Ask creative persons in the country, what their greatest challenge is and they will most likely say, its piracy. I am making such a commanding verdict on the ugliest problem, the often handsome and delectable individuals in showbiz have to confront. This is because I have asked different entertainers, the simple question of what their greatest challenge is and I have been replied with one word: “Piracy”. Starting out in journalism as a high society/entertainment reporter, I met and interviewed dozens of A-listers and they did not only shed their ready-made smiles, they almost lost all of their well practised composure, when they talk about copyright thieves. Over here in Naija, we call copyright stealers, pirates and for the major players in the creative industries, it’s high time government stopped criminals from reaping from where they didn’t sow.
Really, the politicians and policy makers, who love artistes aren’t those who parade them like mascots at rallies or big corporate events. Rather, it’s those that seek to address issues that make life difficult for them. And this explains why I would pick Tuesday June 6 as one of the finest moments of the 8th House of Representatives. It was a day, members with much gusto, passed for second reading a bill to amend the Copyright Act 2004. With members taking turns to speak on the evils of stealing copyright, they resoundingly passed the bill seeking to provide stiffer penalties for persons involved in pirating creative works and illegally reproducing intellectual property. The bill sponsored by a member, Bede Eke, seeks to amend Section 20(1) of the principal Act to increase from five years to a ten year jail term or a fine of N100 thousand from N1,000, for anyone convicted of reproducing for sale, hire and business, copies of a work of which copyright subsists. The bill also proposes the amendment of Section 21(1) of the principal Act to proscribe a N1 million fine in place of N500 thousand fine or ten years in jail as replacement for a five year jail term, for any individual who usurps the role of the Nigerian Copyright Commission by prescribing design or mark as anti-piracy to a work which copyright subsists, among other new amendments.
A ten year jail term for pirates is music to the ears of long-suffering writers, film producers, musicians and industry regulators! Eke in his lead debate on the bill, observed that with the creative industry contributing N1.8 trillion to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2008 alone, despite the challenges of operating in Nigeria’s entertainment sector, it was disappointing that piracy has remained a plague to those in the creative industry.
“Though Nigeria is signatory to various international conventions on copyright protection, these conventions are hardly enforced owing to the fact that they have not been domesticated. In Nigeria of today, it is difficult for an artiste that recoups investment on artistic or creative work because of the activities of pirates”, he stressed.
Six days before Reps fully backed the anti-piracy bill, to be precise on Tuesday May 3, lawmakers passed for second reading a bill to amend the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation Act 2004, sponsored by a member Lovette Idisi.
Speaking on the bill, Idisi maintained that it will better position the agency to contribute to mainstreaming culture and tourism as key contributors to diversifying the economy. On the same day, lawmakers adopted a motion raised by another member, Oladipupo Adebutu on the need to protect indigenous language film makers following the resurgence of Indian films and Mexican telenovelas. On hand to witness the lawmakers debate the motion were Nollywood stars, led by Dele Odule, who is the president of the Theatre Arts and Movie Practitioners Association of Nigeria.
The interventions from the Green Chamber couldn’t have come at a better time with the recession biting hard and government as well as experts agreeing that non-oil sectors can lead the desperately needed economic rebound. Nigerians first got an inkling to how much boost the entertainment industry can contribute to the country’s economy in 2014. It was the year we got familiar with a country rebasing its economy. Among the segments included for the first time in coming up with Nigeria’s GDP were the film industry, the IT sector, the music industry, on-line sales and telecommunications. As a result of the rebasing exercise, Nigeria’s (Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2013 jumped from an initial estimate of $285.5bn to $510bn. Nollywood was a major contributor to the increase. Under the rebasing conducted by the government’s statistics agency, the film industry accounted for more than 1.4 percent of GDP or $7.2 billion of Nigeria’s economy. With an estimated one million people directly or indirectly working in the industry, the making, distributing and screening of moving pictures has become the country’s second-biggest source of employment after agriculture. When other sectors are panting for breath, according to the Nigerian Gross Domestic Product Report released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the arts and entertainment industry experienced a growth of 1.86 percent to 12.8 percent in the third quarter of the 2016, contributing N54 billion to the country’s GDP.
