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For the Falconets, this victory is personal

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on August 27, 2014 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (0)


He pressed his head to my bosom. I looked down. I observed some tears rolling down his little cheek as we sat on the sofa watching Nigeria engage Germany in a game of skills and wits. Then, he said (as if I did not notice), “Daddy, Germany has scored”. And I replied, “Son, it is ok; there is still some time. It is not over yet”. With a pack of Nigerian and Canadian friends gathered and routing for the Falconets, we kept hope alive. Eventually, after an eventful 120 minutes, the Germans took the gold, and left Nigerians with the silver. Some silvers are more golden. As far as I can say, the Nigerian women team that showcased exceptional talent and indomitable resilience in the just-concluded 2014 FIFA U20 Women World Cup tournament in Canada was the best side throughout and in each game. Many footballers and fans know that victory is not an exclusive entitlement of the better side. It is a combination of many other factors beyond the latter’s control. For the game against the Germans, I would refrain from further remark on the quality of officiating and not play a sore loser. The Nigerian young women and their coaching crew are anything but losers. They are champions in heart, skill and conduct. When juxtaposed with the performance of the Super Eagles in the June 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Falconets were simply exemplary, unassuming, courageous and adventurous. And it paid off, big time, each time, with convincing victories.

 

I am compelled to seize the moment to reflect on the ramifications of the victory of the Falconets. Here in Canada, their presence has been a powerful symbol of positive press and social mobilisation among Nigerians in the Diaspora, their Canadian spouses, friends and their children; and indeed the soccer-loving world. No amount of government sponsored self-serving image laundering could accomplish what the Falconets did for Nigeria within so short a time, and with astounding credibility. From Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta and Quebec, despite the comparative poor traction that women football currently garners, the Diaspora Nigerians and Africans rallied around the Falconets as they came close to the domains. Nigerians remained loudest voices in support of their team, even in sparsely occupied stadia across Canada. As the tournament progressed and the Falconets came into solid reckoning, there was little effort required for mobilisation and support.

 

Canada is a hockey nation, and not a football-playing nation. But it has a strong profile in women football. When the Canadian side was edged out by Germany, it was then not a tough call where a unified loyalty should lie for Nigerian-Canadian families, who may have been split temporarily. The Falconets enjoyed undivided goodwill for the most part when Canada dropped out of contention. But it is presumptuous to claim that football has no traction in Canada. For both male and female football, a lot is going on in Canada. A careful observation through my personal network reveals that Canadian youths of Nigerian ancestry have a powerful presence in the football revolution that is gradually sweeping across the nook and cranny of the exceptionally vast country of Canada. So, the month-long presence and extraordinary showing of the Falconets in Canada was a powerful symbol of inspiration to a section of Nigerian youths from Toronto, Halifax, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere. In a way, the Falconets affirmed Nigerians’ undeniable credentials at home and in the Diaspora as Africa’s football powerhouse.

 

The solid performance of the Falconets could not have come at a better time. Before that victory, many Nigerians in Canada struggled to convince their curious and innocent interrogators that the experience of the over 200 abducted Chibok girls was not the norm. As much as the abduction was symptomatic of deviant and perverted religious extremism, most unknowing Canadians needed better evidence of how Nigeria treats its young female population. Thanks to the Falconets. This victory goes to remind us about the plight of the Chibok girls. It should help to re-fuel the #BringBackOurGirls campaigns that seem to have lost steam. Any of the Chibok girls could well have been in the line for the glorious expedition in victory and courage that the Falconets displayed in Canada for the whole world as worthy bearers of Nigerian banner; not as Boko Haram sex slaves.

 

While the tournament was going on, the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa (including Nigeria) attempted to becloud the gallant strides of the Falconets. Nigeria was again an ugly focus of unpleasant news. Canadian media was awash with reportage of quarantined suspected Ebola infected Nigerian returnees to Canada and elsewhere in the United States and Europe. It is telling to observe how the media would insist upon calling folk out as Nigerians when the news is negative while turning a blind eye to the “victims”’ other citizenships which are perhaps most appropriate in the given circumstance. Despite the pervasive trend in what I call immigration racism of the Ebola outbreak, the Falconets kept a positive media spotlight on Nigeria, which climaxed on Sunday, August 24, 2014, when they took the Golden Silver. It was a delight to be a witness to their extraordinary character and courage as a team, including the coaching crew. Their success reflects the enormous possibilities that lie within Nigeria’s national horizon despite our pathological inclination to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as a sage once observed.

 

On a more personal note, my little one overcame his tears and smiled along when he saw Nigerian, French and German women football players being called out for individual awards. I told him that they were all winners and that’s part of the reason we call football the beautiful game. Then, he asked me, “Who’s that man in a hat and suit with a long scarf?” I replied: “His name is Chief Ojo Maduekwe. He is Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada”. It was a positive optics, even though our President was in Germany when the Falconets took the Golden Silver in a stiff contest against the Germans. I wondered what he was doing that hour; how he felt.


This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Tuesday August 26 under the title: For the Falconets, this victory is personal.

Of stray Dogs, Humans and Social Responsibility

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on August 19, 2014 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (1)


The three mega cities of New Delhi (India), Cairo (Egypt) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) have something in common: An intimidating presence of stray dogs! Many animal rights activists and municipal bureaucrats in these three cities remain ever restive to the nightmares stray dogs constitute in their midst. It is not unusual for the serenity of night sleep in the city centres to be truncated not by wayward crows of rogue roosters – those that crow out of time on occasions – but by often ceaseless barking or, more appropriately, howling of destitute dogs.

 

In the daytime, one beholds pitiable ubiquity of stray dogs in the cities’ nook and cranny. The dogs appear in different forms, sizes, age groups, genders and dispositions. They have diverse countenance; some are friendly, docile and laid back, others are downright rude and ferocious. Depending on which part of each city and what time of the day, some look fairly well fed, others are in dire stress rummaging through city waste and hanging around some unofficially adopted spots where food is often thrown at them. The bitches among them continuously carry on endless reproduction process, despite their palpable deficiencies, littering the streets with a cycle of the next generation of stray dogs. The situation is quite horrifying. One is left to wonder whether the goose bump inducing adverts by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the resulting funds can ever make a difference in the remotest part of the world where animals are abused. It is unavoidable to ponder the possibility of an animal equivalent of the reputable Medicines Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the form of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (Veterinarians Without Borders).

 

The omnipresence of stray dogs provokes yet another cause for reflection on the factors that account for their prevalence. Like humans, stray animals are often products of dysfunctional homes, both of their owners and even of the pets themselves. Most of the dogs that are now members of the stray fraternity were not born stray. They had loving homes before circumstances changed. Some were conceived and born into a stray lineage though. They do not know any other life. So, the membership status of the stray fraternity of canines is not equal. Most become stray by various circumstances including personal adversity, abuse, and changes in the circumstances of their owners. It is also not uncommon that some stray dogs are products of congenital wayward behaviour that frustrate the best efforts of even the most beneficent and dedicated of owners.

