BY IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—GIVEN the rate of piracy, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, yesterday, wondered if literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, would make gains from his new book, There was a country.
Speaking at the official launch of the Reform of the Copyright System in Nigeria, held in Abuja, Gowon said he was deeply surprised that Achebe’s controversial new book had already been pirated, adding, “certainly, he won’t be getting anything.”
In the book, Achebe accused Gowon and late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, of using starvation as a weapon of war that led to the death of about two million Biafran women and children during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-70.
Narrating his personal experience, Gowon said: “The other day, as I was entering this hotel (Transcorp Hilton), a vendor tapped on my car window and was asking me to buy a book.
When I looked at it, I saw that it was the new book by Chinua Achebe. I wondered if he really knew I was the person inside the car.
However, I was surprised that Achebe’s book had already been pirated. Sincerely speaking, I wonder if Chinua Achebe will be getting a kobo from the sale of that book; certainly, he won’t be getting anything. I think we should guard against that, which is why what we are doing here is very necessary.”
Stressing that the reform of the copyright system must be considered a ‘must’ and given priority by all stakeholders in the creative environment, Gowon, said: “Nigeria is a highly creative society.
We have creative talents cutting across ethnic, geographical, social and economic strata. Creativity is one activity that not only unifies, but also finds expression in our common ethos as a nation. It is also an impetus to our future growth and participation in the emerging global information economy.
“Soon after I assumed office as Head of State in 1966, my attention was drawn to the need to take a close look at some of the legislations which Nigeria had inherited from the colonial administration as regards Copyright Laws/Acts.
We observed that the British Copyright Act 1911, which was then applicable in Nigeria, by virtue of the Statute of General Application of 1912, was alien to Nigeria’s interest in the 1960s and did not satisfy the need of our domestic creative community.
Apart from the fact that the sanctions for infringements of rights were hopelessly out of date and tune, the Act was also inadequate in tackling the challenges posed by new technologies of mass duplication of creative works, which were beginning to debut.
“Consequently, we promulgated the revised Copyright Decree of 1970, which was the first indigenous copyright statute. That Decree continued until 1988, when the present Copyright Act was eventually enacted.”
It is pertinent to note that in the emerging global economic order, driven by innovation and knowledge based goods; the relevance of copyright protection has become more crucial to development of nations.
“Besides, the need for protection of creative resources goes beyond a national issue. Nigeria, like other civilized nations, is obliged under the global trading system of the World Trade Organization, to demonstrate clear commitment to enforcement of intellectual property including copyright.
We all have a stake in building a virile copyright system that would ensure that creators and innovators begin to reap a just reward for their investment of talent and energies. Investors in the creative sector also deserve the assurance that their investment would be secured in Nigeria, as in many other parts of the world that are presently leveraging on their creative resources.”
In his address, the Director General of Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, Mr. Afam Ezekude, noted that “a modernization and transformational national copyright regime as envisaged in the outcome of the reform will provide a platform for the creation, commercialization and broad diffusion of new knowledge, while enabling Nigerian businesses to profit from expanding global trade in cultural goods, which is currently heavily skewed in favour of countries with more advanced copyright systems.
“The commission deemed it necessary to put in place an Advisory Committee made up of very eminent Nigerians some of whom occupy strategic positions in the policy and leadership framework of our country. The Advisory Committee shall meet periodically to review the activities of the reform process and also proffer useful guidance to the expert working group on implementation of the reform roadmap.
“I solicit the support and cooperation of all our stakeholders, partners, relevant Ministries and agencies of government to ensure that this reform process achieves its set targets. The commission welcomes all constructive suggestions and engagements that will help in implementing the reform roadmap,” he added.