Where will your kids be on September 22?

“If Ebola hits schools” my friend said, “this country will die. Will children stop playing with each other, or parents stop hugging their children?”

 

My friend is not a doctor, so the medical accuracy in her assertion may not be 100%, but she is a parent who has decided that her daughter will not be going back to school on the 22nd of September. And she is not the only one. Many other parents have expressed concern at the government’s hurry (or caving under pressure from private school proprietors) to bring back resumption of school by 3 weeks. This is especially puzzling, coming at a time when the WHO has raised the alarm that the window for containing the virus across is West Africa is closing, and the number of confirmed cases across the country recently rising to 19.

 

When Mr. Index Case, Patrick Sawyer, came over from Liberia with his deadly cargo about 50 days ago, the consensus amongst parents was that it was a most fortunate, almost divinely ordained thing that schools we’re already on vacation at the time. The government deserves every commendation too, that we’re discussing only 19 and not the several hundreds of cases that have been confirmed in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. However, we are clearly not yet in the clear.

 

The Nigerian Medical Association, from whom the government really ought to be taking guidance on this issue, has rejected the September 22 resumption date. Hear them –

 

“We are not happy with this decision on the resumption of schools. Schools should be shut till the last suspected case or patient is certified free of the virus… We can shift the resumption date till next year or in the next three months if that is the time it will take. Government should have enough time to follow the standard procedure for containing   the virus. Parents have no reason to be in a hurry because if Ebola should enter any school, it will assume another dimension. Children cannot survive isolation like adults.”

 

You can see that my friend was not too far off in her assessment if the NMA agrees with her. The Lagos State House of Representatives has also indicated that it will review the proposed resumption date. Instructively, that last-referenced piece describes how “private school owners had vehemently opposed the [October 13] resumption date, compelling the Federal Ministry of Education to bring forward the date for schools to reopen to September 22, after a meeting with stakeholders in the sector.”

 

One can see how the disruption is unfavourable to private school owners. They need to continue to pay their staff full salaries, but most parents were unlikely to agree to pay a full term’s fees for only a half-term’s tuition, going by the previous October 13th date. There is also the prospect of losing out on projected income completely if schools are shut indefinitely as the NMA has recommended. Furthermore, one branch of the national association of private school owners has suggested that if tertiary institutions, churches and mosques, etc., were not closed, then there is no reason for primary and secondary schools to stay shut. 

 

However, kids cannot be trusted with their own hygiene and with 2 school-going children of my own, I have come to know a thing or two about in-school cross-infections. During term time, there’s always a cough or cold going around. My kids have been home for 3 months or so and have been sniffle-free the entire time. When you remember again that a lot of these schools also run daycare services, and that babies are constantly drooling, barfing and pooping, you kind of want to be really sure that there’s no chance of the virus embedding itself in all those bodily discharges. 

 

In the meantime, another infection has been confirmed in Lagos, with the situation in Rivers State seemingly still in a state of flux. A new case has also been reported at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife. So the virus is still very much with us and amongst us, and I’ve read that Nigeria also runs the risk of being seen an El Dorado of sorts by our siblings further west; that they’ll flock here to be nursed back to health or to be safe.

 

I’m for erring on the side of caution. I would rather schools were shut until January, if need be, for the assurance that our children will be safe. 

How Much Does a Bad Education Cost?

How Much?

How Much?

When I was in university, not so very long ago, LASU was in a tussle with UNIBEN and Ambrose Alli Univeristy, Ekpoma to be declared the paramount hotbed of secret cultism in Nigerian universities. It was always only a butchering or slaying and a riot away from closure. The school has been closed again in recent times, but the protests that led to the closure happened because the Lagos State government had attempted to increase annual fees from about N25,000 (about $150) to about N350,000 (about $2100). On the 7th of August 2014, the Governor of Lagos State, announced that there would no longer be an increase of any sort (previous suggestions of 60%, then 30% increases had also been rebuffed) and that the N25,000 fees would stand.

The Governor’s reversal was seen as a victory for people power, with various references again being made to the supposed lessons from the Ekiti elections and the consequences of elitist governance. The thrust of the arguments in support of modestly priced tertiary education is that the less privileged in society should not be priced out of education. Those in favour of increased fees argue that quality education is pricey and that a $600 dollar education (i.e. over a 4-year course) is not going to build a country of industrialists and reformers. And there would be some merit on both sides but I would side more with those who favour a realistic cost being attached to education. I would also agree that government should subsidise education but not up to tertiary.

