayed at the paucity of cases (brought by copyright owners, emphasis mine). The point I am making is that even if the Nigerian Copyright Commission prosecutes or does not prosecute, nothing stops the copyright owner himself from suing anyone who infringes his copyright in a court of law. It is indeed very very sad that since the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1988 and its amendments in 1992 and 1999… we can only cite very few reported cases on copyright”! Need we say more?

 Yet, all the current noise is on physical piracy… the warfront against the ascendancy of the more sophisticated digital piracy has not even been situated! As Ana Santos Rutschman revealed in an Emory University International Law Review paper  (Weapons of Mass Construction: The Role of Intellectual Property in Nigeria’s Film and Music Industries, March, 2015): ‘‘With an estimated 23% of the Nigerian population having access to mobile Internet by 2017, the Internet could become Nigeria’s new Alaba market.’’ Oh, we have work to do! (But more on Piracy later).

– Another critical arm of the NEDC is the Arts Endowment Fund. This is what gives the commission its spunk as a semi-autonomous body with inherent abilities to access funds and grants all over the world; and a well-designed accountable system of supporting, funding, subventing and generally provoking creative or artistic excellence in productions, trainings, festivals, exhibitions, concerts, scholarship, curricular, etc. We can borrow a leaf from the Iroko that America’s National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has become. Surely with an annual budget of $146m (about N28b in 2015) the NEA boasts of a chest to wink at entire budgets of several Nigerian states’ Ministry of Cultures combined. It was set up in 1965 as an independent agency by the US government. Our own giant document on the Endowment Fund has been gathering dust since the 1990’s.

– There is an urgent need to deregulate and decentralise the business of collecting societies and the administration of royalty distribution. A strong function of the NEDC is to act as keen regulators of these independent membership-driven associations, and provide adequate and perpetual safety nets for creators of self-generating works of arts.

– Note that even as we promote our culture, give jobs to our youth and project a worthy legacy for the promises of this great nation, the surrounding activities of NEDC are catalysts for greater and qualitative job opportunities for large spectrum of professionals and allied industries. It is a win-win scenario for all Nigerians.

 Our parting plea is that the above statements should not be digested in a hurry like a watered-down Nollywood script; nor should we regress to the classic Nigerian pass-time of abandoning the message and hankering after the messenger. Let us spend time to reflect; give the benefit of doubt and seek clarification or research, where necessary. Being disdainful of bold or ‘crazy’ ideas does not make them less pivotal, or less beneficial. Whatever you do, think of this moment as a unique opportunity and atmosphere to change dramatically the fortunes and features of the Nigerian Creative Community – for good. So, let us think together! God bless Nigeria. And her long-suffering art-isans!

 May be that prayer will be answered four years after…we, the resilient and adaptive Nigerian audience awaits the stirrings of ‘born-again’ pilots of this craft: To be, or not to be?