The dust is yet to settle on the alleged copyright infringement by Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, concerning the “Change Begins With Me” campaign recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The owner of the “Not in My Country,” project, Akin Fadeyi, has written to Mr. Buhari, claiming the idea behind the campaign originated from him and was taken from his project.
Adebayo Adenipekun, senior lawyer at the Afe Babalola Chambers, in a September 29 letter to the President, written on behalf of Mr. Fadeyi, dared Mr. Mohammed to make good his threat to sue Mr. Fadeyi.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said the Afe Babalola Chambers had enough evidence to defend its client’s claim of being the originator of the initiative.
“Change Begins With Me” was launched on September 8 by the Federal Government amid fanfare as a campaign for attitudinal change among Nigerians.
The campaign was immediately dogged by allegations of copyright infringement, following reports that the idea was stolen from Mr. Fadeyi, who had earlier made a proposal to the Information Minister on a similar project.
Associates of Mr. Fadeyi had launched a media war against Mr. Mohammed, alleging that he stole the idea from Mr. Fadeyi, who had fully developed the campaign at the behest of the minister.
But the minister denied the allegations, asserting that he had been nursing the idea of “Change Begins With Me” long before he was appointed into office as Minister of Information.
In Mr. Adenipekun’s letter, hemaintained that the ‘Not in My Country’ anti-corruption campaign project was a product of Mr. Fadeyi’s lifelong vision to do something towards ridding the society of corrution.
“On this point alone, our client has the same goals as the present administration in tackling corruption effectively at the grassroots,” the letter read.
“Third, our client will not sacrifice this noblest of goals on the altar of claiming his personal individual rights, especially not in a way capable of being bastardized or confused with propaganda, among other distractions.
“That is not to say our client will not defend his work and hard-earned intellectual property rights in a court of competent jurisdiction at the appropriate time.
“Indeed, our client awaits Alhaji Lai Mohammed to make good his threats to sue him, in preparation for which he has instructed our law firm to commence the preparation of processes in answer to any summons filed against him.
“Without a doubt, when our client responds to any processes filed, his actions and motives will be clear and unmistakable.”
Mr. Adenipekun stated that Mr. Fadeyi’s is a private businessman genuinely concerned with advancing the Nigerian society by innovative thinking and development projects.
He said his client is not a politician with any vested interests, adding that he would contribute to the collective goal rather than be blinded by selfish interests.
He noted that his client only decided to clear the air on the controversies and misconceptions, following the threat by the Minister of Information and Culture to sue him over his ownership claims.
He also stated that the President would by the letter come to appreciate Mr. Fadeyi’s status as a partner in the pious goals of the present administration. He stressed the need to thoroughly investigate the issues surrounding the media report.
Mr. Adenipekun said his client is an enterprising young man with over a decade experience in initiating, coordinating, and executing national (re)orientation and other development projects in Nigeria.
“Specifically, our client conceived and initiated the ‘Not in My Country’ anti-corruption campaign project as far back as the year 2007 at the University of Lagos,” he explained.
“In a Letter granting his request to use the University premises for ‘a three minutes clip demo tape on Saturday, September 29, 2007’, the Principal Assistant Registrar acknowledged that the ”…project is on national re-orientation campaign aimed at changing the attitudes of youths for the better especially in the area of examination malpractices and moral integrity’ (Please find attached Letter dated September 26, 2007).
“From those days of little beginnings, our client kept working hard at his vision for this project- an effective anti-corruption media campaign which the Nigerian public would easily connect with and ultimately respond to.
“Thus, our client has records of having presented some of his drama skits to officials of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in 2007. In 2008, our client took the project to Messrs Joseph Adeyeye, Casmir Igbokwe and Steve Ayorinde, the current Honorable Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Lagos, who was then Editor of the Punch.
“Since then, our client kept developing this project into the media campaign to eradicate corruption over time- using the 1-minute drama skit model- which our client has perfected in his ‘Not in My Country’ ’project.”