Many people cite the Norwegian example in the argument for free education into post-graduate studies, even. After all, we are both endowed with vast mineral wealth. This is a false equivalence however, as Norway has only 5 million people against its proven crude deposits of 5,366,000,000 BBL, compared to Nigeria’s 170 million people against its proven deposits of 37,200,000,000 BBL (data here). Per capita, Norway is 5 times richer in oil than we are. And they don’t even spend the wealth the way we do, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s stick with education.

Everyday, when talking about Nigerian university graduates, recruiters churn out the words “half-baked”, “unemployable”, “incoherent”, etc, and there’s a reason for this. Many Nigerian graduates (they’re in the minority, let’s be honest) do not fall into these categories but I’m convinced it’s more to do with the schools they went to before university. People with decent primary and secondary education are more likely to be the outliers that will thrive in spite of the university they go to. It may sound elitist but (if you were not one yourself), you probably remember that classmate at uni (or three, or five or twenty), who struggled not only with grammar, but also with grasping every material concept your lecturers tried to teach. People who would throw a tantrum if they could not record the lecturer verbatim. People who had not learnt how to learn.

What evidence do I have in support of this theory? Well, if you speak to any of these “good” Nigerian graduates who, after being educated up to their first degrees in Nigeria, go abroad for graduate studies, the overwhelming majority of them will tell you that it was hard to adjust initially. You think you know how to research an issue properly, until you find out that what qualifies as research in the best of our universities here is nothing but rank plagiarism abroad. Very few of us that are trained in Nigeria understand that it is a very broad and far-reaching concept.

Plagiarism aside, how many university lecturers here tolerate dissenting views, even where those views are backed by verifiable facts/data? Chances are, if you do not regurgitate what your lecturer dictated to you or printed in the handout he forced you to buy, you won’t excel in his course. Rubbish, you say? Law school students doing the Bar Part I course (for foreign-trained lawyers) always complain about the learning methods at the law school. “Learning”, even in law school, is sitting through hours of note dictation. As we all know and have seen, note-dictation means you only need to find a diligent classmate with good handwriting, to photocopy his notes when it’s time to cram, 3 weeks before exams.

I went to a secondary school where we had a woodwork shop, with saws and drills and chisels and mallets and did all the experiments in the chemistry, biology and physics textbooks. ALL. It was a complete shock to my system during GCE (which I took after SSCE), that there were “Theory of Practical” exams for the sciences and that this was what the great majority of Nigerian secondary school students prepared for.

Jumping from N25,000 to N350,000 was something of a quantum leap, to be honest, but the penultimate proposal of 30% hikes in the fees was more than reasonable, in my opinion. If you are a parent and have young children that you are educating in private nursery and primary school, you are no doubt paying many multiples of N25,000 per term. I would argue that the effects on the child(ren) are evident – their vocabulary is expanding much faster than yours or your parents’ did, they’re dealing with much more advanced concepts than you were at their age and, in fact, the system of teaching is vastly changed from when you were a child yourself.

We need to move away from this “XYZ Governor enjoyed free education but wants to deprive today’s youth” argument, for many reasons. The first is that it is a lie. If you go back to our primary and secondary school literature books, the narratives showed villages putting money together to send children to school. Many people were the beneficiaries of some sort of grant or scholarship and had to drop out if things got tough back home.

The second is that the annual N90 my mother paid to attend UI in the 70s was worth much more than the same N90 I was charged in the 90s. That sort of system is not sustainable. After all, that was when meals (via meal tickets/vouchers) cost 20kobo or something. The cheapest meal in my first year was around N50.

It is this free system that ensures that the best of our brains are lured away by more competitive salaries and opportunities to contribute to the body of knowledge. It is this free system that ensures that there has been no major scientific or engineering breakthrough (of the kind that can withstand the robust and rigorous scrutiny of international peers) in any of our universities. It is this free system that makes the Ghanaian educational system more attractive to Nigerian parents who can’t afford the US-Europe route. This same free everything is why we don’t have technicians and artisans with proper skills. We import tailors, bricklayers and masons from other countries in West Africa (where they pay for this skills training) if we want proper cuts or straight walls.

