In Conversations: Onyeka Nwelue talks to Jake Okechukwu Effoduh

I discovered Jake Okechukwu Effoduh many years ago. I had listened to Flava and I had also seen him on screen. It was obvious that he is a young man who is unashamedly proud of what he is doing. He is as intelligent as he sounds and looks; he obviously has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is why he tries very hard to perfect everything he is doing. Knowing him has completely broadened the horizon of my thought over many things.

It is difficult to place his age when he talks. It is also difficult to understand why he does what he is doing. Most young people in Nigeria, have completely resorted to finding music as an easy channel to show that they exist in a society that stifles talent and creativity, but Jake completely bellies such arrogance to live in a world where many issues have been ignored and relegated to the backdrop to suit the temperament of a moral world.

What I found out in this conversation will definitely appeal to your heart and head. Let’s go!

I am very age conscious. How old are you?

I have no problem telling people my age. I am 24 years old. In fact, I love to tell people the day and time I was born because it is very special to me. I was born 12:12am on 12/12/1987.

What have you been doing with your life?

Well, asides eating a lot and playing a lot which are two things I love to do, I can say that I have spent most of my years in school – from primary school up to university. I was called to the Nigerian Bar in February this year and I am presently practicing with one of the most active litigation firms in Nigeria. My interests are in Human Rights advocacy and legal education and so far I have been enjoying the practice of law.

Also, for 6 years now I have been a freelance radio presenter with the BBC Media Action. I anchor a youth lifestyle radio programme called Flava. I talk about sexual reproductive health issues by doing various programmes on HIV themes and more. It is a magazine programme so it’s very educative and entertaining. It is aired on over 90 radio stations in Nigeria with more than 24 million listeners tuning in weekly. It has grown to be the most popular radio programme in this part of Africa.

It is very interesting to know that many people are glued to Flava. What did you do to these guys? What is the voodoo?

Flava is aired in every state in this country so that’s a large reach but what keeps listeners glued is the fact that they have ownership of the programme. Every edition of Flava stems from comprehensive and in-depth research and we talk about the real issues that affect our sexual reproductive health – totally uncensored. We record in the markets, on the streets, in bus stops, mechanic workstations, saloons, name it. We travel to different states to record programmes so as to have a holistic engagement with what is happening in our communities. Most importantly, the expertise and professionalism of the BBC Media Action here in Nigeria comes to play in delivering these programmes in line with standards of excellence.

Recently, you travelled to the US on invitation from the US Government. Can you tell us about it? I mean, if you can give us details.

The US Department of state organized a one week tour from the office of the US Foreign Press Center. They invited 20 journalists from 20 countries on a reporting tour to have a firsthand experience on some key human rights issues in America. So I represented Nigeria. The tour was focused on LGBT issues in America and although I was a novice to some of these issues, it was a great opportunity to learn a lot. We visited Ivy League universities speaking with professors of law, people in government, NGO’s, the UN and so on. I had series of meetings and interviews and travelled from Washington DC to Maryland to Philadelphia and New York, all in 8 days! It was intense, like obtaining a degree in one week but it was very educating and enlightening. I entered the Pentagon, visited the White House and so many other places that I cannot count. Also, I developed a good relationship with other journalists from other countries and I have learnt so much on LGBT issues prevalent in America and the world at large. I will be publishing stories from my experience on the tour very soon.

Many young people in Nigeria know nothing about their rights and you’ve been at the forefront of advocating for these rights. I mean, what are the rights of sex workers that you feel they don’t know?

Many Nigerians do not know their rights and we can blame it on illiteracy and also poverty. The fundamental human rights of Nigerians are violated every day and people hardly do anything about it. These rights are inalienable and universal and must be protected by the law. Chapter IV of our constitution contains provisions for the right to life, right to dignity of the human person, right to personal liberty, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression and the press, freedom of private and family life, freedom of movement, etcetera . But all these rights seem to remain on paper. The essence of these rights is to respect human potential in its entire dimension. They are indivisible and lay on the premise of human equality. Human rights are essential for good governance and the preservation of human life. Its importance cannot be overemphasized.

I get asked “why are you advocating for the rights of sex workers?” People ask this because they think I am advocating for a special right. Whether a person is a sex worker or not, as long as the person is a human being, whosoever they are or whatsoever they do, they are entitled to their fundamental human rights and it should be protected in accordance with the provisions of the grundnorm – our constitution. Statistics show that sexworkers are the most abused persons in Nigeria. They are highest victims of physical and sexual assault, rape and ritual killings. We cannot turn a blind eye to these facts. It is an established principle that where poverty is on the rise, sex work follows suit. It applies everywhere in the world. Sex workers are human beings therefore their rights must be protected. If we want to diminish sex work, it is not by criminalizing it or ignoring it. We can start by setting up policies and programs targeted at the sex work population and ensuring that their human right is protected is indeed very significant.