 

The public nuisance ramifications of the stray dog menace are multi-faceted. Mostly early in the mornings, after their howling through the nights and foraging through the litter bins, stray dogs have a tendency to convene in characteristic public demonstration of promiscuity, even of admirable solidarity. Most early morning workouts have been cut short by a wall of stray dogs. That was once my experience in Cairo. In addition to their rabbis-infested bites, stray dogs are pathogenic vehicles for other forms of viruses that threaten public health.

 

Stray syndrome in canine societies has also some parallel in human societies. In the Lagos metropolis, I have yet to take a considered note of stray dogs. Perhaps, that is not a big issue in Lagos it has become in the three cities I have hitherto focused. If so, good of Lagos. But there are many a destitute and stray members of the society all over the world. They are called by various names and they are represented in diverse categories. In Lagos, street urchins are not born equal. They are also called by different names such as area boys, pavement dwellers, under the bridge landlords, etc. Similarly, they arrive at their unenviable status by different routes. Not the least of which are dysfunctional homes, dramatic personal circumstances, chronic waywardness, outright revolt against family and authority symbols and pathological inclination towards rebellion and prodigality. They tend to also constitute significant public health and public security threats. They remain present and existing danger to social cohesion. Stray members of human family are easy candidates for drug, sex, alcohol and other forms of abuse, radicalisation and dangerous indiscretions.

 

On a deep refection, societies have treated stray dogs with as much insensitivity as they treat some of the human population on the fringe. History is rich with accounts of how dogs (man’s best friends) have been betrayed and maltreated across civilisations. On a more recent note, one cannot but remember the 2013 Stray Dogs Euthanasia Bill in Romania, which was passed into law by 100 per cent parliamentary majority. How societies treat stray dogs has a corollary to how they treat their vulnerable population. In many societies, public policy provides support for sanctuaries and second chance for stray animals. Such societies insist upon holding accountable those who by their negligence abdicate their responsibilities to vulnerable dogs and other pets.

 

Lagos’ fringe or stray populations have been historically given correlating forms of the Romanian stray dog policy. Often, these “area boys” have been rounded up by security agencies upon flimsy excuses and subjected to gross human rights violations. Some have been “deported” even in their own country! Some of them, who are also victims of mental and other psychological afflictions have been variously re-victimised, even burnt alive through jungle justice. However, in other societies, homeless people, pavement dwellers and various members of the stray population have even been indulged through elaborate rehabilitation programmes, such as, shelters, feeding programmes, safe injection sites (for drug addicts) etc. The NGOs and municipalities are frequently the arrowheads of these humanitarian rescue missions through creative forms of public-private public interest partnerships.

 

It is the responsibility of the government and the citizenry at large of any decent society to seriously tackle the moral crisis of stray members of both human and animal societies on the fringe and at the brink. There are so many of those from Lagos to Addis, New Delhi and elsewhere in need of urgent and creative interventions.

 

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Tuesday August 19 under the title: Of stray dogs, humans and social responsibility

An Encounter at Lagos International Airport

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on June 18, 2014 at 3:15 AM Comments comments (1)


International airports are critical gateways to a country. It is there that visitors make the very first and lasting impressions of their hosts and destinations. Before and more so in a post 9-11 world, airports bring out the best in a country’s security culture and emergency preparedness. Yet, the operational framework of an airport is one that requires delicate balancing. There is a need to demonstrate a strong sense of hospitality and a responsible commitment to security. The two are not necessarily in conflict. For most countries, especially those whose economic strength lies in tourism, their airports serve as important arteries that channel the live blood of their economic survival. Most widely travelled people would easily appreciate the fierce competition among nations, even the most impoverished, to showcase their national pride through the operational efficiency of their airports. Other important downstream actors in the hospitality industry then complement whatever experience and consequential impression one gets at the (air) port of entry. In that regard, the cab drivers, forex exchangers, business partners, tourism guides, events organisers and so on are of critical importance.

 

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, is the nation’s busiest as it serves Nigeria’s unofficial commercial capital. Since I have known this airport, it has been perpetually under construction. It has hardly distinguished itself from the general state of poor infrastructure in the country. It is simply a depressing entry point into Nigeria. The most symbolic of it all, is that it is very dark, hardly ever well lit. It has consistently been nightmarish for most compatriot travellers and much so for foreigners. There is some symbolism in its profile in darkness that speaks volumes about the country for which it is a critical gateway. Everywhere one turns, Lagos international airport is indeed a true and symbolic gateway to Nigeria. It tells Nigeria’s story without the need of a narrator. One thing Nigeria has ‘successfully failed’ to do unlike some countries is to mask its national decadence by setting up a make-believe red-carpet airport. Perhaps, that is good, for there is no need giving visitors a false impression without preparing them for the rude shock that lies ahead through traffic chaos, bad roads, noise pollution and general insecurity to which they are warmly initiated shortly.

 

In this airport, crowd control remains a nightmare; currency exchangers compete for space with all manner of unidentified and unidentifiable personnel, flashing dirty currencies soliciting patronage. And, then the cab drivers, ‘recharge card’ vendors, it’s all about raw and naked hustling. In Lagos and its international airport unlike most cities of similar pedigree, visitors dare not rent a car, let alone secure a reliable map and drive into local hotels or destinations. To attempt so is a recipe for suicide for any foreign visitor to Nigeria. Many would dismiss this expectation as idealistic. But, recall that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, a status that requires the country to play in the league of the continent’s friendliest destinations.

 

Early this summer in Beijing, I was taken by the impressive hassle-free transition from my arrival at the international airport to my hotel room. Despite the intimidating number of Chinese nationals that arrived both in my flight and others, I could not but be impressed by the amazing rapidity at which Chinese passport holders made a quick transition through the airport formalities. For the rest of us, it was not a different experience. As I stepped out of the taxi, into my hotel, the concierge slipped something into my hands. I took a look. It contained information on the registration number and important details of the taxi that drove me from the airport. I was advised therein who to contact if I had any issues, including if I forget anything in the taxi!

 

Immediately, I had a flashback. My first Ipad was lost in Lagos, several years back. I had forgotten it inside a cab. I am not sure if I ever activated its location security setting. My effort to recover it was futile. I was lucky though; I had not populated the instrument with data. I had just procured it and was only getting my way around it. I was on my own, it was lonely, and there was no clue as to where help could come from. I had hoped that the taxi driver would quickly make a U-turn to reach me at my hotel. I was naïve. It is my custom to sit alongside taxi drivers in front and chat. He could have quickly seen my Ipad after I disembarked. Perhaps, it was the next passenger that took the gadget. Unlikely, but who knows. How I wish that someone had provided a clue as how best to trace the driver. Perhaps, it would have made a difference, perhaps not. But accountability matters. In Beijing, I also thought about my encounter with a malfunctioned cash machine in a Canadian airport a few years back. I had inserted a $20 bill and operated the machine for a change. The equipment did not oblige me. Instead, it took my money, without thanks. I resisted swearing at it. A lady airport worker saw my frustration from a distance; she came with a form for me to fill out. Quickly, she marked the machine out of order. Less than 10 days, I got a cheque in my mailbox for $20 with a letter of apology signed by the airport CEO!!