A 1300% rise in fees will always be hard to defend and was probably not wise, especially, as many have pointed out, in an election year. We have to ask ourselves however, why there are so many graduates who cannot find work years after NYSC. Why are there so many graduates who are forced to switch careers (often downwards) only a few years after graduation? Why do recruiters always lament a skills gap? Most importantly, with Vision 20 20:20 in mind, what are the world’s top economies doing differently from us? Have a look at the chart below, in connection with the World’s Top 100 universities, for 2013:

World's Top 100 Universities by Country Located

World’s Top 100 Universities by Country Located

Is it a coincidence that these are firmly amongst the world’s most developed countries? How many of them offer free or heavily subsidised tertiary education? Do we reasonably think that our way -the Nigerian way – is better?

We’ve reverted to the status quo ante on the fees and this probably means not much is going to change in the system. For what it’s worth, I believe that the entire benefit of free or subsidized education should be directed at basic education, to bring up our base literacy levels and learning aptitudes. Thereafter, fees for degrees need to be realistically priced, to upgrade facilities and attract the intellectual and administrative talent needed to transform our tertiary learning centres. If we look around us, the real cost of bad education is all too evident.

The Chronicles of Chill – Episode III: TRap’d.

After the throne of Ekitilopia was won and lost, a season of chill did come upon the Twillistines and the Social Medianites. Yode, son of Falasham had been declared the next ruler of the kingdom of Ekitilopia.

 

Lo, was there also a season of laughter, as Omishoram of Oshunlonica, highborn and of great wealth, had been seen engaging in the pretence of cavorting and revielling with the paupers of the land and eating their swill. Yea, did he descend from his golden chariot from the courts of Gejoshaphat, to ride on the commoners’ donkey.

 

Omishoram was of the House of Padipadia, same as Yode, and sought the favour of the Oshunlonicans in the manner of Yode, for his opponent, Arebshalom, the incumbent chief, was also skilled in the art of public lampoonery and yea, did they seek to outdo each other in turning the hearts of the Oshunlonicans.

 

In those days, there was a great prophet called TRappatoni from the island of TiPiHanna, in the province of Realittica. TRappatoni TRappatoni was known for his speech in Reallitica and had many a-people seat under his teaching.

 

It was his desire to also bring his teachings into Social Mediana and Twillista, such that the people might benefit in the same manner as the people of Reallitica. Full of the spirit, TRappatoni spake the tword unto the Twillistines and the Social Medianites. And at first the people welcomed him.

 

Twice did the tword go forth from TRappatoni.

 

The first tword was to the Men of Twillistia and Social Mediana and yea, was the prophetic utterance of the eternal secrets of husbandment come unto them. And yet was there still chill upon the land.

 

And lo, the second tword went forth, unto the Women of Social Mediana and Twillistia. And he spake unto them of wifery and all its appurtenances. But behold, there was a grumbling in the land, as the people objected to the Prophecies of TRappatoni.

 

Before long, many women and men of Twillistia spoke their understanding of the tword, against what TRappatoni spake, and suddenly, and with very little warning, there was an eruption of unchill.

 

Behold, again, there was no chill in the land, for chill was nowhere to be found. Not even with Jesse of Jessepotamia.

 

TRappatoni was unmoved by the grumbling and unchill of Twillistia, for his calling was to speak the tword unto the people, even unto the ends of Social Mediana.

 

And he suffered their indignation and endured impudence at the their hands. And yet, unrelenting, spake he the tword of matrimony unto them. And there was a chasm in the land as many sought to restore chill.

 

“Take what ye shall of the tword of TRappatoni”, they said, “and leave ye what ye find untenable. But speak ye no evil word against the prophet.”

 

But these were in the minority. For the people of Twillistia had grown weary of the tword of husbandment and wifery, first from Lekenus of Addlermantium and now of TRappatoni.

 

There was a great discontent pervading Social Mediana and lo, was there not a modicum of chill in the land.

Osita Chidoka a Minister? Oh no!!!