Giving details of Mr. Fadeyi’s meeting with the Information Minister, Mr. Adenipekun said it was this fully developed 1-minute drama skit model that Mr. Fadeyi’ presented in a proposal to Mr. Mohammed on December 30, 2015.
“The point of the proposal, which was the sole purpose of that meeting, was to enlist the cooperation of the Hon. Minister to facilitate the broadcast of our client’s already prepared skits on the nation’s largest free- to- air network (Nigerian Television Authority),” Mr. Adenipekun narrated.
“Our client showed three 1-minute skits to the Minister and his team. Indeed, the Hon. Minister was so impressed with the project that he commended our client for having effectively harnessed the ‘power of drama and time (one minute)’ and agreed in principle to partner with him on this project.
” However, the Hon. Minister indicated that he was yet ruminating on a ‘Change Begins with Me’ idea of his own, which he wanted our client to reflect in the ‘Not in my Country’ project.
“Thus, it was agreed at that meeting that our client should go back to location and re-shoot the drama skits to reflect the Hon. Minister’s ‘Change Begins with Me’ as the pay-off line in the ‘Not in My Country’ videos.”
According to the lawyer, Mr. Fadeyi’ set out to work immediately with his crew at his own cost and upon completion of the video re-shoot, sent the minister text messages intimating him that the job was done.
“Our client later met with the Hon. Minister at the Southern Sun Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos, where the minister was meeting with some musical artists. The minister gave our client his email contact and asked that the reworked videos be sent to him via email,” he stated
“Accordingly, our client sent the files to the Minister’s email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with a Cover Letter dated 3rdFebruary, 2016. Receipt of the letter was duly acknowledged.
Mr. Adenipekun accused Mr. Mohammed of holding on the drama materials sent to him after receiving them.
“All attempts to reach and meet with him again were evidently rebuffed by the Hon. Minister,” he said.
“Undaunted, our client reverted to the original skits first presented to the Hon. Minister and produced many more skits of the Not in My Country drama. This was launched publicly to wide media coverage on the 3rd of May, 2016 in a well-attended event at Leadway/Protea Hotel, Maryland, Ikeja.
“The countless media coverage of news stories, opinions and columns are available in print and electronic media for all to see.
“Thereafter, our client embarked on an aggressive nationwide stakeholder engagement. Despite the Minister’s silence after receiving the work, our client sent him a reminder letter, newspaper cuttings of his launch and a comprehensive copy of his Not in My Country project on the 9th of June 2016. Till date, the Hon. Minister has not replied any of these correspondences.”
He noted that when on September 8, the Federal Government launched a drama skit model of the Change Begins with Me campaign, certain persons who were privy to Mr. Fadeyi’s project and others who witnessed his protracted exchanges with the minister made statements and accusations.
“Rather, contrary to all the Hon. Minister has said about him, our client has neither released nor commissioned anyone to release any comment on this matter before now,” Mr. Adenipekun said.
The lawyer admitted that on the flip side of Mr. Fadeyi’s private rights in the media reports, was a very crucial project of the Federal Government of Nigeria by which the government seeks to encourage individual change in the citizenry in the hopes of a holistic national change.
He said such a project is not one that ought to kick-off dogged with debate and controversy, underscoring that an important orientation project was being overwhelmed by negative reports and backlash.
“We consequently urge Your Excellency to initiate a thorough investigation of the respective positions of the parties in the ultimate interest of the all-important war on corruption,” he stated.
“We also wish to reiterate to Your Excellency that in the event that Alhaji Lai Mohammed makes good his threat to go to court, which our client urges him to do, our client reserves his right to come all out to put up his defence, and that whatever steps our client takes in defending his right should not be interpreted as fighting the government.
“Our client has no intention of taking up any dispute with the government in appreciation of its laudable anti-corruption campaign. Whenever our client is called upon to defend himself and his work before a court of justice, he will do so to the full extent allowed by law as the matter is strictly between Akin Fadeyi and Alhaji Lai Mohammed.”