The Nigerian creative space is aflutter with copyright infringement accusations, counter-accusations and in the rare case, court rulings. Comedian and recent AMVCA winner Sabinus has just sued Peak Milk and Gala—the kernel of the legal quarrel being the two mega-companies profiting off his trademarked image and catchphrase (“something hooge”), using it to sell their wares without his permission and without compensation. At least so Sabinus and his lawyer accuse. I know what you’re thinking but no it’s not a skit; it’s real life.
In a recent gag Sabinus, clad in his usual blue, head reclined in thought and eyes glazed with abstraction, does an interior monologue. He schemes to have his village’s chief loan him money to buy the presidential form, pledging to fatten the chief’s purse on becoming president. There’s a twist at the end that comes with that classic Sabinus’s impish grin: He plans to hoof it once he gets the money. “Smart move”, he calls it, now drenched in a shower of self-congratulation. One may likewise imagine Sabinus (the man himself, not his comic act; or are they one and the same?) plotting in a quiet corner of his kitchen, striking his classic southpaw pose, his hands in mid-air caressing an invisible dragon ball as the wheels of his mind grind out a stratagem, and then saying to himself: First I sue Peak Milk and Gala. Tell them to pay me 1 billion naira so if they refuse I get 50 million at least. Use 2 million to shut down Eko Hotel; show them the ‘investor vibes’.
We have profiled Sabinus in the past. Here are five copyright infringement duels we have seen in the Nigerian creative space.
Sir Victor Uwaifo vs Simi and Jaywon
In 2017 the now-late highlife deity Sir Victor Uwaifo accused the singers Simi and Jaywon of remixing his 1965 classic song Joromi without his permission. He was, of course, referring to the former’s song of the same title, off her Simisola album, and the latter’s single Jomi Joromi, both songs released in 2017. Speaking to the Vanguard, Uwaifo said he would not make it a court matter because, “I’m like a father to them… so let them make a living out of it, but at the same time it’s piracy”. Jaywon was quick to denounce Uwaifo’s claim, asserting that his song was not a remix as the industry’s elder statesman had claimed. Uwaifo was never wrong on his guitar, but his argument here hit the wrong note. All three songs are united in theme, the plaintive wooing of a love interest. Beyond that they are, on the sonic and lyrical level, as identical to each other as Nok terracotta is to mediaeval stained glass art.
Blackface vs 2face
No discussion of copyright infringement in the Nigerian creative industry can be had without mentioning the Blackface and 2face duel. The beef’s most compelling detail, of course, is that both singers were formerly members of the three-man music group Plantashun Boiz, whose songs soundtracked the Nigerian nighttime scene in the early 2000s. Blackface, using Twitter in January 2016, accused his former teammate of copyright infringement and claimed ownership of the songs African Queen and Let Somebody Love You. To which 2face responded with a N50 million libel suit. However, the case never went to court. An armistice was reached in 2019, in an out-of-court settlement at the Ikeja High Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre. The resolution package included Blackface promising to desist from accusing 2face of plagiarism, and the latter agreeing to give Blackface his due royalties from the songs.
Blackface vs Wizkid and Banky W and Samklef
Blackface made the news again, this time for accusing Wizkid and Banky W of “jacking” his song. Again his medium of protest was Twitter. Blackface in April this year, using his Twitter handle @Blackfacenaija, quoted a Wizkid tweet and accused him of plagiarising his song, I Like the Way. In the follow-up tweets Blackface accused the music producer Samklef of illegally “reproducing my sound” for Wizkid’s benefit. A month has passed since Blackface’s accusation and Wizkid has yet to say a word on the matter. It’s no surprise: The man rations his words like the citizens of the Orwellian Oceania ration food and shaving powder.
Zain Nigeria Ltd and NUC vs TV Xtra Production
In 2020 a federal high court in Abuja ordered the National Universities Commission (NUC) and Zain Nigeria Ltd to pay N703 million to TV Xtra Production, a media company, as damages for infringing on its copyright. It all started with TV Xtra Production’s CEO, Christian Ogodo, pitching a TV show titled “University Challenge” to the NUC. Weeks later, Ogodo was shocked to see a variation of the show airing on television, hosted by NUC and Zain, causing him to file a copyright infringement suit in 2009. In its defence Zain Nigeria decried “University Challenge” as not being Ogodo’s unique invention, claiming it had gotten the idea from the British Universities Challenge. Justice Inyang Ekwo, who ruled on the case, thought otherwise.
Danfo Drivers vs Tekno
Danfo Drivers, the music duo comprising Mountain Black and Mad Melon (now late) accused Tekno of sampling their song Kpolongo without their consent. The Tekno song taking the beating was his 2018 single Jogodo. The two parties held a meeting in Lagos to resolve the issue. After the meeting Tekno uploaded a picture of himself and the Danfo Drivers on his Instagram page as a show of their reconciliation. The details of the meeting were not made public at the time. Speaking with The PUNCH’s Saturday Beats in June 2018 the Nigerian musician, Professor Linkin, claimed he heard that Danfo Drivers were given N2 million as compensation, and that he’ll remain aggrieved until Tekno acknowledges him as the originator of the word “jogodo”.