The glaring success stories from Nollywood, the arts and the music industry have made it imperative for Nigeria to attract the right kind of investments to its shores and keep our compatriots already putting their money where their mouths are, very much interested in the creative industry. And one of the ways of doing this is by enacting laws that protect intellectual property.
For me, it’s a legislation such as the anti-piracy bill, that youths should come out in their numbers to show support for its passage. Gerontocractic leadership is certainly not attractive to many across the country and the “Not Too Young To Run Bill”, for which hundreds of youths stormed the National Assembly on Tuesday is quite important. But my humble opinion is that, at the this stage of Nigeria’s development, young people need economic empowerment, more than they need laws that other realities make nonsense of. Not too many youths have enough money to run for public office. If I were a member of the National Assembly, I certainly will vote, ‘yes’ to the “Act to alter the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 to reduce the age for qualification for the offices of the President and Governor and membership of the Senate, House of Representatives and the State Houses of Assembly, and for other related matters”. But getting millions of young people gainfully employed is much more useful than getting a few young politicians elected. This is assuming, rather dubiously, that this bill is the open sesame, to public office.
As contained in the report by the Constitution Review Committee of the House, the age for the qualification to run for the office of the President has been reduced from 40 years to 35 years through the alteration of section 131 (b) of the constitution. Similarly, through the alteration of section 106 (1) (b) the qualification for being elected into the House of Representatives was changed from 30 years to 25 years. As good as the “Not Too Young To Run Bill” sounds, statistics such as a 24 percent youth unemployment rate could see young people admiring a law, they seldom can test in the real sense of it. At the risk of being dismissed as cynical, I would argue that the National Assembly kept it real with youths- as the younger generation would say, by passing the copyright law amendment bill and not when it jumped on the bandwagon of the “Not Too Young To Run Bill”.
The many ‘wrongs’ of Ajimobi
There is no doubting the fact that an average citizen of Oyo State is politically sophisticated, highly intelligent and sagacious. They don’t suffer fools gladly and they call a spade by its name without minding whose ox is gored. All these attributes have always come to play during political discourse and whenever the need to make informed political decisions arises.
It could, therefore, be safely concluded that their resolve to give Governor Abiola Ajimobi an unprecedented second term in office in 2015, through their overwhelming votes, was not a blunder. Rather, it was a reward for his monumental achievements in the areas of peace and security, road construction, education, health, agriculture, physical and social infrastructure, among others, during his first term. This feat has equally received applause from far and wide.
For instance, a respected Ibadan elder and former envoy, Ambassador Olu Sanu, had, while acknowledging the governor’s exemplary performance, once said: “we are indeed very lucky to have Sen. Ajimobi as the governor of Oyo State. He came around at a time that Oyo State needed a leader who would not be insular in his thinking; a leader who would harness all our resources for the development of our state and one who would create an enabling environment for people to achieve the best they could.’’
A former Chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in Oyo State, Apostle Sunday Popoola, had also, in a letter to the governor entitled “A Word of Encouragement’’ saluted what he called Ajimobi’s courage, vision and determination. The cleric had said further, “Ibadan had been a huge slum and a disgraceful sight to behold in the state called the Pacesetter. Now, the change we need is ongoing. I also appreciate the speed at which the work is being done. It takes guts to leave the ruts. I am so delighted that we have found in you a leader with guts to get us out of the ruts we have found ourselves in the land.”
In spite of these accolades, the governor has not rested on his laurels. Rather, he has sustained the tempo of development in all sectors, including industrialization, even in the face of dwindling resources. But, to the uninformed, and those who have allowed political affiliations to becloud their sense of judgment, Ajimobi has got it all wrong. One of their reasons, which are jejune in all intent and purposes, is that Ajimobi has challenged the status quo by insisting that things should be done differently. In their reckoning, the governor has committed many ‘sins’ and should be crucified.
