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How Africa, women lag behind in innovation, global IP economy

By Anote Ajeluorou
06 May 2018   |   4:18 am
While it looks rosy on the creativity front for most of Africa, the story is vastly different when it comes to innovations because of the technicality involved. And for women...

Project Fame West Africa season 9 winner and Friends of the Creator (Artistic) Foundation (FCF) awardee, Okiemute Ighorodje (left); Chairman, Board of Trustees and co-founder of FCF, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo; Canada-based actress and awardee, Isoken Ibie, music star and awardee, Veno Marioghae-Mbanefo, Secretary and co-founder of FCF, Mr. Rockson Igelige at World Intellectual Property Day, April 26, celebration… in Warri

While it looks rosy on the creativity front for most of Africa, the story is vastly different when it comes to innovations because of the technicality involved. And for women, it is doubly worse as many factors tend to inhibit their potential for innovation. How to bridge the apparent gap in innovation in Africa and among women formed the thrust of the celebration in Warri, Delta State, at this year’s World Intellectual Property Day 2018. It has as theme ‘Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity.’

Organised by Friends of the Creators (Artistic) Foundation (FCF), the event highlighted the marginal position women occupy in the intellectual property (IP) value chain and what could be done to redress the situation. Also, six women on the creativity front and one woman on the innovation turf were celebrated with awards for their exceptional commitment and contributions to creativity and innovation.

The women include music artistes, Veno Marioghae-Mbanefo and Okiemute Ighorodje, actors, Joke Silva and Isoken Ibie, choreographer, Kafayat Shafau (Kaffy), visual artist, Happiness Akaniro and a scientist, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye (Director-General, National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control -NAFDAC).

In an address titled ‘Which Kain Thin Be Intellectua Propati or What is Intellectual Property?’ at the opening, co-founder and chairman, board of trustees of FCF, Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo, said celebrating World Intellectual Property draws attention to the needed reward creators of intellectual labour should derive from their work. He then traced the establishment of FCF about a year ago to a landmark intellectual property case in Nigeria since the “advent of the telecommunications turn-around in Nigeria: the 2015 case of Dovie Okson Omenuwoma (aka Baba 2010) versus MTN Communications Nigeria Ltd. It was a copyright violation case, in which the plaintiff claimed for the infringement of his copyright to four songs composed by him and sold as caller-tunes or ring-tones by the defendant without his permission.”

Although the case did not go to trial, as it was settled out of court, but sufficient lessons were learnt with repercussion for the industry. The experience promptly informed him and the secretary of FCF, Mr. Rockson Igelige, to set up the foundation as they “felt the need for non-litigious ways of propagating awareness of intellectual property rights and issues in Nigeria. It became clear to us during the process of negotiations for an out-of-court settlement how easily anyone could violate copyright or other intellectual property rights due to pervasive ignorance about that class of property.

“We do not mean that the defendants, the largest telecommunications company in Nigeria and Africa, which not only has a legal department but retains external solicitors, can be deemed or said to be ignorant of copyright law. What we mean is how much more ordinary citizens with no knowledge of the law are liable to violate intellectual property rights if corporate behemoths could unwittingly do so.”

Ifowodo then went on to detail the wide-ranging dimensions of pervasive ignorance and violations of intellectual property rights that take place both at high and low places. He stated that it was in appreciating the pervasive ignorance that led then to found Friends of the Creator (Artistic) Foundation.

He commended the seven women billed for honour for their creative ingenuity, saying, “We are gathered here today to honour seven such Nigerian women who have distinguished themselves as creators and innovators in their respective artistic and inventive labours, and a young woman, Ms Uriri Kesiena (a 200-level Mechanical Engineering student with 4.3 GPA), who is the best female student of the Faculty of Engineering, Delta State University, our collaborator in hosting this event, got a prize from FCF for her blossoming academic feat.

“As I welcome you all to this event, I ask you to join us in celebrating these outstanding women whose intellectual labours in their respective artistic and inventive endeavours enrich our lives. Thank you for coming to commemorate the World Intellectual Property Day with Friends of the Creator Foundation. We look forward to fruitful discussions on how to broaden awareness of this abstract, rather strange, kind of property called intellectual property and how best to safeguard the rights of their owners.”

Also, guest speaker and lead counsel at Infusion Lawyers, Lagos, Senator Iyere Ihenyen, gave amazing statistics on the marginal status of African women on the innovative front and said dedicating this year’s celebration to them meant a wake up call for women to shake off every inhibiting obstacle in the path to innovation. Ihenyen blamed women’s marginal situation on the masculinity of intellectual property formulations that fail to recognize the work of women as deserving of commercial status.

In his paper titled ‘The Masculinity of Intellectual Property, Femininity and the Malnourished Baby,’ Ihenyen argued that the world’s IP system is fashioned in such a way that it does not recognise certain categories of creative and innovative works, with the result that creativity by women and communal groups in Africa are excluded and that what they produce is considered of inferior economic value. He explained the difference between innovation and creativity to include industrial property (inventions) and creativity as the bedrock of copyright, adding, “industrial property ‘includes patents for inventions, trade marks, industrial designs and geographical indications’ and ‘covers literary works, films, music, artistic and architectural design.”

Ihenyen said Africa contributes an insignificant 0.5 per cent to global inventions and is therefore excluded from benefiting from the economic value of global IP. In much the same way are women’s contributions marginal and Ihenyen asked, “Why are there significantly less female innovators than male innovators in Nigeria? Are women incapable of innovating and creating as their male counterparts do? And why are there significantly less Nigerian women in innovation compared to the number of Nigerian women in creativity? Is there anything in our IP system that discriminates against female innovators and creators? Do people prefer works of innovation and creativity by men? Are female innovators and creators producing inferior works, thus getting less attention? Are the gender-inequality and socio-cultural issues women often face in the society limiting their contributions to innovation and creativity? Are the socio-economic factors that women face relative to men keeping female innovators and creators back? Or is this gender disparity in innovation and creativity and creation of history?

