By Tony Okoroji
In the last quarter of 1987, the copyright campaign in Nigeria was hot because of the activities of the new Executive Council of PMAN which I led. At the same time, the structure of PMAN as a true national organization was being built across Nigeria. In most places, the two objectives were tied. Between me and then PMAN General Secretary, the late Benin born Okuoimose E. Okuoimose, we were on the road day and night, setting up the framework for new PMAN chapters in different states of Nigeria and educating people, in positions of authority, on the copyright issue and the key role it would play in the emerging global knowledge and creative economy.
With other PMAN executive members, we met with State Governors such as Amadi Ikwechegh in Owerri, Bode George in Akure, Tunde Ogbeha in Uyo and Benin, Tanko Ayuba in Kaduna and others in Enugu, Ilorin, Port Harcourt, Kano, Calabar, etc. At every location, the team met with the resident musicians, the media, police commissioners and commissioners responsible for culture. Some of the commissioners we met were Sarah Jibrin in Ilorin, Chris Anyanwu in Owerri, Moses Ekpo in Uyo, Taiwo Alimi in Abeokuta, etc. The pursuit of our objectives took the PMAN team to the palaces of the Emir of Kano, the Alaafin of Oyo, the Obi of Onitsha, the Paramount Ruler of Uyo, the Emir of Ilorin, the Obong of Calabar, the Eze Apara Rebisi in Port Harcourt, Eze Onuegwunwoke in Owerri, Eze Ikonne in Aba, etc. It was in Aba that Eze Ikonne graciously conferred on me my first Chieftaincy title without asking me for one “shishi”.
I was 29 years old and had made a promise to the nascent Nigerian creative industry that by December 31, 1987, there would be a new and more effective Nigerian Copyright Law.
Despite the hyperactive events, when December 31, 1987, came, there was no new copyright law. I had practically sacrificed my career and young family to the service of my nation and had persuaded others to make huge sacrifices too and there was nothing to show for all the sacrifice. As far as I was concerned, I had failed. On January 2, 1988, I sent my resignation letter to PMAN Headquarters. Unknown to people on the outside, PMAN was in the throes of a huge crisis.
An emergency PMAN Executive Council meeting was held. The council refused to accept my resignation insisting that there was nothing I could do that I had not done. Some of the NEC members took the position that if the resignation was allowed, they too would resign. My resignation would have led to the disintegration of PMAN which had gone through an unfortunate period of instability. Legal Adviser, Mr. Caleb Ola Atolagbe was particularly persuasive. He reminded me that we had succeeded in putting in place a reasonably credible process to finally bring about a new copyright law and that after the hopes I had raised, I had a duty to ensure that the process was guided to a successful conclusion. My ultimate decision to stay was for me a very humbling decision. Regardless of what ever happened thereafter, the fact that the law did not come at the time I had pledged it would come, would remain an indelible failure for me.
The reasonably credible process which Mr. Atolagbe spoke about was the product of a meeting held between my PMAN team and Colonel Tunde Akogun who was then Sole Administrator of Culture and Archives. At the meeting which took place at the National Theatre Lagos, I told Colonel Akogun that the musicians of Nigeria were tired of the many unfulfilled promises of the government. Colonel Akogun assured the PMAN delegation that both he and his Minister, Prince Tony Momoh, were determined to solve the problem once and for all. Following that meeting, a planning committee was set up to organize a conference to collate ideas from different experts and stake holders so that a comprehensive review of the Nigerian Copyright Law would be done. I was appointed a member of the planning committee which met in Abuja in November 1987.
The Abuja meeting which held at the Headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Trade in the Area 1 Secretariat in Garki was to be the first practical step by the government to address the copyright issue. I traveled to Abuja in the company of Mrs. Keji Okunowo, then MD of CBS Nigeria and Mr. Ayo Fawole then co-ordinator of IFPI Nigeria. Among those who attended the meeting was Tope Popoola, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Publishers Association (NPA). Mr. Popoola came to the meeting with a rather youthful looking lawyer by the name, Bankole Sodipo. Sodipo is today a distinguished professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was then solicitor to the NPA. I took instant liking to the young lawyer who showed great passion for the intellectual property subject. The fact that we were the two youngest people at the meeting may have played a role in the friendship we struck which has endured till today. The meeting also had a four-man team from the Federal Department of Culture, Colonel Akogun’s department. The team led by S.O. Williams had Bayo Aiyegbusi, M.D.I. Olagunju and O.B. Adetula. E.O. Fadina came from the Federal Ministry of Education. Oladele Jegede of the Federal Ministry of Trade who was host and chairman of the meeting was chided by the private sector participants because his ministry which was in charge of copyright, had slept on its mandate. The private sector participants were generally suspicious of the government officials and their well-known penchant for unwinding processes that led nowhere. That suspicion was expressed. A proposal for a National Seminar on the Nigerian Copyright Law was agreed to.
The National Seminar on the Nigerian Copyright Law was held at Durbar Hotel Lagos from the 21st to the 25th of March 1988. The seminar was declared open by President Babangida, represented by Air Vice-Marshal Nureni Imam. Both the Attorney-General of the Federation, Prince Bola Ajibola and Minister of Information & Culture, Prince Tony Momoh were present. The copyright seminar brought together some of the brightest minds ever assembled in Nigeria to tackle an issue. The icons of the Nigerian Judiciary that attended the different sessions include Former Chief Justice, Sir Darnely Alexander; Chairman of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, Dr Olakunle Orojo; Justice Kayode Esho and Justice Augustine Nnamani of the Supreme Court and Justice Fred Anyaegbunam and Justice Babatunde Belgore, etc.
The major outcome of the seminar was the setting up of a committee to draft a new copyright law for Nigeria, using the report of the seminar as its primary working tool. On April 18, 1988, the Drafting Committee convened at Durbar Hotel Lagos to produce the draft of a new copyright law for Nigeria. Chairman of the committee was my great friend, Prof Egerton Uvieghara, the immensely respected professor of Commercial Law at the University of Lagos. who passed on last year. I served on the committee. (To be continued).
See you next week.
*SATURDAY BREAKFAST with TONY OKOROJI