Help, pirates are killing us!

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•Set to go on hunger strike

Nigerian artistes are all dying in silence. But on Wednesday they refused to be buried without raising a finger at least for the last time to draw the attention of the public, most especially, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua to their plight.

Coming under the umbrella of Nigerian Music Industry Coalition that include Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMAN), Association of Recording Industries (NARI), Performing & Mechanical Rights Society Ltd/Gte (PMRS), Association of Music Business Professionals (AM.B-Pro), Gramophone Records & Cassette Dealers (AGRECD), Music Label Owners Association of Nigeria (MULOAN,) Music Advertisers Association of Nigeria (MAAN) and Audio Video CD Sellers Association of Nigeria (AVCDSAN) among others, the artistes at a world press conference held at Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, cried out in unison that “enough is enough” to the scourge of piracy in Nigeria.

And if you think they don't mean business, hear this: “If we do not see any change soon, we have resolved to call on all well meaning practitioners throughout the country to begin a mass hunger strike to make it clear to the world that the situation is not acceptable. Also, as a sign of our seriousness, we will soon announce a 'warning strike' that will request all broadcast platforms across the country to observe a 24-hour “no music day” as a demonstration of solidarity with the plight of our industry.”

Prior to this war cry, however, the coalition had met for several weeks to do a thorough assessment of the state of the industry and later concluded that “we have no choice but to use this forum to call on President Yar' Adua, his cabinet and both houses of the National Assembly to note that the entertainment industry continues to provide Nigeria with one of the most veritable platforms to harness the latent talent, energy and skills of hundreds of thousands of our young people who roam the streets everyday with no hope of any real employment except in the devil's workshop.

“With no meaningful assistance or investment by the Nigerian state, the Nigerian entertainment industry has for several years been our nation's most effective vehicle in the projection of a positive international presence and image. The practitioners in our industry have continued to be the chief providers of badly needed elixir for a terribly traumatized citizenry facing biting socio-economic conditions and in this way our industry continues to insure the relative stability which our nation enjoys.”

Speaking on behalf of the musicians, Elegant Stallion Onyeka Onwenu stated that apart from the hundreds of thousands of jobs contributed by the cumulative effect of the industry locally, it has been proved the sector has great capacity for the export of Nigerian entertainment products which are highly in demand in different countries of the world.

“The amount of piracy and other forms of copyright infringement in Nigeria have become intolerable. There is no nation in the world where the virus called piracy is eating up the entertainment industry as voraciously as it is doing in Nigeria, the last couple of years being the most daunting. All the foreign investors in our industry have long deserted the country, taking away with them millions in investment and thousands of jobs. We are, therefore, forced to request Mr. President to declare a state of emergency with respect to the fight against the scourge of piracy and muster the necessary resources to eradicate this monster.”

This unprecedented step, according to the artistes, has become necessary because efforts made so far to fight piracy have failed and rather than piracy being controlled or reduced, it is now ravaging an entire generation of creative people. And so, “practitioners in the entertainment industry may soon be forced to take the laws into their hands in a desperate attempt to safeguard their investment and this may result in otherwise avoidable bloodshed.”

To reassure the stakeholders and the international community, the artistes have called on President Yar'Adua to immediately “set up a Governing Board made up of Nigerians of proven commitment and integrity to design and supervise the activities of the Nigerian Copyright Commission in accordance with the Nigerian Copyright Act (as amended) section 31 (1); Mr. President may need to be reminded that for more than five years, the Nigerian Copyright Commission only had a board for a period of a few months in 2005.

“Direct the Nigerian Copyright Commission to immediately put on hold the process of approval of any new copyright collective management organization pending the immediate convening of a stakeholders' conference on collective management to ensure that the process receives input from the stakeholders that will earn any organization emerging from the process the support of the industry.
“Direct the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro to serve a warning to the traders at Alaba International Market in Lagos which has earned the notoriety of being the world's biggest hotbed of piracy, that if within a specified period the traders do not clean up the market, the government will shut it down.”

For the artistes, there is an urgent need to convene a national summit of the music industry at which all stakeholders, individuals and every shade of opinion including the executive and legislative arms of government must come together to review the situation and devise an acceptable action plan to address the problems.

“We, therefore, request Mr. President to expeditiously direct the Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr Mike Andoakaa to liaise with us to bring about the summit as soon as possible. It is our belief that this summit will throw up the strategies that will guarantee lasting solutions to the problems that have made it impossible for us to grow this industry into the major economic force that it has the potential of becoming.

It will also propel the industry to become a more significant contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our great country, Nigeria,” the musicians declared.
The event was graced by several top acts like Pa Fatai Rolling Dollar, Ras Kimono, Sunny Nneji, Laolu Akins, Tony Okoroji, including major stakeholders such as Toju Eyutiechie, Joel Ajayi, Solomon Arueya, Eddy Lawani, Obi Asika, Cally Ikpe and others.