I have never had a one-on-one with the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The closest I have come to her was sitting on the same row at an event at which a classy group of young Igbo professionals called Ola Ndi Igbo, presented both of us with awards at an enchanting ceremony in Lagos. Ola Ndi Igbo is coordinated by the gracious Ndidi Nwuneli, an incredibly gifted Nigerian woman and Nkem Ogbuaku, an equally hard working young man. Among the group of celebrated men and women of Igbo extraction who were honoured at that event was former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku who took time to announce to one and all that he had already checked in at ‘the Departure Lounge’!
I had similar opportunity to sit on the same row with the Minister when she was presented with the Silverbird ‘Man of the Year’ award in Lagos. But, I have followed the career of Nigeria’s first World Bank Managing Director closely. Everyone tells me how brilliant she is, how bold she is and how passionate she is about the Nigerian project. Gosh, I am a sucker for brilliant, bold and passionate people. I am one to lend a hand to any person I believe is working with genuine intentions to make the world better for God’s children.
So how did I get myself into a situation that I had to answer a few telephone calls in which I was asked, ‘Wetin Okonjo Iweala do you?’
Monday, September 1 was “No Music Day” in Nigeria, a day the music industry dedicates to bringing the attention of the Nigerian nation to the widespread infringement of the rights of song writers, composers, performers, music publishers, record labels and other stakeholders in the music industry in Nigeria.
As we have done every September 1, for six consecutive years, the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition, a coalition of the major music industry associations in Nigeria, requested that broadcasting stations in the country do not broadcast music for a one hour period but rather devote the time to the broadcast of programs dealing with the rights of creative people.
As Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) it fell on me to address the media on behalf of the Music Industry Coalition. In the address, I called on the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala to immediately and personally take charge and unshackle the Private Copy Levy Scheme which has remained trapped in the Directorate of Fiscal Policy in her ministry for months.
You may ask: What is the Private Copy Levy? With the advent of new technology, most people no longer obtain their music or movies by buying CDs or DVDs. They down load or blue tooth and deny owners of the works significant revenue. To compensate for this loss, in many countries around the world, a small levy is charged on the gadgets used for this stealing of intellectual property. The money collected from the levy of such gadgets such as MP3s, MP4s, cellphones, memory cards, flash drives, etc, is paid through the collective management system to the artistes, writers and producers whose music, movies and books are stolen. 22 years ago, Nigeria became the first country in Africa to provide for the levy in our laws. Sadly, well over 22 years since the promulgation of the law, the unending protocol, red tape and bureaucracy in the Nigerian system have made it impossible for the stakeholders to benefit from this important scheme which have for several years been lubricating the creative industries in neighbouring Ghana and Burkina Faso.
I believe that the call on the Minister to unshackle the scheme may have gone viral and got my ‘friends’ worried. I have been told that I might upset the minister. Someone even warned me that I was risking my ‘job’.
Which job? I am not a government employee. While I have worked relentlessly to develop the intellectual property framework in our nation, nearly all of the work has been for the love of country and unpaid for. In the last thirty years, the closest I have ever come to working for the government was contributing my copyright expertise as a member of the Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission for which I was paid a handsome board allowance of fifteen thousand naira! I do not live in a house provided by the government neither do I go to the hospital on the bill of the government. As Chairman of COSON, a private sector organization, I am not even paid a salary. Like most Nigerians, I ‘hustle’ to keep body and soul together and to pay my children’s school fees.
Several times in my life I have been warned about speaking up and making demands which all free men around the world make on their governments and leaders. During the military regime, I was President of PMAN. I organized and led the biggest demonstration in the history of the Nigerian creative industry. That demonstration instantly led to the promulgation of the Nigerian copyright law and the establishment of the Nigerian Copyright Commission. Many warned me of the dangers of the demonstration. Speaking up is what my life is about. They day I can no longer speak up, I’ll rather be dead.
Last year, COSON of which I am Chairman filed simultaneous law suits against DAAR Communications, Silverbird, Brila FM and several others. Someone called me to warn that Chief Raymond Dokpesi and Ben Murray Bruce are very powerful men with a lot of connections and that I had to be careful how I ‘fight’ them. I was not fighting Raymond Dokpesi or Ben Bruce. I had been to Dokpesi’s office before and he was very gracious. I was simply doing my job.
While we were in court, I was invited to an event at Lagos Business School. I and Ben Murray Bruce of Silverbird whom I consider a good friend were the Guests of Honour. We sat next to each other, joked and laughed at this and that. Neither Ben Bruce nor Raymond Dokpesi could have built the significant empires credited to them by being chicken hearted. If they were in my shoes, they would do the same things I have had to do.
The great Nigeria of our dreams will not be built by cowards or bootlickers who tell people in power just what they want to hear. Nigeria needs bold men and women who will unshackle her from the abject poverty that is tormenting millions in our towns and villages and unlock the enormous wealth and opportunities within our land and within our grasp.
Nigeria must produce her own Nelson Mandela, ready and willing to go to jail for 27 years to set our countrymen and women free. Nigeria must produce her own Richard Branson who is not afraid to go where no man has ever been and create enormous wealth in the process. Nigeria must produce her own Martin Luther King ever ready to speak the truth to power.
I have not checked in at the ‘Departure Lounge’ but I am not exactly spring chicken. My eldest daughter who has cast her net heavily in the entertainment industry made me a proud grandfather a couple of years ago. Now, if I cannot talk at my age, when can I talk? Pray, if I cannot talk in Nigeria, where in the world can I talk?
If the Honorable Minister whom I have been told by many to be brilliant will be upset or offended that a citizen has reminded her to do her job as is expected in a democracy, then she is not my type of ‘brilliant’ and does not deserve to hold such a position in a country whose passport I carry. I rest my case. See you next week.
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