A Canada-based writer,
In an exclusive chat with Pulse Nigeria, the scriptwriter spoke on sharing his story with the public, getting a response from Oboli, copyright law in Nigeria, among others.
On his decision to speak out :
I decided to speak out because I kept receiving reports that Omoni Oboli was maligning my person to people, saying I stole her story. And filmmakers in Nigeria who know the truth were incensed. They urged me to speak out and not take it lightly. I was hesitant because as at the time, I realized that it was a version of my story that had been slightly tweaked and shot, the film was already selected for the TIFF city by city showcase along seven other Nigerian films and I didn’t want whatever I said to tarnish the image of Nigeria or still the thunder of the other films.
Since a scandal on copyright issues, if I legally sought an injunction will result in the film being pulled from the Festival. This, in my opinion, was not the way of introducing Nollywood to the world. So I decided against a legal challenge at the time. But a journalist from TNS reached out to me saying that he had been informed by another filmmaker as regards the story and wanted to write about it. He wanted to confirm my side of the story he heard.
So I spoke because I didn’t want a version of hearsay out there in place of the truth. I know that whether I spoke or not, something was going to be published. So I rather the truth. That was the primary reason I spoke out. On the secondary level, I spoke because it is high time that intellectual property theft has to be dealt with in Nigeria. Contracts have to become the order of the day. Contract breaches have to be punished. There must be structure, transparency and accountability in the industry.
We are not selling tomatoes at Oshodi market, we are filmmakers and artistes, and as such our products have to be respected for the intellectual property they are. So yes, two filmmakers who are friends can work together, even work for free, but that free work has to be stated and signed contractually. You cannot just take people’s stories and scripts and go make them into films, take all the credit in a devious lie, and say you forgot to credit the original source of the story or even pay him. It is heinous and speaks to a perditious spirit.
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On reaching out to Omoni Oboli before going public:
I did not make an attempt to reach her. As having suffered the debacle of the first experience - "Being Miss Elliot" and seeing that it was being repeated in "Okafor’s Law." I was so deeply disappointed and pissed off that I decided to just cut them off and focus on me. I do not like drama being played out in the public and all. Will rather just walk away as I believe one story or two stories would not make me.
I believe I am a purveyor of stories and my creative well is deep. So I rather walk away than force a confrontation. As I said by the time I found out it was my film, the film had already been selected by TIFF and I figured any contact claiming an infringement will be contentious and damaging to the rare opportunities the other films had. My lawyers had wanted to initiate contact but I decided against it. And only spoke out when I was contacted by the journalist.
On Omoni Oboli contacting him after he went public:
No, she has not reached out to me, which in itself is instructive. But some filmmakers who presently are working with her have reached out to me. And some actors in the film and other well-meaning actors have.
On enforcement of Copyright law in Nigeria:
It is all about contracts, contracts and more contracts. Let that start the process of any engagement. Signed by all parties concerned, whether they are friends or not, whether it is a free service of paid. Then we need entertainment lawyers versed in intellectual property laws who are ready to sue anyone who infringes on the rights of others.
Also, the guilds have to work harder on setting the standards and putting structures that protects the rights of all filmmakers involved in the value chain. People must insist on being protected by a contract and the lawyers must look at the contractual process as a veritable way of practising their craft. The press must also play a part in championing the rights of the infringed.
They should be scrutinies of films with plotlines of other films and should hold the filmmakers to account. And when they hear of any infringement they should investigate it, because in most cases the screenwriters and other filmmakers who have their intellectual property infringed upon do not have the finances to seek redress, hence the infringing parties just have a field day, pillaging the creative field.
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On next course of action:
Right now as TIFF is done, and Omoni herself has decided that her silence is a statement of her innocence. I am speaking with my lawyers and will be deciding on the way forward.
A star-studded movie, "Okafor's Law" stars Richard Mofe Damijo, Toyin Aimakhu, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Ken Erics, Ufuoma McDermott, Kemi Lala Akindoju, Yvonne Jegede, Halima Abubakar, Mary Lazarus, Uche Nnaji, Betty Irabor, Tina Mba, Gabriel Afolayan, and Funke Bucknor.
Omoni Oboli is popular for hit Nollywood movies including "Being Mrs. Elliott," "Wives on Strike," "The First Lady," "The Figurine," "Anchor Baby" among others.
The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the City to City programme.
Jude Idada is a winner of AMAA best screenplay award, ANAA prize for Drama, Goethe Institut AfrikaProjekt and the first runner up of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature.
Pulse Nigeria reached out to Omoni Oboli's representatives, and is yet to get a response.