 

This June, I have had a series of encounters with the Lagos international airport. It remains rowdy, under construction, filthy. In my most recent encounter, I had passed through the airline’s protocol, boarding pass in hand, passport control, DSS, NDLEA, immigration, customs and all that. After security screening, I needed to work in the lounge. About 30 minutes into stuff, I realised that my wallet was missing!! It had all things possible and imaginable a wallet could contain, currencies, identifications and so on. Hell was let loose for a moment. In Nigeria of all places, where do I begin? Even in the US, airport security screening staff have been caught hands in the till. I thought about my long-lost Ipad. I pondered, heart beating faster and faster, bubbles of sweat on my forehead. Providence delayed my flight. I was imagining the possible and the impossible. Elsewhere, there would have been an announcement. I reworked my steps to where I passed through the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria’s security check. Ms. Osokoko Bilkisu and her colleagues had my wallet. She politely asked me to identify myself and give her a sense of the contents of the wallet. I did. She flipped through the wallet on her desk. Hear this: “Check to confirm that the contents are intact”, she said. I did not bother. I said my thanks, with relief to catch my flight, now being called.

 

As I reflected through the experience while aboard, I had no doubt over the honesty of the FAAN employee, Bilkisu and her team. It was obvious the stress under which they worked. The Public Address system may not have been accessible to her and I was not sure what other support she and her team had to trace me. What if I realised that my wallet was missing after I had arrived my destination? What could have been the possibility of recovering it intact? Airport management in the 21st century goes beyond infrastructure. A critical aspect of it is personnel support, ethics and client relationship. One legacy of post 9-11 is universal best practices in airport security and administration. My regular encounters with the Lagos international airport reveals Nigeria’s wobbly struggle of to adjust to the expectations. But the transition has been too slow. There are many honest people in the shark-infested waters of Nigeria’s airports. Those are critical partners as Nigeria tries to recover lost grounds in its hospitality and security departments and as it measures up to the expectations of its status as Africa’s largest economy. In Bilkisu and her team, I found redemption for my lost Ipad. She and her mates are like palm trees in the desert working hard to squeeze water from the deep and to give Nigeria’s airports the much-needed face-lift. I owe her this testimony.

 

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Tuesday June 17 under the title: An Encounter at Lagos International Airport


An Educational System fit for Africa's Largest Economy

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on June 6, 2014 at 10:15 PM Comments comments (0)

By Chidi Oguamanam

Beyond a bragging right, what are the implications of Nigeria’s recent claim to being Africa’s largest economy through the so-called re-based GDP? This question is not posed as an attempt to rehearse the criticisms and scepticisms that have since trailed that claim. Rather, it is a kind of exercise in hair-scratching over how we could possibly rise to the challenges of Africa’s largest economy. First, let me start on a positive note that shines a ray of light on Nigeria’s ever darkling socio-economic plain: Nollywood.

Hate it or like it, Nollywood is Nigeria’s success story. It continues to be a subject of academic study from various disciplines across the globe. Nollywood is a symbol of Nigeria’s cultural renaissance and its export flagship, for which all stakeholders are entitled to a bragging right. In fact, it is a site for cultural bridging among Africans across the globe. Nollywood is not like Nigeria’s oil for which no one in their right senses should take the credit. In oil lies no hard work or merit but only a sense of entitlement. Nollywood is a product of Nigerian individual and collective creativity, a grassroots phenomenon of sort that feeds on private enterprise. There is little, if any, public investment in Nollywood; little if any public interference. I often shudder when a few Nollywood stakeholders push for one form of government ‘support’ (read intervention) or another. A prominent Nollywood stakeholder even called for a ministry to be created for Nollywood! My response is that such folks should be careful what they ask for. Nollywood would die the very instant the government takes it over in whatever form. That moment, Nigeria would infest it with corruption, lousy bureaucracy, quota system, embezzlement, religious bigotry and all other companions of our national malaise.

But to be fair, it is not entirely true that public investment in Nollywood is zero. Most of Nollywood stars, directors, technicians, and practitioners of all sorts are products of mainly second generation Nigerian public universities, especially in the liberal arts or humanities. There is something to be said for the contributions of those institutions in the making of Nollywood. In a way, Nollywood is, but not quite an accident. The Nollywood-led cultural, creative and entertainment sector is one of the key sectors of the Nigeria’s re-based GDP and its new economic profile. Certainly, a positive convergence of factors resulted in Nollywood. That in itself is a subject of inquiry I have explored elsewhere. But it bears wondering, why is the Nollywood experience not being replicated in all other trade, professions and quasi-professions in the Nigerian productive and service economy?

For too long, Nigeria has been short-changed in the trades and cognate sectors. Bureaucracy and public policy myopia has foisted a narrow educational policy and outcome in Nigeria. It is no longer worthy of headline to hear educational policy technocrats boldly, if not shamelessly, claim that Nigerian graduates are unemployable. Everybody is racing to obtain a degree, paper degree, that is! The tradition of supporting trade and skills education has long been politicized, with polytechnics and other forms of mid-level community technology or technical colleges seeking an upgrade to degree awarding status, as an end, while abandoning their mandate. In the rush for degrees, building effective workshops, laboratories and other forms of creative curriculum designs that could make their graduates become responsive to the twenty-first century economy in which Nigeria has found itself hardly occupies anybody’s imagination. The argument is that there is a discriminatory pathway in absolving of graduates of specialist mid-level or tertiary level trade colleges into the public service in relation to their counterparts from conventional universities. And what is the solution? Level them all up by every means possible! The assumption here is that the public service is the only destination for all manner of graduates. Not many consider that graduates of trade colleges and their equivalents in most educational systems across the globe are trained mostly to be service-oriented; and, as such, they are most likely to be self-employed and entrepreneurial. Already, there is faint signal of this outcome in some isolated sectors; including agriculture is some parts of the country.

Since the return of democracy and double-digit economic growth in Nigeria, the real estate and general construction sectors have remained hot. But a critical inquiry into the inner workings of these and related economic sectors shows that there is a dearth of locally-trained Nigerian artisanal and cognate manpower to service those industrial sub-sectors of the economy. A bulk of the tradespersons such as masons, bricklayers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians are sourced from neighbouring countries. As most of these trades are now highly technology-intensive and competitive, requiring expertise in the deployment of latest component technologies, craft and aesthetics, most job owners complain that Nigerians are not competitive enough. The Chinese, Indians, Koreans and Philippinos and other foreigners have since inevitably entered into the competition to the delight of Nigeria’s superrich elite, foreign corporations and various owners of capital. As a consequence, able-bodied Nigerian youths are increasingly marginalized in the local job market.

One recalls in the 1990s, when fairly used automatic transmission vehicles were imported en- mass into Nigeria as tokumbos. Some car owners were forced to ‘convert’ or downgrade such cars into manual transmission engines. Essentially, the auto mechanics then (and now still) were neither trained nor prepared to handle the ever-increasing technological sophistication of the automobile industry. Nigeria was frozen in time while the world moved forward. It is not as if Nigerians are not among the smartest in the world. Save perhaps in the area of ICTs, the problem is that we have yet to build an educational system that is meant for the present century. Who gets to be auto mechanic or auto body technicians in Nigeria, for example? Who trains them? Who certifies them? Do they have a continuing training program to be abreast with new technologies? The same can be asked of dental or pharmacy technicians or assistants, tourist guides, painters, landscape artists, florists, carpenters, morticians, etc.

