Sounding the Alarm to Protect Nigeria’s Intellectual Property
By KC Olumayowa
For generations, Nigeria has had a strong history of producing invaluable intellectual property (IP), from Wizkid’s unprecedented international success to the first patented drug for sickle-cell anemia based on traditional medicines. Based on Nollywood alone, Nigeria’s intellectual property value is in excess of $5 billion, which does not even account for the economic benefits never seen from commercializing creative ideas in other sectors like traditional science. As a result of the government’s lack of investment in basic research in science and innovation, these promising industries have not reached their full potential in contributing to Nigeria’s economy.
The future of Nigeria’s vibrant informal and cultural indigenous systems is at stake at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) where the E.U. and the U.S., while profiting from the lack of protection of Nigeria’s traditional knowledge, have nevertheless refused for 15 years to agree to an international framework that recognizes rights for these creators. The Nigerian Patent and Trademark Office Registry lacks expertise and rarely contributes meaningfully to the defense of Nigerian national interests at WIPO. Moreover, despite the fact that Adebambo Adewopo has recently become the first IP expert to be appointed as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), attention to an appropriate IP policy that is responsive to creative industries and sectors in Nigeria has yet to emerge.
The most recent drafts of Nigeria’s proposed new Copyright Act remain seriously under-analyzed and appear to be non-responsive to some of the key principles necessary to ensure that Nigeria can take her proper place in the global information economy. In view of the government’s new emphasis on economic diversification, it would appear that this is precisely the moment to renew focus on ensuring policies are in place to protect these knowledge and cultural industries both nationally and internationally, where Nigeria’s national positions can be so easily undermined as they appear to be doing at WIPO.
Two key issues are at stake. First, negotiations will take place for an international framework to protect traditional knowledge and genetic resources — one of Nigeria’s signature assets. Second, the advancement of a proposed E.U. Design Law Treaty could eliminate Nigeria’s national policy space to create regulations to ensure that Nigerian sectors and traditional knowledge are adequately protected from misappropriation.
The affected Ministries of Trade and Investment, Information and Culture, Justice, and the Presidency must ensure that the political compromises that representatives are often pushed into making in Geneva do not constrain Nigeria’s options to pursue a viable development path and thereby stifle, stymie, or completely eliminate the existing prospects for Nigeria’s growth and positioning in the global knowledge economy.
KC Olumayowa is a student and Author and can be reached on