I do not know Osita Chidoka personally. So this is not an attack on Osita Chidoka the person. On the contrary, it is an attack on Osita Chidoka the public administrator, who has recently been nominated for confirmation as a Minister by President Goodluck Jonathan. People say he will fill the aviation slot vacated by Princess Stella Oduah and this scares the hell out of me. Why? Well, in his time as FRSC boss, he presided over some dodgy reforms in our road transport sector. I speak of his vehicle registration and driver’s licensing efforts.

 

1. Vehicle Registration – I remember in the late 80s, when my dad changed the registration number of his Renault 9 GTL from OY 727 X to BF 727 BDJ. Dr. Olu Agunloye (him I know personally) had been appointed Corps Marshal and this move was ostensibly to fix the government’s database and computerise all the records. Over the past 2 years or so, Osita Chidoka, has been telling us that the FRSC has been absolute rubbish at keeping records, so many of the Agunloye-time plates were not fully captured on issue. The FRSC lost many records in transit between the various licensing centres and the headquarters in Abuja. The worst part was that Nigerians had to pay to fix this wholly government-sided mess. Chidoka’s people then swapped the positioning of the characters on the license plate (e.g. to BDJ 727 BF) and slapped a messy green watermark in the shape of the Nigerian map behind them. Of course, the process could only be completed on time through touts. Several courts have ruled the process not to be properly backed by law but this being Nigeria, it’s probably safer to be our usual docile selves and just get the new plates to prevent harassment on the highways.

 

2. Driver’s Licenses – Again, Chidoka decided to decree a uniform expiry date on driver’s licenses, regardless of actual expiration and demand that we all get new ones. Cue the frantic rush to procure the interim papers that say you went to a state-approved driving school and passed a test (LOL, ROTFL), and thereafter be given an appointment to report for data capture. This FRSC data capture is the loooooooooooooooongest process in the world. You are assigned a date several months in the future only for that date arrive and the venue is a typical disorderly mess. Why there are so few centres, why the FRSC refuses to harness 2014 technology, why getting your picture and fingerprints recorded takes longer than NASA plans a rocket launch is absolutely beyond me.

 

I reckon Chidoka will have similar “reforms” in mind for the aviation sector. All aircraft will need recertification from a single authorised testing centre on the Bebi strip ( all 100 metres of it). So a tout will take your original papers to Bebi where there’ll be a couple of liaison officers from the government agency all in on the massive racket. They will frequently go on 3-day lunch breaks, you know, just because. I am not saying Chidoka is racketeer. However the implementation of his reforms to date has empowered racketeers.

 

Reform is a great thing. In fact, the good book encourages us to daily renew our minds. Reform is scriptural. Amen! But a reform that preserves the old, stinking order is no renewal. A reform that merely shrouds the status quo in a cloak of pseudo-progressiveness is utterly condemnable.

 

I have read somewhere that Chidoka has a masters degree in some relevant transportation subject from George Mason, so perhaps his attempts to reform are killed by the septic environment of the Nigerian civil service. Perhaps that will be his challenge when he becomes a Minister – to Nigeria-proof his reforms. Otherwise, do not be surprised if in 6 months from now, you will barred from flying locally without the snazzy new Biometric Utility Long Life Safety Harnessing Identity Ticket. You see my acronym?

THE 5-POINT ELITE AGENDA

Apparently, there’s a mekunu revolution afoot. For people who do no speak Yoruba, mekunu is the common man. The masses. The person who, if reports are to be believed, now has the entire Nigerian political stratosphere within the palm of his hand. Mekunu demands sacks of rice and servicing of his “stomach infrastructure” in the build-up to general elections. Mekunu wants to be employed, regardless of his unsuitedness to the job and will resist all attempts to introduce grading and competency tests. In this season of elections, vox mekunu vox dei, and the hoi pollitcoi gladly oblige hoi mekunu.

But I am not mekunu, at least not in the sense of the larger political subset. I am alakowe. I am omowe. I am amofin. In the context of today’s (i.e. post-Ekiti) political analysis, I am a member of the country’s elite (*Big, wide, grin*). That may be so, but I have dreams and aspirations too and Lupita says they’re valid. I too want to be seduced by these free-spending politicos, but not quite in the mekunu way. How will they get me and my, ahem, ilk, to spend 7 hours on the queue to cast my vote? Well, they can implement my 5-point elite agenda.