For some time now, I thought that university education elevates man to the highest order. I mean, I still find it appalling that many graduates haven’t even invented themselves and have nothing to do. What is your take on this?

To me, nothing elevates man to the highest order because education is incessant but the challenge we have in Nigeria is that we think that is only from school that one can get education. We’ve all heard that in the early 70’s, when you graduate from the university, the government will buy you a car and you will have an array of jobs at your disposal to choose from, but today, university graduates are countless so there are 4 or 5 people competing for every employment position hence being a graduate is not just what counts. We need to realize that there are a million and one things we can do for a living which do not require the submission of the photocopy of our certificate. As we know, many of the greatest achievers in the world did not accomplish their dreams with their degree.

Are you an emotional person? Is that why you are a lawyer?
I am an emotional person but I do not see how that connects with my choice of being a lawyer. (Laughs)

Nigerian universities graduate a lot of lawyers every year. The market, which I should say, the Law Market, is a bit saturated and you see lawyers walking round the streets in suits and nothing to do. How do you make yourself unique as a lawyer?

This year alone, the Nigerian law school has produced about 4000 lawyers. It sounds quite many but it is also a good thing. Many people are now seeing a need to have a legal background. The thing is not all lawyers go into full time legal practice. Some venture into various businesses, some telecommunications, international relations, NGO’s, some will work with the government, some will go into the arts, entertainment, name it. That is the beauty of the legal profession, you can work anywhere. Lawyers are needed in every field of human endeavor.

Are there laws that protect intellectual property in Nigeria? How strong are these laws?

There are laws that protect intellectual property in Nigeria and they are very strong. We have the Copyright Act of 1988, the Merchandise Marks Act, the Trademarks Act of 1965, the Patent and Designs Act of 1970 and so on. Most of these laws are borrowed from English jurisdictions but they are all contained in the compendium of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. Nigeria is signed to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is signatory to a couple of treaties to protect the intellectual property of persons home and abroad.

Illiteracy and poverty are our challenges but far beyond that are our poor appreciation of intellectual property and the weak enforcement of same. For example it is estimated that trade in counterfeit goods is now worth more than 5% of world trade and in Nigeria, it is an amazing 15 to 20%. Counterfeiting for example steals the identity of trademark owners and robs consumers of a number of things, including comfort, reliability and their personal safety. Some Nigerians think of trademark counterfeiting as a victimless crime and that copying remains the highest form of flattery. This notion is meritless. The Nigerian industry loses large amount to trademark counterfeiters. The losses do not only affect the producers of genuine items, but they also involve social costs. The ultimate victims of unfair competition are the consumers. They receive poor quality goods at an excessive price and are sometimes exposed to health and safety dangers. Government lose out on unpaid tax and incur costs to enforce intellectual property rights.

I am happy that things are changing and they are changing fast. People are becoming informed. I see music producers suing people for stealing their beats and I know personally that even you Onyeka have had your copyright infringed upon from your book – The Abyssinian Boy although you refused to take up legal action.Recently many lawyers are seeing the need to specialize in intellectual property law as it is lucrative and has become momentous in Nigeria.

I may need to get personal with you. Are you in a relationship? If not, why? If yes, is it distracting?

I am in a relationship and I don’t think it is distracting. It actually lowers my gaze and keeps me responsible.

I hate to ask people this, because it is very cliché. What advice do you have for young people who want to be like you?

(Laughs) Abeg, that question is for stars and celebrities. I see myself as a serviceman; I am always ready to use my skills and my abilities to work whenever I can and wherever it is needed.

What is your take on the political system of Nigeria?

Our political system is adequate but the way it is run is beyond ridiculous. We still have local champions as our leaders who are absorbed with power and do not seem to have the interest of their followers. Followers and leaders are meant to orbit the purpose of government but here, the followers orbit around the leaders and that’s all.

Do you see yourself as an activist? Just like others?

Yes I am an activist, as a reformer – to make positive change in one or more aspects of human existence. I love Nigeria and the Nigerian people and whatever can make it better interests me.

You’ve travelled to the 36 States of Nigeria. You’ve met quite interesting people. Do you agree that Nigerians should co-exist in one nation?

Even though I feel that the amalgamation of southern and northern protectorates was more of an amalgamation of colonies and not the people, Nigerians will continue to co-exist as one nation because our diversity is one of the things that make us powerful. I have lived in 144 local government areas and I can say that what joins us together is far beyond and greater than that which tries to set us apart. We should shift our focus from states of origin, tribe and location and focus on our singular identity as Nigeria.

Who is your favorite Nigerian musician?

They change per time. On my playlist now are songs from Darey, Brymo, Wizkid, Dbanj, Davido, Uzyone, B-ice and Bez. And also the ladies I am listening to now are Waje, Mochedda and Chidimma.

How do you unwind?

I eat a lot. Food makes me happy. I also love to play, have a good laugh with friends and family. I love to go out and I love to take long walks.

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