They care less if the paradigm shift has changed the typeface of Oyo State for the better and thus resulted in the tremendous growth and development of the state; a state that had earlier been held by the jugular by some reactionary elements. Upon his election in 2011, Ajimobi met an Ibadan with the renown of one of the dirtiest cities in Nigeria, a development, he said, was unacceptable. As part of his administration’s comprehensive urban renewal policy aimed at changing the face of not only Ibadan, the state capital, but also other major towns and cities in the state, a ban was placed on street trading. An ultra-modern market was built by the state government at Scout Camp, Molete, Ibadan, as an alternative for the displaced traders, while the stalls were allocated to them free. The governor also mandated the 11 local governments in Ibadanland to build neighbourhood markets in their respective council areas to ease trading.
Aside helping in restoring sanity and improving the aesthetics of the city, the policy has most importantly saved the lives of the traders who hitherto had the unfortunate history of being overrun by vehicles while plying their trade by the roadside. Interestingly, this has become one of Ajimobi’s undoing as political jobbers have arm-twisted his good gesture to turn the gullible traders against him.
One of the many sins of the governor is also the staff verification that was conducted in all ministries, departments and agencies across the state with a view to eliminating fraud, errors in the payment of salaries and pensions, as well as determining ghost workers. But the governor was vindicated with the mindboggling discovery of several cases of multiple salary payments into single accounts or to single names in other instances, as well as revelation of employees who have passed retirement age still drawing salaries. Among other infractions was the discovery of invalid BVN, invalid bank accounts and name details, as well as employees with mismatched names, totalling 16,532, out of the 100,259 workers verified. While some with valid proofs have so far been cleared and re-absorbed into the payroll, available records show that several others have either voluntarily exited or have been eased out of civil service, thus reducing the state’s huge monthly wage bill.
Also, when the automatic promotion policy in public secondary schools was abolished in 2016 and the students who failed some compulsory subjects were refused promotion, hell was almost let loose. Critics went to town, calling Ajimobi all sorts of names for daring to stop the policy, which had unfortunately resulted in poor outings in public examinations by the students. Interestingly, the policy paid off, with the state coming second in the 2016 National Examination Council (NECO) examination among the 36 states in the country.
Part of the moves by government to address the infrastructural decay in state-owned secondary schools was the introduction of School Government Board (SGB) to serve as a masterstroke for education revival in the state. With membership drawn from the alumni associations, parents, community leaders, among others, the boards were constituted by the governor in all the 628 public secondary schools for all-inclusive management of the schools. Although critics have been unrelenting in their failed attempt at shooting down the policy, instances abound that it has started yielding result. For instance, the old students of Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo, recently donated a block of classrooms constructed at a cost of N18 million for their alma mater. Similarly, Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan, also got a block of toilets worth N11 million from its old boys. A private firm, BOVAS and Company Limited, has just handed over a block of six classrooms with the capacity of accommodating 300 students, valued at N16 million, to Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology, Igboora. This is aside the 70,000 books covering different subjects, donated by a US-based non-governmental organization, Jewel of Africa, to the state government.
Governor Ajimobi has also erred over his foreign trips which, in the estimation of his sworn critics, were mere jamborees; and the ultimate aim of which was to fleece the state government of its scarce resources in their narrow reasoning. Whereas, those trips, particularly to China, had, at the last count, attracted no fewer than 36 new companies to the state, with close to 4,000 direct employment, according to the statistics obtained from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. A further dividend of these trips was the rating of Oyo as the fifth most investment friendly state by the National Bureau of Statistics, with the governor adjudged to have attracted more than $61m (N22.4 billion) foreign direct investment to the state in the last six years. Posterity, no doubt, will vindicate Ajimobi as the game changer of the modern Oyo State.
‘Wale Sadeeq is the Senior Special Assistant on Media (Print) to the Governor of Oyo State.