1. Immediate disbanding of superfluous government [road-management] agencies – most of us elites are generally honest, law-abiding people, trying to make an honest buck in spite of all the odds that this country stacks against us. However, it is easier for a bandit on his camel to ride through the proverbial eye of the needle, than for an honest person to traverse a state plying his trade without being accosted by a spectroscopic array of road-law enforcement officers. These people in their variously coloured uniforms demand all sorts of permits with all sorts of acronyms, meaning that there is never a complete set of motoring documents – if the agency represented is stupid enough, you will be found wanting.

2. Immediate implementation of common sense surgery for Local Government workers – or perhaps they could scrap the thing in its entirety. I have yet to come across a local government headquarters that isn’t anything other than a repository of nothing, dispensing permits poorly designed on PowerPoint. What do they do, anyway? They don’t fix roads, they don’t supply water, don’t really maintain primary healthcare centres, don’t really enforce standards, full of people that can’t be reasoned with except with the use of money. They collect parking levies and daily Okada tolls but we don’t know what they do with the money…

3. Ban everyone from issuing directives – Directives are the lifeblood of corruption politics. No point passing a law, or subsidiary legislation that would need to be gazetted before taking effect. No. Much simpler to create binding legal obligations with criminal consequences in your newspaper interview or at your press conference and throw the system into confusion. You see that swagger that American/British TV lawyers enter police stations with? Absolutely impossible here – because no lawyer can ever be sure they’re totally in the right. And even if they were sure, what’s to stop the police from giving you a hard time anyway, or claiming the existence of a new directive countering what you believed to be true?

4. Imprison all Public Transport Drivers – there is no salvation for these ones. These ones who make a way where there seems to be no way. These ones that cause 3-lanes of traffic to double at the slightest hint of brakes needing to be applied, who only use their mirrors when they’re reversing. These ones that honk as if they get a credit alert for each hoot they produce. These ones that abhor order and straight lines, that pray the gods to inflict them with colour-blindness, so that traffic lights and road-markings register nothing in their subconscious.

5. Give us 10GB of data free monthly (that WORKS) – this is where my own stomach infrastructure lies. Half, perhaps even three quarters of my living, is earned with the assistance of internet connectivity. You give me a dongle with 10GB data at your rally, and again on election day, you can forget all the previous 4 items and my vote is assured. You promise me that every month during your tenure, I will become a thug for you!! Data l’omo! Jeun s’oke Governor!! My guffnor is deejeetah!!!

Elitism As a Scapegoat

Kayode Fayemi lost and Ayodele Fayose won. The overwhelming consensus, even with people that were Fayemi aficionados before the elections, in blog after blog and op-ed after op-ed, is that Fayemi was too elitist and Fayose was a man of the people; that Fayemi lost because his policies were too cerebral (ergo, the Ekiti people are a thick bunch) and that Fayose, with all his travails and alleged character flaws, is the man whose governance and policies favour the people more.

 

Analysts are all agreeing that while roads, bridges, healthcare and raised educational standards are all fantastic ideals, a governor who would be re-elected must “empower the people”. The governor-elect, true to his pre-electoral reputation, has already declared that he will empower the people of Ekiti by awarding them contracts, whatever that means. He understands, it has repeatedly been said since the elections, what is euphemistically referred to as “stomach infrastructure”. Ekiti is full of poor, hungry people and Fayose, with his common touch, is more connected to the people and understands better the importance of stomach infrastructure, the arguments go. Unlike the outgoing governor, who was simply too elitist (like Fashola of Lagos, it is frequently added).

 

Elitism has suddenly become this dirty word, this contraption by which elections will surely be lost. And the sure banker route to electoral victory is ensuring that as an incumbent governor, you maintain the status quo and keep the rent-seekers and hangers on happy, lest they rebel against you and deliver each single local government in the state to the enemy.

 

Is Fayemi’s “elitism” is something to be apologetic for? Obviously, in the zero sum game that is our current political arena, some populism is required in the quest to retain political power and the fact that Fayemi will cede his office to Fayose, come October, shows that elections are still largely a popularity contest. However, the question must be asked, of those who would think, whether or not the status quo is desirable. Do we want people to win elections so they can beat their chests and dance victory dances, or do we want people to win elections because we believe they will govern in the best way possible? In a country where we complain about the First Couple’s frequent foot-in-mouth gaffes, why was it ultimately wrong for this governor to be of the desired mould?

