Akeem Aponmade is the founder of The Nigerian Patriotism Project and an intellectual property lawyer with over three decades in the profession. He was at a time the Technical Adviser and Head of the Enforcement Department at the Nigeria Copyright Commission, NCC. During his tenure, he led the raid several times on Computer Village, Ikeja, Alaba International market and other flashpoints to confiscate pirated works. He was also a former representative of Microsoft International in Nigeria and presently the representative of the Motion Picture Association, United States. He is a renowned expert in counterfeiting and anti-piracy law. In the wake of recent judicial pronouncements, he spoke with AYODELE OLALERE on the role judiciary can play in sustaining democracy in Nigeria. He also bared his mind on how government can combat counterfeiting.
You have been at the forefront of the campaign against violation of human rights. How do you intend to ensure government sees the importance of upholding fundamental human rights of its citizen with the formation of The Nigerian Patriotism Project?
We are acutely aware of the evils that bad governance has brought upon our great country, the hopes of a majority of our people which propelled them to vote for a change of government and the countless possibilities that are abound for Nigeria. The change desired is actually expected to be a different trajectory in the march of our nation towards actual greatness. For a long time, Nigeria has been a country better known for its potentials rather than real importance. In the years of the locusts, which spanned almost 40 years, we as a people have been largely complicit in our silence, condoning illegality and satisfied with mediocre performances by public officials.
As a result, our leaders’ contemptuous attitude towards the people they are leading has made non-Nigerians show disdain towards Nigerians, even in our country and on our land. Worse still, the quick willingness by some other Nigerians, prompted by ethnic considerations or commercial gains, not only to accept miss-governance as a fait accompli or accept an average performance as the best that we can simply have, always left right thinking Nigerians and non-Nigerians scratching their heads.
For this, we want to use the new platform of The Nigerian Patriotism Project to ensure we put a stop to violation of fundamental rights of Nigerians through the use of the judiciary as a tool. I have always believed that Nigerians cannot be taking as slaves in their own country.
But there have been various court cases involving abuse of the rights of the people and it seems the situation is yet to abate?
There is nothing wrong about Nigeria that cannot be cured. The redemption of Nigeria lies squarely in the hands of Nigerians. Nigerians must take their destiny into their hands. We need to fight. We cannot continue to fear as a citizen. I am sure this present government is trying to bring changes in the way Nigerians are treated by our law enforcement agents as well as politicians because violation of human rights goes beyond physical abuse. It also involves depriving the people of what belongs to them by government.
While it is true that almost all of Nigeria’s national institutions have been destroyed and the general psyche of all Nigerians seared, the situation is not completely irreparable. Among others, our glorious past and the noble deeds of some of our not so ancient heroes can serve as a pedestal for moral re-birth of our country. There also still remain Nigerian men and women of sterling character, uncorrupted and incorruptible, devoted to the well-being of our great country and who are ever willing to contribute to national growth and development.
Do you think the President has upheld the rule of law and obey the judiciary going by his background as a former military man and some of his actions lately?
The President is entrusted by the electorate with a mandate to start re-building the broken walls of our nation’s social, economic, political and moral fabrics. In this task, the President and indeed our country needs the inputs of all and sundry. He is famous for his no-nonsense stance on corruption and social vices which is indeed an emphatic repudiation by Nigerian voters of all that is wrong about Nigeria’s society and those who foisted them on our nation. We in the Project are determined to move with this momentous rejection of everything bad about Nigeria, Nigerians and Nigerian public life. The President, state governors and indeed those who will come after them are in need of non-partisan patriotic voices that will call their attention to the public expectation of them as public servants at all times, and that is what we are set to do.
There is a gaping hole in the civil society community for organisations targeted at not just the government but also at the people with the aim of engineering a change of the societal values among the leaders and the led. We shall therefore seek to provide an unbiased voice distinguishable from those of sycophants giving unreasonable blanket approbation to all actions of leaders and the sometimes seriously irrational partisan views of individuals in opposition camps
Of what importance is the rule of law to the survival of democracy in Nigeria?
There cannot be a true democracy without cementing fundamental human rights of the citizens. We want a prosperous country that naturally commands the respect of all stakeholders in the international community starting from ECOWAS, African Union to the United Nations; where the leaders conscientiously and consciously pursue the interests of the Nigerian people; in which the average Nigerian child, man or woman loves his country as an average American loves the United States, where there are equal opportunities for all and sundry, irrespective of origin, religion or class; and where there is observance of the rule of law.
To achieve this, the judiciary must be strong and have the interest of the people at heart and ensure justice is done at all times. Those who violate the rights of the people either politicians or the police must be made to face the law.
Do you see President Buhari succeeding in his war against corruption?
Of course, I see him succeeding and that is why we want to use The Nigerian Patriotism Project to fearlessly point at areas where our people have been short changed and where governmental interventions are most needed. We shall seek constructive engagement as a first step to achieving this aim. Our procedure, regarding any issue on which we seek governmental action, shall always take the course of notification, reminder, protest and negotiation until our objectives are achieved.
Nigerians seem to have lost hope in the judiciary and government. How can that hope be rekindled?
Our people’s consciousness must be raised about good governance, accountability and democracy. Nigerians must learn how to raise their expectations of their leaders and to hold them to deliver on their promises. Voters must be aided to make informed choices among political parties and politicians based on patriotic values. Knowing well that leaders are derived from the society itself and conscious of the fact that without proper values that can sustain infrastructural development, no meaningful growth can be achieved in any society, we shall project, promote and celebrate positive values in, of and about Nigeria and Nigerians.
Government must rebuild national institutions. Nationalistic feelings about Nigeria must be revived by Nigeria. Natural affection for Nigeria as a corporate body within which the common destinies of all Nigerians, irrespective of our differences, are intricately woven must be planted, sustained and nourished both by the judiciary and the government.
We are strongly persuaded that they are achievable. There are yet several thousands of very patriotic Nigerians and hundreds of Nigeria’s well-wishers all over the world whose heart desires have been to see Nigeria rise from the ashes to which bad governance had consigned her for so long. This project is an open movement for all persons who love this country to join and be involved.
What area will you expect the government to tackle in the judicial system?
Our criminal justice system needs to be reformed. The entire process from arrest, investigations, arraignment, trial, conviction, sentencing and the term the person spent in jails 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. After trial, if found not guilty, the suspect would have suffered under the most humiliating conditions in prison. Are we now trying people in order for them to become worst Nigerians after leaving prison? Then something is wrong. We need to fix it.
You arraigned a suspect and the prosecution is not diligent and the court later strikes out the matter which has implication on the prosecutor that they might have been bought. On the accused person, he is guilty but the people would think he has only bought his way because he was not acquitted so he has the charge still hanging on his head. It is not fair on both the system and the accused person.
In terms of civil procedure, the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) must be extended to other states even federal courts so that we can reduce the work load on the courts. It is also time for us to decentralize appointment and discipline of judicial officers in Nigeria.
Does it mean Buhari has to give judiciary free hand to operate?
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.
Most Nigerians seems to have lost faith in the judiciary in the last few years because of not getting justice
…cuts in. 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 a commercial motorcyclist and we got a judgment and award of N10 million. 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 where 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.
What about 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 filmmakers 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 spot 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.