The opportunity provided by the rise of private ownership of tertiary educational institutions, including universities, has hardly been deployed for the needs of the twenty-first century economy. The imperative for private universities has been hijacked out of the pressing needs of the economy into status symbols to massage the egos of retired generals, politicians and religious organizations. A closer look into some of these institutions shows an entrenched culture of corruption through “accreditation by staging” and doctoring of the books. Most of these universities are in the degree-chasing race for profiteering. They are hardly tasked by accrediting authorities to justify their contribution to the nation’s needs. Through public and private university channels, Nigeria continues to roll out paper graduates from its educational factory lines. For no fault of theirs, most of these products are congenitally defective and constitute a misfit for an economy that pretends to be the largest in Africa.

We are missing an opportunity to train graduates in the most critical areas of need to sustain our economic growth under a private sector, free market service and production-driven enterprise. These de-educated graduates are supposed to be the much needed missing link and catalysts for the transfer of various technologies required to reposition Nigeria’s middle class for fair income re-distribution and sustainable poverty eradication. As late Ken Saro Wiwa would say in Bassey and Company, ‘if you want to be a millionaire, think like a millionaire’. To be Africa’s largest economy is not reconcilable with having Africa’s largest army of unemployed and unemployable graduates. If we want to be Africa’s largest economy, we must revisit our educational system and put the youths to productive work. Nollywood speaks louder than a re-based GDP.


This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Friday June 6 under the title: Looking to Nollywood for Africa's Largest Economy

Lessons in Public Service and Academic Freedom

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on May 27, 2014 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

May 27, 2014

Chidi Oguamanam , Punch

The suspended Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido, did not hold his office as an academic. But, always cerebral, he sounded and talked like one. Strictly, though, he was a public servant. While the courts are presently determining his grievances against his former employer, I am interested in the lessons interred in his ongoing run with the authorities and its ramifications for other actors in the public service, who often do not fully grapple with the implications their activist inclinations. The present reflection is motivated by a recent controversy at the University of Saskatchewan in Western Canada. There are a few lessons from Saskatchewan for Nigeria’s public servants and institutions.

 

The tale concerns Prof. Robert Buckingham who, until recently, was the Dean of the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health. The university recently fired and rehired him. The university was pissed off because the dean wrote a critical open letter on its proposed plan of action. In the letter, the professor revealed that the university senior administration had threatened him and other deans that their deanship would be dropped if they opposed the university’s budgeting and restructuring plan aimed at saving about $25m. The plan also involved job cuts and faculty rationalisation or mergers in which Buckingham’s faculty would be affected.

 

The firing of Buckingham provoked outrage among the Canadian public, not used to executive highhandedness. Like a wild fire, reactions to the incident spread across the nook and cranny of Canada. It became a subject of talk shows in electronic media of various platforms. Both students and Buckingham’s colleagues in the academia quickly stood up in condemnation of the reactionary response of the university. Some alumni even threatened to surrender their degrees. Others promised that with the present university administration, they would not make donations to the university, let alone encourage their wards to attend the university. Needless to mention, the university faced a public relations nightmare of unprecedented magnitude. Less than a week, Buckingham was “rehired”; an apology was tendered to him. But his deanship was not restored. As I write, the President (Vice-Chancellor equivalent) of the university is struggling to keep her job as a result of the blunder and public pressure.

 

Buckingham is a tenured professor. The unique attractions of being an academic, more so a tenured one, include academic freedom and the security of tenure, which is akin to those of judicial officers in credible democracies. Academic freedom, like the independence of judicial officers, is a long and hollowed tradition. Most academics would tell you that if you take away their academic freedom, there is no basis remaining in the Ivory Tower. Academic freedom enables professors to conduct their research in areas of their interest and competence, publish the results, and advance their scholarship in an atmosphere of autonomy and integrity, and of course, subject to applicable research ethics and relevant protocols. When research is carried out in academic liberty without interference from any sources, including employers and funders, it guarantees the integrity of the undergirding scholarship with positive spin off on the university as an institution. A converse scenario is a recipe for disaster in any academic setting or system.

 

Often, academics wear double hats. A tenured professor who is also a dean is first an academic before being a dean. The office of the dean is largely but not exclusively an administrative one. The dean is a senior member of the university administration. In that context, when a dean openly protests or criticises the university administration of which he/she is a part, the question becomes whether the criticism or protest passes the test of academic freedom. Opinion may be divided on this. The details may be buried in relevant contracts. But in Buckingham’s case, a segment of the Canadian society does not believe that the university infringed his academic freedom when it decided to fire him. Those who hold this view argue that his open letter titled, “The Silence of the Deans”, has nothing to do with his scholarship or research, which is the legitimate site for academic freedom. I will reserve my personal opinion on this.

 

But it is tenable to also argue that as much as the dean is part of the university’s senior management, he/she holds the position by virtue of being an academic. Hence, it is part of the dean’s duty to defend academic freedom, which entails protecting his/her colleagues from any decision or situation that has the potential to undermine their academic freedom. That may well have been on the mind of the good professor.

 

Assuming that Buckingham’s disagreement with the university can be located within the last reason, it does not seem to fully absolve him in the opinion of some. He made his criticism openly. Here is how a leading Canadian newspaper characterised the crisis: “Dr. Buckingham wasn’t an academic taking a shot at the administration. He was a member of the administration taking a shot at the administration: It can’t be plausibly argued that, simply by virtue of being an academic, he had a right to publicly criticise the management team that he was part of. Once he went public with his criticisms, something had to give: Either he had to go, or the senior administrators in his sights had to”.

 

Back to Sanusi and other activist public servants or political office holders who do not even have half as close as security of tenure or academic freedom that professors enjoy. It is commonplace in Nigeria for these categories to wax populist by publicly turning against the same administration of which they are a part of. Before and not when public servants or political office holders turn against the administration they serve, the most honourable thing to do is to resign. The integrity of their objections is better measured by whether they have the courage to resign. Even in the cases where such public servants have a constitutionally or contractually guaranteed tenure, it is still a matter of ethics, integrity and good faith that they resign when they perceive themselves to be at moral crossroads with the administration in which they are called to serve.

 

It may be tempting to insist that a public servant owes allegiance to the country and the constitution (where applicable). Interestingly, the country can be more effectively served by an exemplary resignation. Such act sends a strong message that there are higher ideals than perks of office. As for the constitution, it almost always provides for resignation for open-ended reasons of officers who hold their offices by virtue of the constitution. Beyond the focus on public officer-turned- insider-activists in Nigeria, perhaps another important lesson in the Buckingham scenario is the quick volte-face by the university in recalling him as a tenured academic while confiscating his deanship. Rarely do Nigerian institutions exercise the courage to right wrongs or admit their gaffes. Sanusi could have borrowed a page from the likes of Oby Ezekwesili, who became a full-blown activist after public service and, by so doing, helps to elevate the quality of Nigerian public service. There is a dignified way of exiting the public service that NigeriaN actors have yet to embrace. The name is resignation.