 

The question is moot and yet it is at the same relevant to the on-going examination. Shall we continue to wallow in the incompetencies of today, so that our stomachs may be serviced, or should we look at where we need to be and do the things necessary to help us get there? Do we, as a society, have values about this sort of thing, or is our value system limited to compelling all women to be married before they hit 30? Is “elitism” a bad thing for politicians because it supposedly lost Fayemi the elections?

 

It certainly sounds nice to have governors who buy food by the roadsides and share the monthly federal allocations around, but any buffoon can do that. In fact, there are many buffoons doing this all over Nigeria at the moment. Is this buffoonery preferable to development and does the fact that the people of Ekiti rejected a progressive governor make this buffoonery right? What exactly is the point of governance?

 

We cannot, on the one hand, criticise governors who celebrate mundane, basic amenities like boreholes and motorcycles, yet make a governor renowned for prudence and excellence feel like his conduct and policies as a governor were regrettable.

 

There is no society that has progressed by working with the thinking prevalent amongst its lowest echelon. Such thinking, as is evident with this “stomach infrastructure” argument, is inherently short-termist and therefore inferior and unreliable. Societies progress when the greater good of the greater number is pursued and if this is being “elitist”, then elitism is a good thing and I would be happy to belong to the elite.

 

When we say people (or “the masses”) are poor and hungry and that this poverty is what directs how they vote, can we objectively say that their choices are rational? Or is rationality a subjective thing, depending on the abjectness or otherwise of one’s poverty? Granted, the game is about winning and, no matter how much Arsene Wenger says it, coming anything other than first is not like winning a trophy. But is winning elections the sole aim of governance? How can we clamour for good governance but deride a man for not throwing scarce money away, in the name of stomach infrastructure? How can it be bad for the governor to have focused on real infrastructure?

 

There have been attempts to rationalise what happened in the Ekiti elections. You can read my favourite pieces here and here. It would seem from the analysis that one cannot be a purist in Nigeria and hope to remain in power and this is a very fearful thing. It means that there really is no incentive to lean away from the malaises that we all agree are holding the country back – the corruption, the nepotism, the impunity. You see, a blanket empowerment of the people by awarding them contracts means that you are discarding due process in tenders as a governor. It connotes that “the people” will be awarded these contracts irrespective of their qualification or suitability. It means that you will feed the entitlement mentality of “sharing” and “making the money flow”. It means that you have already compromised on good governance. It means that the change of Nigeria, of your state, does not lie in you.

 

Luckily for us, Fayose can only be governor for four years and no more. Perhaps he will be more concerned with his legacy, as will not be eligible for re-election, given his previous term as governor. Maybe he will mix his populism with some pragmatic elitism and flip the script for 2018.

The Chronicles of Chill: The Throne of Ekitilopia

The word of the chronicler. The second chapter of the Chronicles of Chill.

In third year of the first reign of King Gejoshaphat, ruler of the 36 kingdoms, it came to pass that the people of Ekitilopia were required to choose a new paramount chief.

 

Chief Jefka had ruled Ekitilopia for four years and was known by Social Medianites and Digital Perusites as a good and just chief. And yea, did Chief Jekfa present himself to the Ekitilopians for their consideration to be appointed for a second and final reign.

 

But lo, there was contention against Jekfa by another who would be paramount chief. And his name was Yode, son of Falasham, who had once ruled the Ekitilopians but was removed. Yode had suffered persecution and prosecution since he was removed from the throne, in a heltering and skeltering joust with the Pharisees. And he was said by the Digital Perusites and Social Medianites not to be a just chief, and one given to violence.

 

But Yode and Gejoshaphat belonged to the same PaDiPadia House and the PaDiPadics had decided that Yode son of Fasham was to be their champion in the contest for the throne of Ekitilopia. This was significant because Jekfa was from the House of APiCuram, who were the sworn enemies of the Padipadics. And there was no chill because many had fled the House of Padipadia for the House of Apicuram, greatly heating the internal polity of the padipadics.

 

On the last day but two before the Ekitilopians would choose their next chief, other chiefs from the house of Apicuram, from the kingdoms of Edom and Riveria, embarked upon journeys to Ekitilopia to support Jekfa. But the armies of Gejoshaphat came against them and laid siege to them and obstructed their way.

