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The corrupting power of idea theft

News   •   Mar 10, 2017 08:48 +08

Imitation might be the best form of flattery, but not when the idea is stolen before it's implemented. Image source: screen shot from Akin Fadeyi's video teaser for "Not In My Country".

"Change Begins With Me" is the inspiring name of an anti-corruption initiative launched by the government of Nigeria in September 2016. It's a carrots rather than sticks approach to addressing social problems in Africa's most populous nation, based on promoting positive messages and role models to change attitudes that normalise unethical behaviour.

Announcing the campaign to "to entrench the values of accountability, integrity and positive attitudinal change", Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, noted the mechanisms that would be used to educate Nigerians to appreciate the core values necessary for national development.

"We are going to use the media to appeal to people. We are going to use persuasion, instead of coercion and intimidation," he said. "Our various platforms will be radio, television, print media, bill boards, social media and the like."

It all sounds great. Except for one thing: the accusation that the whole idea of the campaign has been stolen from a "citizen-led" grassroots anti-corruption initiative called "Not in My Country". You can read about the objectives and origins of this program at its website and Facebook page (a page, it is worth noting, first created in 2006).

Akin Fadeyi and Omo Bazuaye accuse the Nigerian government of stealing the the entire premise of the "Change Begins With Me" campaign from a proposal they submitted to the office of Lai Mohammed in 2015.

"Not in My Country" has been a long-time idea for Fadeyi. Bazuaye notes the time and expense incurred over many years to make that idea tangible, including producing a series of short videos like this:

The Not in My Country campaign held its own launched in Lagos in May 2016. Bazuaye records the "rude shock" of seeing, four months later, "a perfect replica" of their idea being launched by the minister "without the consent of the real originators".

"We have evidence of our communications with the minister prior to this day," Bazuaye says. "We even have pictures of our meeting with him. He can’t deny it."

"The least we expected was for the minister to partner or collaborate with us on this instead of leaving us in the cold."

Here the main affront doesn't appear to be the desire for financial compensation; more that the Creators of an idea want to have their ownership acknowledged and respected.

It's a salient lesson for anyone involved in pitching ideas. When it comes to intellectual property for which there is no watertight legal protection, the corrupting power to "steal legally" is pervasive.

In this case, the irony is all the greater because the idea alleged to have been stolen is one intended to tackle corruption.

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