‘Govt needs to enforce anti-piracy laws’
The personality of the President-elect, General Mohammadu Buhari was a major issue during the electioneering campaigns. His military background evoked fear in those who argued that he might end up hounding suspected offenders and hauling them into jail as was the case during the military era. But times have changed and this is democracy. In the light of the above, a Lagos-based lawyer and former Technical Adviser and Head of the Enforcement Department at the Nigeria Copyright Commission(NCC), Akeem Aponmade in this interview with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO charges Buhari to uphold the rule of law in his governance. He also spoke about the Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR) mechanism, the anti-piracy law and other issues.
A new government will take over soon. What aspect of Judiciary do you expect reforms? Our criminal justice system needs to be reformed. The entire process from arrest, investigations, arraignment, trial, conviction, sentencing and the term the person spends in jail must be looked into.
As at today, it is difficult for any person to be arraigned in court and not spend some days in prison before perfecting bail conditions. If found not guilty after trials, the suspect would have suffered under the most humiliating conditions in prison.
Are we now trying people in order to make them become worst after leaving prison? Something is wrong with the system and we need to fix it. If you arraign a suspect and the prosecution is not diligent and the court later strikes out the matter, they might suspect that the prosecution might have been bought.
If the accused person is guilty, the people would think he has only bought his way out. However, because he was not acquitted, he has the charge still hanging on his head. It is not fair on both the system and the accused person. What about the civil proceedure rules? In terms of civil procedure, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) must be extended to other states. Even Federal Courts should adopt it so that we can reduce the work load on the courts.
It is also time for us to decentralise appointment and discipline of judicial officers in Nigeria. We are running a Federal System, so each state must be responsible for the appointment of its judicial officers. I will urge the new government to take a look at the recommendations of the National Conference.
In the area of counterfeiting and piracy, will you advocate for capital punishment or longer jail terms for counterfeiters? Every government must understand that the problem of counterfeiting and piracy goes beyond the problem of manufacturers. It is the problem that the government needs to address.
The consequences of piracy and counterfeiting have resulted into loss of revenues and investments for government. When you are fighting counterfeiting, you are not helping the film makers alone; you are helping yourself as government.
In 1990, when I joined International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI), there were three multinational recording companies in Nigeria namely EMI, Polygram and CBS. Today, there is no single multinational company in Nigeria. These companies had lots of investments in Nigeria at that time.
Government needs to make sure it enforces the anti-piracy laws before it can be contained. Alaba market is still a soft point for them. The law as we have now is not strong enough but as ineffective as it is, if it is effectively implemented, we can still benefit from it. You were the Technical Adviser and Head of Enforcement Department at the Nigerian Copyright Commission and led the raid on the Computer Village Ikeja for clampdown on pirated CDS.
What do you think the new government should do to make the NCC more alive to its responsibilities? The Chinese used to say the best time to plant a tree was yesterday. When I was at the Nigeria Copyright Commission, it was under my schedule of duty to enforce the Copyright Law as the head of the law enforcement of the commission nationwide.
There was this legislation which compelled all CD plants to inscribe what we called the SIC code on their CDs so that every CDs coming out of a machine will automatically have the code.
When I got to the commission, I established a scheme that we would be going out in the middle of the night unannounced to manufacturing plants, to monitor their compliance. We went to a particular plant during this exercise.
When we got there, we discovered the plant has 12 lines but only five lines have the code. What it means is that if they were using the remaining seven lines to manufacture pirated CDS, you will not be able to trace the CDs to them or any company in Nigeria. We ordered the shutdown of the plant.
These guys (manufacturers) went to the supervising Minister to report that I was their competitor, which was why I shut down their plant. The Minister then asked the Director General (DG) of the commission to look into the matter. When the DG called me, he said even though he could not allow the plant to go scot free, the Minister was his boss.
I told him the NCC came into existence by virtue of the demand of the people and that they monitor everything that the commission does. So if we allow the plant to be re-opened, they will believe we have been compromised. Though we did not find them committing piracy, they did not affixed the code on their remaining lines.
I told him the plant must pay a fine and write letter of apology. We called them to a meeting, they came and within two hours, they paid the fine and on the same day, they removed the machines, sent them to Hong Kong where the codes were fixed and returned them four days later. It takes determination to say things must be done in proper way and the people will be ready to do it.
At the end of the day, everybody was happy. It all boils down to leadership.
You can be firm and at the same time be considerate. In a democratic setting, this government cannot afford to be firm and inconsiderate because all kinds of factors must be considered.
Our leaders have not been firm. Do you think Buhari will uphold the rule of law as he promised during campaigns with his military background? There is nothing as important as the rule of law.
I am waiting to see who will emerge to occupy the most important position of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). The position of the AGF is key. It is then we will know whether there will be observance of rule of law or not. If a government fails to obey a court order, hold the AGF responsible not the president.
The AGF is the Chief Law Officer of the country and as Minister of Justice, he advises government. When a court order comes, it goes to the AGF not the president. So, what advice does he give to the president? As AGF, you must be ready to speak out to caution the president.
There are lawyers in Nigeria who has this kind of character made of steel, who will defend the principle of the rule of law if they are AGF.
So he has to give the judiciary the latitude to operate? Buhari has no choice. One of the greatest achievements we have made in Nigeria is that we have a strong and active judicial system. It is only our courts that have shown they did not tolerate oppression, hooliganism and extra-judicial killings.
They have shown that they have been serving as checks of both the Executives and the Legislators. I have handled matters brought by the masses against the government and we have got justice. In some years back, most Nigerians seems to have lost faith in the judiciary, what is your take on this? They have not tried the court. Many of the people don’t have the boldness to pursue their rights. Justice is not for sale in Nigeria, you don’t have to be a rich man to get justice in Nigeria.
I have sued the police on behalf of an Okada man and we got a judgment and award of N10m against the police. I have sued the Lagos State Government when they wanted to demolish my client’s property without serving him notice. We got injunction against the state government at the Lagos State High Court and they went into out-of-court settlement with my client.
I have sued EFCC and got judgment against them. The courts are impartial and I have no reason to doubt the impartiality of our judiciary system. It is not the day you go to court that you get judgement, it may take years but If you let your rights sleep, it will sleep forever.
This is a country a court can turn a sitting governor to an ex-governor and a sitting president to an ex-president. Governors, Obas, Emirs have been removed by the courts.
Government needs to make sure it enforces the anti-piracy laws before it can be contained. Alaba market is still a soft point for them. The law as we have now is not strong enough but as ineffective as it is, if it is effectively implemented, we can still benefit from it