 

And they could neither move by their carriages nor their magical metal birds.

 

And there was no chill in the land. For Amachinus and Shimolek, Apicuram chiefs of Riveria and Edom, had only a few sentinels with them and could not prevail against the armies of Gejoshaphat. Neither was a Leonidas. And Ekitilopia was not Sparta.

 

And lo there was fury in the land of the Social Medianites and the Digital Perusites, and they rained condemnation on Gejoshaphat and his armies. But it was not a real rain, as it neither fell on the heads of Gejoshaphat nor his generals.

 

And the spirit of the tword came upon the prophets of the Social Medianites. And they dreamt dreams and saw visions. And they prophesied violence in the contest for the throne of Ekitilopia. And they foresaw and foretold unspeakables about the contest for the throne of the 36 kingdoms, to take places in 10 moons’ time.

 

And there was no chill in the land.

So, some guy went and trademarked “Nollywood”…

Photo Credit: buzznigeria.com

Photo Credit: buzznigeria.com

 

News reached us in Nigeria a few days ago that someone (a man named Nicholas Opara) had applied for and received approval from the USPTO to register the word “Nollywood” as a trademark in the United States. At first it didn’t seem to me like something anyone should worry about but the Nollywood people at the NBA’s Section on Business Law Conference were clearly disturbed. There is a sense that anyone using the expression “Nollywood” in the context of our entertainment industry will owe Mr Opara money. This is incorrect, for the reasons given below.

 

You can see the USPTO report on the NOLLYWOOD trademark here. This tells us that the registration was in classes 35 and 38. (You can find our quick refresher on trademarks and classifications here.)

 

What does this mean? Well, trademarks are registered in connection to goods and services. So you can’t just walk up to the trademarks office and ask to register “TEXTHELAW” in abstract. You would have to tell them what goods or services will be branded with the trademark. In the refresher course link above, you will find that there is a standardised international classification of goods and services, available in most countries. In Mr Opara’s case, he registered NOLLYWOOD in connection with “Advertising; business management; business administration; office functions” (class 35) and “Telecommunications” (class 38).

 

What is the effect of the Class 35 & Class 38 registrations? It means that you can’t set up businesses that provide the services listed under these classes (i.e. advertising, business management, business administration, telecommunications) and use the word Nollywood in the business name or trademark of your company. Mr. Opara can set up Nollywood Telecoms or Nollywood Business Managers and it would be fine. It does NOT mean that anyone operating in our Nollywood needs his permission to use the word or that the industry as a whole is held to ransom by Mr. Opara.

 

Could he have registered the trademark in Class 41? The services listed under class 41 are “Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities”. This is the class that would have given Nigerian practitioners real concern, as it would have meant that trading in the US as movie industry practitioners under the name Nollywood, would have infringed Mr. Opara’s registration. However, given the popularity and famousness of the term “Nollywood” worldwide and the industry it represents, it is unlikely that the USPTO would have agreed to a registration in this class. And if they did, it would be fairly easy to instruct a US attorney to challenge such a registration as the chances of getting it revoked are very high.

 

Should an actor or the Guild of Actors/Directors register Nollywood as a trademark in Nigeria? No. First of all, a trademark cannot be descriptive of the goods or services it brands. So, for example, you cannot register “PURE WATER” as a trademark to brand drinking water. In the same vein, “Nollywood”, which has come to mean the movie service industry segment of the Nigerian entertainment sector cannot be registered as a trademark for entertainment services, in my opinion. Secondly, the whole point of a trademark is to distinguish your goods and services from those of others. So even if the Nigerian Trademarks Registry somehow approved the trademark application, it would be a trademark of very little value, since the entire industry already refers to itself as Nollywood.

 

Did Nicholas Opara miscalculate or does he have something up his sleeve? My mentors in the legal profession taught us not to comment on speculation so they would probably be disappointed by this paragraph. However, the cynic in me thinks he probably tried class 41 initially and was refused, so he settled for the next best classes. Nonetheless, 35 and 38 registrations will not affect 41 services, especially if it’s clear that you didn’t invent the word. On the other hand, it is quite plausible that he wants to deploy Nigeria-centric services in the US and I guess this isn’t a bad thing. It wouldn’t be out of place, for example, to have Hollywood Drycleaners or Hollywood Barbers in Nigeria. If his plan is something more along those lines, then all the very best to him.

