Enhancing intellectual property rights campaign through advocacy, scholarship, research
Recently at Oleh township, Isoko South Local Government Area, Delta State, a momentous event happened. It was the unveiling of Friends of the Creator Foundation (FCF), designed to promote and protect through advocacy, education and scholarship the intellectual property rights of artists of all hues in the country. The foundation, the brainchild of Westminster-trained entertainment lawyer, Mr. Rockson Igelige, will also be devoted to researching intellectual property issues, with a view to providing scholarships to law students specialising in intellectual property education. To lend credence to the foundation, two active practitioners in the entertainment industry – chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji and ace Nollywood actor, Mr. Norbert Young – were guests of honour at the unveiling of Friends of the Creators Foundation.
Igelige, who had his first degree in theatre arts at the University of Benin, Benin City, said his desire to explore the nexus between law and theatre arts propelled him to pursue a law degree to a Masters level, with particular specialisation in entertainment law, as it impacts on theatre arts practice and other forms of creative industry engagements.
Igelige informed the select guests at the unveiling that included event chairman, Maj. Gen. Paul Ufuoma Omu (rtd), his wife, Senator Stella Omu, a retired Justice and former Dean, Faculty of Law, DELSU, Prof. Durobor Narebor, President, Isoko Development Union (IDU), Chief Idu Amadhe, Chairman, Isoko South Local Government Area, Malik Constantine Ikpokpo, among others, that whereas the U.K. has over 25 laws on piracy, Nigeria has very few such laws. Also, whereas piracy laws in the U.K. were well positioned to tackle all forms of piracy, including digital piracy, Nigeria has no such law as bootlegging or illegal sale of recording materials. Even more discouraging, Igelige noted, is the fact that whereas Nigeria is a signatory to most international conventions and treaties on intellectual property rights, she was yet to domesticate such treaties and convention, a situation that emboldens pirates in their illegality and frustrates the fight against piracy.
“I wanted to explore a nexus between law and theatre, my first love,” Igelige, who bagged his Masters degree at the Westminster University, London, U.K, in 2016, after his Bachelors at Delta State University, Oleh Campus, told his audience. “I know what it takes to enact a play like Obaseki, but it gets easily pirated and nothing comes to the original owner. What is worse, it has been proven beyond doubt after 9/11 attacks in the U.S. that terrorists get their funding from proceeds from piracy since it’s riskier to do so from drug trafficking.
“The field of entertainment law is a vast one, but we are yet to take notice of it. At University of Westminster, I was the only black student in a class of 60. So, the awareness is not there yet. Right from university, the foundation is very weak. We take intellectual property issues for granted. As a result, we are sending people (artiste(s)) to their early graves!
“FCF will promote and protect creativity. We are ready to partner with Oleh Campus of DELSU and law students and in other universities doing research on intellectual property. We want those who own intellectual property to survive. We must protect their rights and fight for them.”
Igelige further noted that talent is a unique gift of God, and the potential therein for wealth-creation far surpasses crude oil, a commodity in abundance on his Isoko soil, adding, “There is so much money intellectual property can generate; it is bigger than oil. Intellectual property is not only limited to music or movies. There are bead-making, fashion, and more. With this foundation, we will network and do research here. For every breach of intellectual property, you’re sending someone to an early grave!”
Also, Omu said intellectual property was not something to be physically owned or touch, but “it can be simultaneously used by more than one person.” He commended Igelige for his foresight in bringing enlightenment to a neglected area of law.
ITURU Oghenerukevwe, a law lecturer at DELSU’s law faculty, Oleh Campus, added impetus to FCF’s unveiling, when he gave perspectives to intellectual property rights narratives in his lecture and how intellectual property rights advocacy is still at its infancy in Nigeria. He noted that it was such situation that allows multiple infringements from which rights owners reel in frustration and poverty.
While speaking on the theme ‘Everyman Should Eat the Fruit of his Labour: Challenges of the Intellectual Property Right Activist in Nigeria,’ Oghenerukevwe said, “Man has been in perpetual struggle to assert his rights. This is evident in the civil right struggle in America, and the Apartheid movement in South Africa. The reverse is, however, the case with respect to the assertion of intellectual property rights by Nigerians. What we have in Nigeria is a regime that is dormant, not because the laws are not there, but due to the level of awareness of these rights by members of the public.”
Oghenerukevwe then laid out some challenges intellectual property activists like Igelige face in enforcing the rights of artists, when they are infringed upon. According to him, “The intellectual property activist is faced with enormous challenges. First, the conferment of exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court by Section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended with respect to intellectual property right claim, is a setback to the enforcement of intellectual property rights. It is on record that not every state in the country, until recently, has a Federal High Court. What happens to intellectual property disputes arising from that jurisdiction? Furthermore, there is no special expertise acquired by a judge of a Federal High Court as to make him an expert in handling such cases.
“Second, there is lack of knowledge of intellectual property rights by individuals, even among lawyers. It is not in dispute that teaching of intellectual property started not too long ago in Nigerian universities. This, no doubt, is a setback.