This opinion was first published in Punch on May 27,2014. 

 


Bring back our girls, our country!

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on May 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

MAY 9, 2014

Chidi Oguamanam, Punch

Nigeria has forced a shift in the attention of the global media from the disappeared Malaysian Airways flight MH370. Events in Nigeria in the past several weeks are unprecedented but not unpredictable. Boko Haram has progressively capitalised on the ineptitude of the Nigerian government, emboldened to “success” by the failure of the state apparatus on several fronts. Recently, through successive car bombs on soft targets that have yielded monumental casualties and the successive kidnap of more than 200 schoolgirls from both their hostels and families, the sect has aroused international anger. It has called international attention to Nigeria, a country of contradictions and complexities, wherein the more you look, the less you see.

 

Nigerians and all people of goodwill are united in not only demanding the release of the abducted schoolgirls, but also for an end to terrorism that is festering in that country and, by extension, in the Western and Central African regions. The brazen nocturnal abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria’s North-East zone has the potential to be both the tipping and turning points for Boko Haram and the Nigerian state. We should seize this moment for good. Already, the social media has been co-opted to fire the campaigns, thanks to Ms. Ramaa Mosley of Los Angeles. Mosley heard and took up the plea of Nigerian mothers: “BringBackOurGirls”. Facebook, the Twitter verse, celebrities of all shades, and civil society activists have now pushed the reluctant Obama administration and segments of American political leadership to join in. The same is true of Canada and the rest of Africa and the democratic world. Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora have found a sense of partnership globally. Before now, all the atrocities targeted against Nigerians by Boko Haram seem to have gone unnoticed in the eyes of the international community. Nigerians felt lonely and left alone. The Western media have woken up from their slumber or convenient blackout of the Nigerian crisis. The spotlight seems to have now turned on Nigeria and inexorably on its failed political elite and the cesspool of corruption under which they habitually wallow. Nigeria is now bared naked before the whole world. Knowledgeable, ignorant and pretentious experts on Nigeria are all competing for space in the media with genuine and questionable statistics and information about the country. So be it. It is a welcome opportunity to interrogate “Nigeria” and to hold its leadership to account across the globe.

 

But what took so long before everyone weighed in? The Nigerian leadership and the international community have equal blame in keeping the Nigerian crisis out of the radar. Nigeria has created and sustained the illusion and delusion that it has the Boko Haram menace under control. In the characteristic arrogance of its political leadership, the “giant of Africa” is equal to the task. After all, it has the strongest military power in the West African region and has been a stabilising military power on the continent. Did President Goodluck Jonathan not promise to assist Kenya following the WestGate Mall massacres in Nairobi recently? Nigeria has long pretended that it does not need outside help. If it did, it did not seem to approach the needed help with deserving seriousness. How one wishes that it truly needed no help. But terrorism is not like conventional warfare. It is not the exclusive internal affair of any country, not even the strongest country on earth, let alone for one incapable of policing its borders. Perhaps, Nigeria is afraid that with outside help comes close scrutiny in regard to accountability for resources deployed, even those claimed to have been deployed in fighting terrorism. Accountability is a department in which the Nigerian governments at all levels perform most woefully.

 

Consistent with the arrogance and ostrich mentality of Nigeria’s political class, one of the country’s political actors at the Presidency was recently playing to tune. Making a highfaluting claim to CNN’s Aisha Sessay, a presidential aide, Dr. Doyin Okupe, enthused that Nigeria has the manpower, resources and what it takes to deal with the situation on the ground. He ended the encounter by pleading with the world to give his government “sometime”! Not any more, the parents cannot wait; the people are tired of excuses; the world is running out of patience. The presidential official needed to have wondered where in the world could such large number of casualties and victims be recorded in quick succession without consequences. How many more people would have to die, how many more girls would have to be abducted while Nigeria is given sometime?

 

Nigeria is not prepared but it has no choice but to embrace the consequences of a global outrage and the scrutiny it entails. The Nigerian government had claimed that shortly after their abduction, its security forces rescued a large number of the girls. But it retracted the claim when it did not add up. With the continued global scrutiny, more details are coming out, for example, regarding the timeline of the abductions and with critical information that unmistakably put the government on the defensive. Clearly, these accounts point to the bungling of the prevailing crisis. Meanwhile, the government has constituted a panel on the Chibok schoolgirls abduction – another bureaucracy in the line of much needed result. Many Nigerians believe that their governments at all levels have failed them. Whether they are right or wrong is a matter of the evidence on the ground. Everywhere one looks, that evidence is incontrovertible in support of the prevailing sentiment.

 

In their anger and outrage, Nigerians are demonstrating both against Boko Haram and their governments. Gradually, they are tapping, with the rest of the world, onto the power of the social media. Nigerian government ought to sit up and read the handwriting on the wall. No government should underrate the power of the social media, especially as it relates to a people that are increasingly resentful of their political leadership. One is sick and tired of the worn-out refrain of not politicising national security on account of terrorism. The truth is that only a few things are apolitical. The rise of Boko Haram is an integral part of both Nigeria’s political fragility and its political metamorphosis. Weighing government’s response or failure of response, or even lack of effective response to Boko Haram is essentially a political exercise before it was a security one. What else can it be? Politics is like air; it is everywhere even when we do not see it. Those who want to conveniently take many things out of the political realm are often quick to take political credit over the stuff they seek to exclude. Assuming that the Boko Haram crisis has been decisively resolved, one wonders if the ruling party would not gloat about that in its imminent campaign trail.

 

In seven months, Nigerians would head for the polls in another general election. At the moment, Nigeria is conducting a National Conference from constitutional sidelines with a view to a collective reflection on its political future. Deliberations from the conference point to a country in which its constituent nationalities have a strong appetite to renegotiate the basis of their political engagement from all the important fundamentals. That sentiment assumed unusual urgency since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999 and subsequent introduction of what ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo called “political Sharia” law in parts of Northern Nigeria. A combination of interrelated factors including corruption, chronic poverty, wealth and educational gap, religious fundamentalism, ethnic distrust, struggle for resource control, youth restiveness and unemployment remain combustible threats to Nigeria’s existence. Not too long ago, tens of unemployed youths were choked to death as hundreds of thousands struggled for employment opportunity open to only a few hundreds under a bungled public recruitment exercise. The plight of the Chibok abducted schoolgirls and others and the victims of the recent Nyanya double car bombings in the Abuja suburb are enough to transform the #BringBackOurGirls to #BringBackOurCountry! But not the old country.


This opinion was first published in the PUNCH 

Russia, Ukraine and Crimea: Africa's Dilemma

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on April 24, 2014 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Chidi Ogumanam

Punch, April 22, 2014  


Recent and ongoing rift between Russia and pro-Russia separatist elements in Ukraine on the one hand, and the new political leadership in Kiev, on the other, has some ramifications for Africa as it does for international law. For one, in its simplistic shred, the Ukrainian crisis has to do with the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation and the overreaching ambition of an opportunistic dictator of a juggernaut next-door neighbour. It also assists to revisit the politically combustible principle of self-determination in international law. The crisis is, in effect, certainly beyond Vladimir Putin’s opportunism and delusion of resurrecting the old Soviet Union after his own personal fancy.  Perhaps, the global cost of such a delusion is what is presently at stake.