 

 

Sanusi’s Case: Where does Jurisdiction lie?

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Suspended CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

This morning, I had the pleasure of viewing a debate between 2 highly esteemed learned friends on social media. The subject being discussed was the recent ruling by a Federal High Court that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the case filed by suspended Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, challenging his suspension by the President. The court decided that the National Industrial Court was the proper forum, as the matter appeared more employer/employee than anything else, and ordered the case to be transferred accordingly.

Now, jurisdiction is perhaps the most fundamental issue in litigation. It goes to the heart and validity of any case. Anything done by a court in respect of a matter in connection to which it has no jurisdiction is a nullity. My first learned friend argued, as she had stated since the suit was initially filed, that only the NIC had jurisdiction. My second learned friend argued that certain provisions of the constitution nonetheless vested the FHC with jurisdiction. My first learned friend disagreed. So, what does the constitution say?

First of all, let us examine the section of the constitution advanced by my first learned friend in support of her argument; Section 254 C, which states -

254 C- (I)      Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 251, 257, 272 and anything contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the National Industrial Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters-

(a)      relating to or connected with any labour, employment, trade unions, industrial relations and matters arising from workplace, the conditions of service, including health, safety, welfare of labour, employee, worker and matters incidental thereto or connected therewith;

Is Sanusi’s suit in connection with employment? On the face of it, yes. Additionally, I emphasised certain keywords in the referenced section, whose importance you will see in the section of the constitution advanced by my second learned friend; Section 251, which states -

251(1) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Constitution and in addition to such other jurisdiction as may be conferred upon it by an Act of the National Assembly, the Federal High Court shall have and exercise jurisdiction to the exclusion of any other court in civil causes and matters-

(r) any action or proceeding for a declaration or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision by the Federal Government or any of its agencies;

Is Sanusi seeking a declaration affecting the validity of an action or decision by the President/Federal Government? Yes, he is. So you see the conundrum here. Both 251 and 254 are literally notwithstanding each other and yet appear to have “exclusive” jurisdiction over the subject matter of this lawsuit.

I don’t envy judges. Additionally, I am confused and unable to pitch my tent with either of my learned friends. What do you think?

 

 

Hopeless Nation, Hopeful People: Commentary From South Sudan

In an earlier post today, I remarked, with regard to levels of certainty about Nigeria’s “nearing implosion that -

People talk about getting [tourist] visas for everyone in their family and all, but (1) I don’t think the usually congested route to MMIA would suddenly open up for us to flee sedately if that day of crisis came; and (2) that still sounds like their hedging, meaning either that they/we do not really think things are that bad, or that this almost-certain catastrophe is not quite certain to happen.

A reader with the benefit of similar experience in South Sudan posted a comment directly relevant to this and has given me permission to reproduce the comment in full, below. What is clear is that escaping will not be as simple as booking a ticket and taking a leisurely drive to the airport.

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Many people are quite clueless about what it takes to evacuate their families. They assume that because they can afford between 1-3 international holidays a year a UK/US visa will somehow get them out of here if shit hits the fan. I lived in South Sudan the last few years and from practical experience, this is how it works.
Living abroad is expensive and we don’t want to pack up and leave until we are absolutely sure, besides someone has to work to fund the hasty exit. So no one ever knows/ wants to believe that shit will hit the fan until it does. The people who know already have their families tucked away somewhere safe and can afford to keep them there indefinitely. Commercial flights will stop running. Expats and diplomats will be the first out. Then the truly wealthy. Then non-nationals. We will not be able to go online and book tickets and then trot off to pay at the banks. Cash will be the only language spoken and even then, given our population there will probably not be enough private exorbitantly priced planes to get us out. We will be forced to leave most of our belongings behind.

Shit will get real when there’s no petrol cos the army needs it all. No work, no salary. No banks. No electricity. No food to buy even if you have money. Massive inflation.

Anyone who wants a split (which would never be peaceful) does not realise how devastating war can be. How it feels to lose EVERYTHING. Nigeria has to work. We have to make it work.

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Let us therefore not lose hope. And let us then do what we must to make the country work.