Two incidences prompted this piece. First, as a writer I am concerned at the rate books are pirated in Nigeria. I was more concerned some 6 years back when I created a concept that was immediately pirated by fellow Nigerians who reaped where they did not sow; those Nigerians with moribund conscience who continue to feed fat on other people’s creativity, concepts and intellectual properties. As a writer, every night comes like one spent in jungle. I stay awake most times till as late as 2am. The stars are my companion. I drown my head on cups of flaming aromatic coffees. I have become such a night digger that over and over again, I have suffered severe insomnia. Do not pity me; it is the world of writers. Most of my poems were conceived at the dead of the night. The night inspires. The night is beautiful- The glittering galaxies, the mesmerising birds songs and the surging cloud add to the night’s glamour and I enjoy watching from my study windows. I have been greatly tutored on the beauties of the night. My mentor told me that great men turn their nights into jungle and create their day’s wealth at nights. Frankly, the night is too important to me; sitting by my laptop with calming cappuccino comes so soothing. I do most of my meditation as well at night.
The second was an incident that took place within Abuja Central Business District. I have a friend who owns a bookshop. Something brought us together. Unlike many other bookshops showcasing and selling pirated books at a relatively cheaper price, my friend insisted in selling original books from either the writers themselves or the publishers. Of course that action led to our friendship. Unless when I travel out of Nigeria, otherwise most of my books were picked from his shelve. I love his determination to do the right thing. I cannot patronize pirated books as a writer knowing the Karmic nature of such action – If I buy pirated books, someone else will pirate mine and someone too must buy. One day, while we were discussing in his shop, a man entered and bought Chinua Achebe’s ‘There was a country’. The book was just launched that week and demand was high. After about a week, my friend called me discreetly to tell me that the same man who had picked the book has returned to him with an offer. He has mass-produced the book. He told my friend he was willing to sale the book as low as N500. He has more than 2000 copies ready for grab if my friend will play along. He took my friend to his car booth and of course many copies of the pirated ‘There was a country’ were loaded in the booth. My friend pretended to be calling for money from me. He gave the man a distance and told me to alert the authorities. In less than 30 minutes, the pirate, his car, the books and others in his warehouse were all picked up. He was docked and charged accordingly. It was a great feat. It was not my duty though to catch pirates but somehow, I’m a stakeholder and a victim.
No one takes delight in spending sleepless nights while the reward keeps sprucing the pocket and castles of another man who dubiously deals and who feasts on the sweat of others. It hurts. It hurts because while the pirates lay alluringly in sweet embrace in the arms of their wives, concubines and mistresses, the writer or intellectual content provider spends his night cracking his skulls and draining his eyes to create a concept or an intellectual property. There’s nothing cheery about it. This seems the position of most writers and intellectual property owners. I have discussed this issue both at home and abroad. In years past, I have consistently raised the issue of book piracy at both our local book club and at every international book festival. At home level, we had in the past engaged the authorities that enforce anti-piracy laws. Nigeria Copyright Commission may have hated me for giving them too much trouble through several petitions. I was more persistent between 2009 and 2010. That was around the time my concept was smartly hijacked and aired. I severally engaged the then NCC leadership who seemed not to understand the pains I bore with other writers. I was another thorn in their flesh.
A light came eventually at the end of the dark tunnel. A new leadership came in place headed by Mr Afam Ezekude. I didn’t actually know Mr Ezekude’s antecedents at first, but I saw an unusual zeal in him. He was ready to step on toes. He extensively consulted to have first-hand information on the modus operandi of these pirates. He looked experienced and determined. He had plans that matched with what I and other writers expected. We deliberated on a way forward and strategic partnership immediately ensued. Many anti-piracy strategies were conceptualized and implementation was immediate largely due to the new leadership vision for NCC. Of all strategies that enthused most of us was the DG’s ability to form strategic partnership. He devised a feedback mechanism to check how far successful or conceptualized plans fared. The idea worked. Unlike my earlier works that have ended up filling the pockets of those unscrupulous elements, my newer works did better. Within months, one of my books published locally fetched proceeds far beyond projection. Immediately afterwards, I started to convert and print my e-books locally which were earlier launched on Amazon Kindle, Lulu Books and Barnes and Nobles. I had sigh of relief that at least my sleepless nights were paying off. Most of my colleagues in the art were pleased, although we wanted more. We wanted a situation where piracy will be a thing of the past in Nigeria. I could earn from my own works both internationally and locally. It was a great sense of fulfilment that many a time our book club visited NCC and Afam Ezekude’s Team on a ‘Thank You’ outing.
A new record was thus set for a government own agency whose activities before 2011 existed more in name than actions. Prior to the emergence of Mr Afam Ezekude as the DG of Nigeria Copyright Commission, there has not been any case of prosecution of pirates right from the inception of the commission. Pirates ruled their world unhindered. People’s intellectual properties only ended up enriching those social miscreants. Today, NCC under the leadership of Afam Ezekude has secured 54 convictions which involved hitherto feared cartel of pirates unlike what it used to be. Again, at my last check, pirated books, CDs, DVDs and other intellectual properties of Nigerians have been confiscated from the hands of dare-devil pirates to the tune of over N10billion in 2015. The implication is that Nigerian writers and content providers are richer to the tune of over N10billion in 2016 that would have ended up in the pockets of the Pirates. Invariably, through the DG’s proactive activities, Nigeria has been globally placed among the countries committed to ending Piracy.
The current leadership of NCC insistence on capacity building and strategic partnership as a way of eradicating or reducing piracy have continued to produce good results and Nigerians and Nigeria government will continue to benefit from these intensified efforts of the current leadership of NCC. With this renewed vigour and through the strategic partnership NCC has formed with some literary organisations, publishing outfits, entertainment industries, different associations, civil society organisations, diplomatic offices and other stake holders, it is envisaged that someday soon, Nigerians would confidently become globally recognized wealth creators through their intellectual properties, creativities, concepts and crafts thereby aiding the current President Buhari-led government economic diversification agenda.
Nigerians desire that the light of success so far recorded by the current leadership of NCC continues to burn till the flame of piracy is totally quenched in Nigeria.