“Third is the overbearing presence of Nigerian Copyright Commission. This is usually felt in criminal proceedings, where Nigerian Copyright Commission is at liberty to withdraw any criminal suit without recourse to the actual complainant. This is indeed a setback, which demands urgent redress.”
Oghenerukevwe then arrived at some far-reaching conclusions in his delivery. He said although Nigerian government has shown positive attitude towards copyright issues to encourage the growth and development of Nigerian intellectual property rights, “The fact that Nigerians are yet to reap the fruits of these legislations calls for public enlightenment to ensure that Nigerians know their rights, and steps are taken to protect such rights. We should bear in mind the Latin maxim: neminem oportet legibus esse sapientiorem – (No one can be wiser than the law). What the law has given you is yours; nobody can take it away.”
I’D like to go back to history. Before my education in theatre arts, those who studied theatre were wretched; they had no money and they couldn’t buy cars,” Young declared while making his presentation. “They were not taught proper management and people stole and still steal their retirement. Our laws do not take care of intellectual property rights. Now, Igelige has mixed the two (theatre arts and law) because he wants to plug the loopholes. Igelige knows from this side (theatre) practice and he knows from the side of the law. The original owners are not consulted in the use of intellectual property nor given due financial regard.”
Young further noted that Igelige’s foundation would “protect the rights of the creative minds so they could receive their due. Artists only receive the first money as payment and not any more, unlike civil servants, who get pensions. Artists ought to get 10 per cent of initial payment in any dealing regarding his work afterwards. Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) used to give such contract in those days and it was respected, but they later discarded it.
“We pray Igelige will be able to defend our rights so that we can continue to feed on our intellectual property rights!”Young also had the task of explaining the logo of FCF, saying it has all the perspectives right in its conception of rights promotion and protection. Young also said he was looking forward to when Nigeria judges and lawyers would be versed in intellectual property rights issues and act accordingly to protect creators of works.
The unveiling of FCF coincided with Igelige’s birthday and had his friends in attendance. One of them, Mark Ogbinaka, who teaches English at Delta State College of Physical Education, Mosogar, said Igelige was “rewriting the legal narratives of law in the land; he’s a hardworking man. He’s not doing this to score any cheap political point. He is disciplined and intelligent.”
Charles Mallam-Obi said Igelige is a good storyteller, but one who tells inconvenient truths. He also noted that Igelige would never be motivated by profit, as he was not a money-driven man.
Senator Omu enthused that Igelige would soar high in his endeavours, noting, “He is an advocate of rule of law; he’s been fighting injustice against intellectual property. He is a very persistent person, very focused. Igelige stood by me in my political fights. Keep on doing what is right and at God’s appointed time, you will gain all you’ve lost.”
Senator Omu then burst into an Isoko praise song to celebrate Igelige, who is her godson.Former Delta State House of Assembly member, Hon. Benjamin Efekodo, said Igelige had never disappointed humanity, adding that he is a pride to the young men of Isoko, “Igelige is a man who has focus. Your steadfastness, humility and truth should remain with you.”
Chairman, Isoko South Local Government Area, Mr. Malik Constantine Ikpokpo, commended Igelige for creating a platform to protect creators of intellectual property, adding, “He said those who use vision to create materials must be protected. He has shown that for this generation, it is important to set a target for something remarkable. He takes friendship above partisan politics.”
President of Isoko Development Union (IDU), Chief Idu Amadhe called Igelige a lion, who does not need anyone to light his path for him, adding that Igelige “is an advocate of justice; he looks out for what is good for society. Igelige was outstanding as a law graduate of DELSU. We need you to go further to get a Ph.D in your law degree. Get other Isoko sons and daughters to give us Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). We have too few.”
Justice Joshua Efe Ikide of Delta State High Court noted, “What we are doing is very important, especially for those of into legal profession. Igelige represents a departure from the old legal practice in Isoko, who felt all there was to law practice was to be called barrister. We need to do more for our land. What Igelige has done now is the answer to that call, that in humility and simplicity, we need to serve our people!”
Okoroji, who arrived late, expressed happiness that his camp of rights advocates and campaigners has bee boosted by Igelige’s exemplary initiative. According to him, “Igelige has an indomitable spirit, a spirit that never says no. He understands that the world is changing, that the wealth of the world is in the brain, in people who own intellectual property; that is why Igelige is my man. He wrestled telecom giant, MTN, to the ground and that feat has brought a lot of respect to musicians. We will be working with you in your journey. The people who will change this country are people who are bold like you”.
First recipient of FCF’s scholarship and final year law student of DELSU, Omotor Stanley, was excited at his surprise award, saying, “It’s a good one, considering intellectual property enables one to sue and enforce rights. Being first is a great feeling and I thank the man behind it. Only a few lawyers are into intellectual property practice. We need to create awareness about it.”Henceforth, the foundation would sponsor long essay writing for students researching on intellectual property law across the country.
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