For Africa, ideas of territorial integrity and state boundaries are sealed on the wax of colonial history. There is hardly any rhyme or reason regarding subsisting African colonial borders other than selfish discretion, indiscretion and economic and political contingencies of colonial powers. All over Africa, pre-colonial ethnic nationalities are divided, sometimes across the middle, among artificial postcolonial African states and are further co-founded by a Babel of colonial languages.  And indeed, the sizes of these colonial and postcolonial African states are radically uneven. The arbitrary nature of national or, perhaps most appropriately, Westphalian state boundaries is not a uniquely African experience. State boundaries are creatures of complex political histories as evident from the post-World War II reconfigurations.

But in Africa, centuries of colonial abuse and greed make the boundary issue one of the most enduring scares of colonial legacy on the continent.  The 1884-5 colonial Berlin African Conference is historic evidence that the scramble for trading opportunities and raw materials and colonial spheres of influence were what mattered in regard to the convenient carving of African state borders. Every other thing was of no consequence. Several decades after the end of colonial rule, African countries have not mustered the courage to convene a counter conference to redraw and reconcile their borders after their ethnic or nationalist and pre-colonial rationales. It is not surprising that the continent is constituted for the most part by states where the loyalty of citizens lie first with their pre-colonial ethnic identities with little sense of national cohesion.  But then, Africa is in a “Catch 22” situation in matters of colonially drawn boundaries. Despite the lingering and vested interests of colonial powers in favour of the status quo, it is unlikely that the continent is capable of successfully revisiting the delicate issue of colonial borders. The issue of colonial boundary is one where the wisdom of allowing a sleeping dog to lie is as evident as it is pragmatic.

Africa’s dilemma in the Russian-Ukrainian face-off is evident in the response of African states to the recent UN General Assembly Resolution condemning Russia’s action in Crimea. A majority of African states abstained from the vote, others voted in favour while the rest voted against. Space forbids me to explore specific individual state votes and some of the reasons adduced. But analysts agree that African response is open to diverse interpretations. Two of those interpretations are necessary presently. One is that Africa seems to now recognise the double speak and hypocrisy of Western powers over international law. African unwillingness to fully lend its regional weight to the United States and its European allies in condemning Russia reflects an appreciation by the continent that for the West, international law is invoked when it aligns with their strategic interests and jettisoned when it is not.  The second reason is that the volatility of colonial boundaries in Africa does not resonate with equal urgency in specific African states; hence the decision of some states to vote in favour of Russia reflects that thinking. In addition, a few rogue African states sided with Russia essentially to spite the West, reflecting the potential opportunity for an isolated Russia to make inroads into pockets of African states who may be motivated by Russia’s support for the infamous Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria.

For the entire African continent, the Russia-Ukraine crisis presents a dangerous precedent and invokes equally dangerous sentiments, the consequences of which may not have immediate ramifications but are certainly unpredictable. Whether as a result of arbitrary colonial boundaries or as a result of various forms of political instability, African traditional or ethnic nationalities have remained restive within the colonial Westphalian states in which they find themselves. And there is no dearth of “big” powers on the continent capable of stoking ethnic sentiments across the borders to destabilise neighbouring states. From virtually all regions of Africa and specific countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin Republic, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Congo, Rwanda, Morocco, to mention but a few, there are potential for transnational ethnic disaffection as well as its vulnerability for regional and continental destabilisation.  Just consider: Why would Nigeria not opportunistically overrun Benin Republic on a flimsy reason of protecting the interest of Yoruba-speaking Beninese?

Russia’s vocal role as the protector of ethnic Russians wherever they may be found is a dangerous gamble that has the potential to stoke a new global crisis of unpredictable consequences for Africa. Only a few issues have been more problematic in the theory and jurisprudence of international law than the right to self-determination. That right is one of the main justifications of the pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine for their Russia-backed siege and campaign of provocation for the dismembering of sovereign Ukraine.  The renewed wave of resistance in Eastern Ukraine to the government in Kiev on the heels of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine despite a recent diplomatic attempt at resolution only points to the fact that self-determination and tinkering of the territorial integrity of a sovereign state are like bestriding an unruly horse on a slippery slope. In that case, no one –not even Russia and the so-called pro-Russia militias – can guarantee the international political destination of the horse they have mounted. For Africa, perhaps more than any other continent, more is at stake than presently meets the eye.  The rising political visibility of Putinian Russia, especially as recently bolstered by the Ukrainian and Syrian crises forebodes unpredictable consequences for Africa, and indeed the globe.