“While there may be various compelling reasons for this disparity, the masculinity of our IP system contributes to this. What do I mean by masculinity? When we think about masculinity, we think of muscularity, maleness, manliness, robustness, strength, toughness, vigour, and virility. To be able to protect and exploit innovation and creativity, our IP system is made up of these masculine qualities. And this is why it operates by manning the entry points to IP protection and exploitation, necessarily involving the exclusion of certain types of innovation and creativity from its muscular biceps.”

Ihenyen frowned at the exclusion of traditional cultural expressions (traditional ceremonies, dances, songs, tales, and other artistic products), crafts and related creative activities (crocheting, embroidery, jewelry-making, lace-making, tapestry, textiles, weaving), and traditional knowledge (medical practices, proverbs, rituals, folklore, cultural value, agricultural practice) and said women have been excluded from being part of the modern IP system that ought to benefit them.

According to him, “Traditional cultural expression, crafts, and traditional knowledge are the living womanliness in Africa’s innovation and creativity. By excluding these three vital types of innovation and creativity that traditionally involves women and also involves the cultural heritage and civilization of a people, our IP system is effectively masculine, generally reducing innovation and creativity to mere commodities. This objectifies innovation and creativity, thus limiting the contributions African women—including Nigerian women—could have made to the body of global innovation and creativity today.”

Ihenyen stated that Nigerian and African women were far behind in innovation and canvased the need to catch up with the rest of the world. He listed the few women innovators to include “Prof. Omowunmi Sadik, a Nigerian inventor. She has a number of patents on biosensors. She developed microelectrode biosensors, which can be used for drug and bomb detection. Another inventor is Jaiyeola Oduyoye, who at 21 invented ‘Neva,’ a mobile medical backup that is closely related to an industrial UPS (uninterruptible power supply) device. Neva provides temporary backup electricity to surgical theatres in developing countries that often suffer from poor electricity.

“Lastly, we have Prof. Christianah Mojisola Adeyeye, an inventor and the current Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Adeyeye has U.S. patents in Method of Treating a Patient with a Prolonged Time-Release Drug and the Drug Itself; Controlled Release Pharmaceutical Preparation for Treatment of Endometriosis and Fibrocystic Breast Disease; situ gel ophthalmic drug delivery system of estradiol or other estrogen for prevention of cataracts, and patent in Anti-retroviral Drug Formulations for Treatment of Children Exposed to HIV/AIDS.”

Ihenyen then made a case for a robust approach to IP system that is not masculine in nature to accommodate Nigeria and Africa’s creativity and innovation efforts. He said, “Town and gown (university) were too disconnected for innovation to happen and for such innovations to be integrated into industry. IP is an academic fad; it’s something practical. Everyone is part of IP system. We need to rebrand our innovations, be it basket weaving or crafts.”

Also, Executive Director, National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB), Alhaji Adedayo Thomas, charged women to take lead in innovation. He said women were on top in agriculture, oil and gas and entertainment industry, adding, I’m here to challenge women that you are not at the back; you are in front. It’s your right. Don’t beg the men for your right. Claim it; take it. For men, always try to support women. It has spiritual benefits.”

The awardees – Veno Marioghae-Mbanefo, Isoken Ibie and Okiemute Ighorodje commended the organisers, FCF, for recognising women in the creative sectors. The event provided opportunity for Marioghae-Mbanefo to break her music performance silence after 34-year hiatus. She found a moment to step on stage again and electrified it. Her first outing happened at the first coming of Muhammadu Buhari as military head of state in 1984. Now, it seemed, time has turned full circle and the ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ legend found her place on stage again and thrilled her audience to the allure of ‘Siobo no me,’ a song that canvases peace of mind from life’s many troubles. Indeed, it was a memorable outing for the Isoko-born lady, who was possibly making a comeback on home soil. It was a thrilling experience for everyone who experienced her stage presence, almost as if she never left!

“I’m excited to be here,” Okiemute, winner of Project Fame West Africa season 9, also an awardee, said. “We have certain fears that attack us, when we are pushing for our goals. We should always strive for our goals. That’s a greater purpose for our life. Never stop pushing your dreams.”

She sang late Keffe’s ‘Branama’ song in honour of the late singer, who inspired her craft.

Ibie simply said, “I believe in Nigeria and Nigerian youth. Nigerian youth are the ones making Nigeria proud at home and abroad. We know how enthusiastic, eager they are to work. I’m really happy to see fellow women come out honour their own; it’s something women don’t do often.”

Even more ecstatic for the audience was the choreographic performance of ‘Nawel,’ Ifowodo’s poem originally titled ‘Algiers, April 2000.’ It was in collaboration with Department of Theatre Arts, University of Benin, Benin City and it had as director, Prof. Chris Ugolo, and choreographer, Josephine Abbe, and students of the department.

Students of Department of English, College of Education, Mosogar, Delta State, also performed ‘Jesse,’ another of Ifowodo’s environmental poem. Also, Mr. Solomon Nzere Ife, who led a delegation of Intellectual Property Club of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, to the event, commended the organisers for the timeliness of creating awareness about IP, saying, “IP issues are very important, especially as they affect women.”

Other dignitaries present at the event were the Deputy Provost, College of Education, Mosogar, Mr. Johnson Erhinyodavwe, educationist and author, Mrs. Florence Ehilanye, Vice President, Isoko Development Union Women’s Wing, Mrs. Beatrice Igogo, representative of the Provost, Delta State University Campus, Oleh, Mr. P. Edenogbata, Peter Omoko and many others.