Behind the scene | 23 July 2008 11:58 CET

PIRACY: How NCC breaks Alaba Int’l market with diplomacy

THE Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, Dr Adebambo Adewopo, cuts the image of a diplomat. That could apparently be why he engaged on a lot of consultations when the mantle of leading one of the delicate industry commissions, fell on his shoulders.

For a very long time, piracy has ravaged the economy of the nation by not only denying hardworking members of the public their fruits of labour, but by also discouraging them from engaging on legitimate intellectual property exercises, because there was no protection.

Having himself discovered that piracy is a cankerworm, Adewopo was also determined that while the repentant ones would be given the benefit of the doubt, something must also be done to flush the unrepentant pirates out of the system and rid the society of this menace that demeans the country's national and international image.
And so he quickly constituted a task force which has the members of the Nigerian Police and other security agents as members. This task force was responsible for carrying out several raids on areas where piracy seems to have been constituted and carried out as if it was a legitimate business. On several raids, Nigerians were confronted with acclaimed reputable and popular organisations and big corporate concerns that have built their businesses on the platform of piracy.

While the NCC DG was being celebrated, he was, unknown to many, worried within himself, due to several embarrassments he had to face outside the country, when the issue of piracy and the level at which it is carried at Nigeria's Alaba international market, Lagos, was raised.

He decided that this matter would be dealt with once and for all. He knew it was not going to be an easy task though, but he however underestimated the strength of opposition his challenge was to receive.
So, in 2005 when his task force moved into the popular Alaba international market, it was like a battle in the gestapo. Fire and return of fire, blows and return of blows, plus clicks of shots and the smashing of journalists' cameras, all amounted to very deafening sounds.

The task force had to retreat and Adewopo had to re-strategise.
Perhaps, on a second thought, he decided to pick on the leaders of the market and showed them the colour of what was to come. They backed down and promised to organise among themselves a formidable force to assist the commission in achieving the cause of stamping out piracy in the market.

That understanding, later metamorphosed into inaugurating an Anti-Piracy committee/task force and the commissioning of anti piracy office in the market. So last week when the Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, between the market leaders and the NCC was signed, it was a different ball game.
Surprisingly, on this day, instead of the usual fire power, gun and cudgels, coming into the fancy&furniture line of the market, it was all jubilation, clapping and singing, as the busses carrying the NCC officials, journalists and the DG's entourage strolled into the market.
A bespectacled Adewopo was calm. He was watching events under a thick dark sun glasses. No body knew whether he was happy or surprised.

But all speculations vanished immediately he was called on to speak. He removed his glasses, beamed a smile, and addressed the traders: “It is with great joy and delight that I welcome you all to the inauguration of the Anti-piracy Committee and Task Force in Alaba International market which is a result of collaboration between the Nigerian Copyright Commission, Stakeholders in the music and film industry and the traders in Alaba market. This effort is to sanitize the market of the cankerworm of piracy and other forms of Copyright abuses and to reposition the market for a new dispensation as well as a culture of best business practice.
This inauguration will no doubt obliterate the perception of the market as a haven of pirates and activities bordering on Copyright infringement at the local and international level”.

He also told the traders that “the effect of piracy on authors and the nation is great. Apart from economic loss to creators; the country itself is denied considerable loss in tax revenue and vital investments in the entertainment sector. It is therefore for this reason that the Commission initiated the Strategic Action against Piracy (STRAP) programme which is aimed at cleansing and ridding the system of the menace of piracy. It is our believe that we all have a dire responsibility to pursue this goal to ensure that this nation in general and Alaba International market in particular is made a piracy free zone”.

The traders, through the Executive chairman, of the Fancy and Furniture dealers section of the market, Chief Chris Ofoegbu, promised unflinching support but cautioned that the exercise was however more difficult than it appeared.
According to Ofoegbu, “since the initiative was embarked upon, my leadership had been severally threatened and various allegations had been leveled against me, that I received bribe of N6 million from NCC to submit names of traders in the market as pirates, for arrest”.

He however stated that the leadership was not intimidated with unfounded allegations, adding that it takes a lot of sacrifice to effect revolution. “We understand that it is not easy to change a long adopted practice. We anticipated such resistance here, on any attempt to change the status quo” Ofoegbu added.
Like Ofoegbu noted, individual members of the market who spoke, said it would be only easy to reduce the piracy level in the market, if the leaders carry their followers along. Some of them alleged that even as strong members of the market association, they did not get to know what the MOU read, saying that it is when people understand the law made for them that they could obey it else there would be flagrant abuse.

Maybe, Adewopo may have to call the leaders again and give them one or two tips on how to get those who did not earlier agree on a cause, to agree without rancour. This way, Alaba international market could become, a place where traders could do genuine business and earn genuine money with everybody including the police, music and film producers, musicians, NCC and the traders themselves, smiling, just like the Area E Commander and representative of the Lagos state Commissioner of police at the occasion, David Akinremi, predicted.

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