This Opinion was first published in Punch, on April 22,2014



AFRICA: Charting the Course for Intellectual Property

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on March 29, 2014 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Africa’s experience with intellectual property rights or IPRs is dismal and in urgent need for re-evaluation. Not many dispute the observation that “for more than a century, African states have participated in IPR regimes with little or nothing to show for it in terms of economic development and transfer of technology”. IPR is that branch of law that deals with the governance of knowledge, information and innovation, including the allocation of benefits or rights arising from their production and exploitation. Many industrialised nations of the West and erstwhile African colonial powers in Europe promote, as a matter of received wisdom, the idea that IP is a tool for economic progress, a stepping stone in the transition of less developed countries to industrial economies. Colonial legacy Africa’s encounter with IP is part of its colonial experience. IP laws and policies on the continent were mere legal and policy transplants from colonial powers. While Africa was busy developing its human and constitutional rights, land tenure jurisprudence and indigenising of transnational colonial corporations after independence, IP never appeared on the radar of priority. Unsurprisingly, colonial IP statutes remained untouched for too long after the independence of many countries on the continent. In the early stage of internationalisation of IP norms, colonial powers entered into relevant agreements on behalf of their African colonies. Colonialists had their eyes on own interests as producers of IP and finished products. Africa’s relevance was only as a cheap source of raw materials and an export market for empire. Africans and African creativity were considered neither capable of intellectual creation nor worthy of IP protection. African legal and bureaucratic practitioners of IP law have been compared to the 19th century Asian compradors. Like the compradors, most of these elites saw and have continued to see their role as protecting the interests of overseas IPRs holders on the continent through sustaining status quo, which only facilitates registration and enforcement of foreign IPRs. The implementation of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement or TRIPS in the mid-1990s added insult to the injury of IP in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. The TRIPS agreement required member states of the WTO (which includes virtually all African countries) to extend IP protection to pharmaceuticals, agricultural innovations, life forms and literarily any human-made device without regard to cultural sensitivities. Whatever wiggle-rooms that remained to attune IP policies to national exigencies were rolled back. A country’s ability to optimally participate in the post-cold war free trade regime was tied to how it protected IPRs. For Africa, this largely meant how it protected foreign IPRs. Majority of patents, copyrights and trademarks – the cardinal regimes of IP – on the continent were and are still foreign owned. TRIPS stoked resentments on several fronts on the African continent. It quickly proved to be a let-down, with sobering and negative empirical impacts across the continent and elsewhere. TRIPS-instigated constraint on access to essential drugs at the height of AIDS pandemic in Africa, escalation of costs of educational materials, not to mention aggravated IP enforcements by transnational rights holders, especially in the creative industries put Africa under enormous pressure. African genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge became targets of foreign appropriation through questionable patents and other forms of IP, a practice generally known as biopiracy. In the meantime, the US and the industrialised world continued to ratchet up IP protection through stronger bilateral measures and aggressive building of trade alliances with expansive IP content while failing to deliver on their promise to open their markets to African exports under the WTO regime. The industrialised world has for the most part shown reluctance to relax subsidies on agricultural products. Pursuant to the plant breeders’ rights, they press for the marginalisation of smallholder farmer’s ability to share and re-use farmed-saved seeds. In Africa, smallholder farmers, especially women, who rely on customary seed exchange, do the bulk of agricultural production. Lately, industrialised countries continue to push the IP envelope onto the internet; a development that threatens Africa’s ability to leverage the limitless prospects of the internet for economic growth as evident in such initiatives as M-pesa, Ushahidi, and various creative inversions and adaptations of mobile technologies that demonstrate limitless potential on the continent. Africa is yet to rise up to the challenge of a radically changed global IP landscape. According to an observer, Africa is literarily “missing in action”, at global fora on IP and its cultural and regional interests are under-argued. Charting the future As a result of its underdeveloped IP history, Africa’s contribution to the negotiations of the TRIPS agreement was ineffective. But TRIPS was an eye opener as it laid bare the urgency for capacity building in IP on the continent. In adjusting to its new role post TRIPS, the World Intellectual Property Organization or WIPO quickly took the lead on IP training through its network of academies. Other actors such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office or USPTO, the European Patent Office or EPO, etc. and some transnational corporations continue to support strong IP in Africa through their rights owner-focused training and capacity building initiatives. Not only did these initiatives target African IP bureaucratic elite, they invested in upgrading of IP offices and infrastructures in Africa. The principal aim of this form of elite socialisation process is to make African countries TRIPS-compliant or more (TRIPS-plus). Beyond IP bureaucrats, private lawyers and law firms have capitalised on the band-wagon of strong IP protection for their clients. These groups of comprador stakeholders, perhaps more than their counterparts in the academy, understand the urgency for abridgment and expedited development of African expert manpower in the IP field. All over the continent, stakeholders engage in ad hoc cash-and-carry certificate training of one form or another on aspects of IP practice. However, for private sector lawyers and sometimes members of the bench, these forms of training focus on IP enforcement, without reflexive or critical attention to how IP can advance innovation and economic empowerment in specific African contexts. Role of universities As a continent, Africa needs a more independent and less suspect capacity building on IP that breaks from the prevailing status quo. Such an initiative could serve as integral part of tertiary education curriculum development and deliverable at graduate level, as a congenitally interdisciplinary endeavour. At present, there are a number of graduate programmes or specialist research and teaching centres/institutes in IP across law faculties on the continent. Those could benefit from an interdisciplinary re-modeling. From access to medicines, agriculture and food, engineering, library science, sports, broadcasting, the internet and ICTs, movie and entertainment, to biotechnology, traditional knowledge, human rights, to name the few, IP traverses virtually all disciplines. And within law itself, it is an intra-disciplinary subject matter. Specialist graduate program in IP on the continent ought to develop from an interdisciplinary foundation and not limited to law schools. As Africans continue to assert themselves in the democratic creative opportunities of the digital era, and as the continent continues on the path of economic transformation, graduate curriculum in IP on the continent must be developed from a balanced calibration of contextual bottom-up model that reflects and responds to the continent’s experiences and its extant marginalisation in global IP law and policy. Africa has the latecomer advantage and can learn from failures of developed countries in order to craft a responsive, proactive regional IP curriculum for the 21st century. Graduate training in IP is only an item in the package of responses that ought to cut across primary, intermediary and constructive public awakening on IPRs. The continent does not need to re-invent the wheel. It can readily look to India, Brazil, China and other countries that have inverted IP to advance national interests even in a post TRIPS era. An African-driven graduate training in IP ought to be an important nest for incubating the continent’s capacity to reassert itself as a historically creative civilisation with unparalleled cultural heritage. It is still possible for IP to advance the continent’s economic empowerment rather than perpetuate its historic exploitation.


First Published in the University World News on 28 March 2014


Talking Open Innovation in Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on February 22, 2014 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

The following is an article published on IPOsgoode blog


Talking “Open Innovation” in Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Chidi Oguamanam


The contemporary global order for the promotion of innovation exaggerates the role of intellectual property (IP) as a closed proprietary model of knowledge production and protection. Partly as a boomerang effect of that order and/or partly as a coincidence of the phenomenal rise in the information and communication technologies, there has been increased gravitation toward open, collaborative, shared, communal, and interdependent models of innovation. This trend is typified by the rise of open software movement and cognate endeavors in the era of wiki, open access, creative commons, crowdsourcing, etc. The discourse and dynamic of open innovation is, however, limited mostly to knowledge production in the digital realms. Open innovation is underexplored in the context of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA). Analysts are wont to ignore the significance of customary seed sharing and exchange as the centerpiece of the inherent open nature of innovation in agriculture, especially in indigenous and local communities (ILCs). A critical appraisal of emergent institutional and legal frameworks for the governance of PGRFA, through a complex interaction between the processes and programs of work at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA or the Treaty) and the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research Consortium (CGIAR) finds that they reflect pragmatic attempts at melding both the IP-driven closed model and the accommodation of open or public good approach toward the promotion of access and overall management of innovation in PGRFA. One of the important lessons of the emergent regime in open innovation or a public good approach to R&D in PGRFA is a repositioning of the role of IP as not necessarily antithetical but potentially facilitative of open innovation. The 2010 CGIAR enunciation of Principles on the Management of Intellectual Assets (IA Principles) demonstrates the importance of a pragmatic deployment of IPRs to serve the interests of complex stakeholders involved in agricultural R&D without compromising the overarching imperative for optimal uptake of innovation by those in direst need. According to the CGIAR, the IA Principles provide “a clear framework [...] to help knowledge travel freely [...] to ensure that intellectual assets reach those who need them most [through] adopting common sets of principles with regard to production, acquisition, management, and dissemination of assets.” This approach aligns with new realities in favour of more open, collaborative, shared and non-proprietary essentials, which have been marginalized under the TRIPs agreement. Another obvious lesson from the CGIAR Consortium Intellectual Asset initiative is that subject to the contingencies of a given sector, the optimal exploitation of innovation would require a deliberate calibration of both exclusive and open models. An IP system that is too strong undermines economic development and public objectives, which are (or ought to be) at the core of both IP and innovation systems in general. By contrast, an unfettered openness could chill the entrepreneurial investment that is necessary to convert invention into innovation for the common good of society. IP and open innovation are hardly ends in themselves. Consequently, fairly recent attempts at mapping the intersection of open innovation and IP within interdisciplinary inquiries focus on how the concepts could best interact to contribute to development. As an outcome, such interaction has potential to address global inequity, democratize creative processes, extend the benefits of innovation, uplift the quality of human life, and advance the optimal realization of human potential with significant impact on those people Larry Helfer and Graeme Austin call the most vulnerable members of the human family. A word about open innovation: Innovation is inherently open to the extent that openness characterizes or depicts, in an ex post facto sense, universally-shared impressions on the nature of the innovation process as one that “rests on a public domain of ideas.” However, the uniqueness of open innovation arises when openness is a referential or comparative designation in relation to alternatives, especially the closed models that are usually (though, less accurately) associated with IP. Rarely is any innovation system completely closed or completely open. Everything is a matter of degree. Comparatively, open innovation emphasizes or depicts the flexibility in the generation, transition, translation, and transformation of information or knowledge across internal and external stakeholders in the innovation process. It captures the conduct of innovation in the framework of collaboration, collectivity, and community by promoting network-building, sharing and democratic participation. It also capitalizes on the incremental nature of innovation, the interdependence of knowledge systems, and all the actors in the innovation process—not the least of which are generators and users of innovation. Rather than latch onto any perceived demarcation between these two categories, the open innovation paradigm recognizes the interaction between them (i.e. generators and users) as a healthy extension of the innovation process. The reification of “the culture in agriculture” in ILCs reflects the cooperative and collaborative system of sourcing farm labor and farm resources such as seeds or other genetic materials through a trans-generational, networked process of open knowledge exchange. But it is hardly as if the system of agricultural innovation in ILCs is totally open. It, too, adapts to complex and layered forms of individual, communal, or collective credit or reward for contributions to knowledge and innovation. That said, unlike the conventional IP system where exclusionism and proprietary control dominate, here we see consideration of openness, interdependence, and sustainability as pillars of knowledge production. Thus, before openness was fashionable it was of obligate first nature in agricultural traditions and overall knowledge production in ILCs. Agriculture reifies or mirrors “nature” as a fundamentally open phenomena. This proposition is, for example, symbolized by pollination, which involves a voluntary and non-voluntary combination of meteorological, bioactive, artificial and other forms of social and ecological collaborative interventions. Humankind and other partners in the ecosystem (i.e., insects, birds, microbes, and animals) are inevitably involved in concerted, accidental, and deliberate dispersals of genetic materials in an open manner that supports food, agriculture and environmental sustainability. The intrinsic self-propagation of PGRFA and the universal culture of seed exchange historically, even if symbolically, remains the mainstay of agricultural production and innovation. Despite the diversity in global agricultural knowledge systems, no such system operates in isolation. For example, notwithstanding the North-South geo-ecological disequilibrium in the natural dispersal of agro-ecological resources and global plant germplasm, agricultural biodiversity is nurtured and sustained by ILC farmers for the common good in centers of origin and diversity. These farmers’ fields are no less laboratories of genetic revolution than those of their more powerful and better-organized counterparts, steeped in modern forms of agricultural production now epitomized by the ag-biotechnology, especially genetic engineering. Modern ag-biotechnology not only depends on global agro-biodiversity and the sustainability of the plurality of various knowledge systems in agricultural production, its potential for optimal impact on society is largely dependent on the level of openness across these systems. That is why the concerns about Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and the imperative for open innovation models are at the center of legal regulatory structuring in PGRFA, as evident in the implementation initiatives of the ITPGRFA and the recent strategic recalibrations at the CGIAR, especially through the IA Principles. Significantly, the Treaty supports an open approach to innovation in PGRFA through a global information system. Information exchange, access to and transfer of technology, and capacity building (targeting especially developing countries and countries with economies in transition) are constitutive elements of the system, as elaborated in Article 13 on technology transfer. Similarly, the CBD is in the process of consolidating an ABS Clearing House (ABS-CH) website pursuant to the Convention’s Article 18.3 and Article 14 of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS. The ABS-CH website allows for tracking and global audit of uses of genetic resources, toward entrenching open innovation and facilitating equitable benefit sharing over the uses of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Information exchange (or sharing) in these contexts can be distinguished from mere reference to “free information” in the conventional open innovation discourse symbolized by the free software movement. Free information (or the more familiar refrain in ICT, free content) may bridge access gaps, sometimes in order to temporarily fix inequity, but it does not guarantee systemic change or capacity building and socialization of knowledge for the benefit of recipients. More often, the innovation in question is usually a product of centralized or hierarchical order. Information exchange, however, reflects, in part, the essence of openness. Information exchange or openness is not an end. It is innately functional because of its ability to develop capacity or promote empowerment, and it is essentially democratic in its ability to fuel optimal epistemic traffic across diverse competences in society in a horizontal chain of interaction. Rather than serve as a one-directional hand-out meant for consumption or absorption, creating a producer/consumer dichotomy, openness supports “social, [or socialized] information-network-based, models of sharing [and exchange], participation and collaboration.” Concluding Thoughts Foundational discourses about open innovation are understandably linked to the impact of digital technology and the internet platform in reifying the elements of openness—specifically collaboration, dependency, networking, and sharing. In this conceptual frame, new information technologies are essentially disruptive as they serve to catalyze pressure, disorient or even dismantle the more conventional, closed innovation model often represented (albeit, less accurately) by IP rights. Consequently, it is tempting to characterize IP as a counterpoint to openness and to deny its relevance in open innovation. However, whether as a metaphor or as a direct analogy, the information-technology driven model of openness requires a pensive approach in regard to its adaptation to sectors in which networked communication technologies are only ancillary. One such sector is the agricultural sector, specifically as implicated in the context of the global regulation of PGRFA. Like several sectors of human innovative endeavor, PGRFA has and is still benefitting from the adaptations or deployments of networked digital technology in furthering and in creating new interest in open innovation. Unlike in the software sector, the historic poster child for openness, innovation in PGRFA is prima facie an open process manifested across epistemic boundaries of all agricultural knowledge systems. However, despite the innate culture of openness over innovation in PGRFA, there is a glaring equity gap in the diffusion of the benefits of R&D, owing largely to the exaggerated stress on IP as a closed or proprietary model of innovation. That stress is exacerbated through global strengthening and universalization of the IP standard pursuant to the TRIPs agreement. TRIPs and other subsidiary systems, such as the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), successfully cast IP as selectively exclusionary and rigidly closed regime of protection in a manner that alienated the interests and contributions to innovation made by ILC farmers at the centers of crop origin and diversity. The unbalanced focus on IP, in turn, helped to fuel concerns about equity and ABS in the realm of PGRFA and also provided an impetus for expediting long-lasting efforts in other sites for addressing those concerns, notably the CBD, the Treaty, and the CGIAR-IARC system. Ongoing implementations of the Treaty, recent reforms at the CGIAR and potential coming- into-force of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS encourage the consolidation of open innovation in PGRs and the pragmatic role of IPRs in this new dynamic.

African Union Expert Group Consultation on Nagoya Protocol

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on February 3, 2014 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Prof. Oguananam attends African Union Expert Consultation on the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) at the African Union Secretariat, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 5-7, 2014.


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