Final year Law student of University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Susan Omeh emerged the winner of the 2020 WIPO Intellectual Property Essay Competition with the theme “Making Innovation work for a Green Future in Nigeria”. In this interview by ENIOLA OYEMOLADE, the 24-year-old speaks on the competition and how a balanced intellectual property system could help achieve sustainable environment using eco-innovations.
How did you hear about the essay competition?
My mentor who is a lawyer in the Intellectual Property department of a law firm sent me a flier of the essay competition.
Tell us what the competition is about and what it seeks to achieve
The competition is focused on the relationship between the Intellectual Property (IP) system, innovations and a green environment. Basically, the competition is aimed at drawing attention to degenerated state of the environment in Nigeria and how this is engineered majorly by environmentally unfriendly inventions; it is aimed at proffering ideas on how a balanced intellectual property system could help achieve sustainable environment using eco-innovations in Nigeria. This aside, the competition is aimed also at creating awareness on the indispensability of the intellectual property system amongst the younger generation.
What was the star prize and how did the winning make you feel?
What I consider the star prize is the WIPO Academy Scholarship to participate in the IP learning Program in South Korea. I consider this the biggest opportunity to increase my IP knowledge-base and I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity. Winning? Really happy. I had my aunties and uncles singing my praises for weeks and my parents are still as thrilled as I am about the whole thing and then my friends and connections kept making me feel I had just been crowned the first Black Queen Elizabeth. I was really happy, I still am.
Did you know you were going to win?
I knew my essay was good enough to get me to the list of winners but I never knew I was going to be the overall winner. Doubt set in when the organisers sent in a mail inviting all participants to a webinar where the result was to be announced. It didn’t occur to me that the organisers would want to make the announcement for the first time at the webinar. I didn’t know that it could work that way. Point is I had a really good surprise that day.
What motivated you to enter for the competition?
A lot. I did Energy law as a course in my penultimate year and I really enjoyed the discussions on climate change and renewable energy; in my final year now, I am offering Intellectual Property law, so basically, I had background knowledge of what the essay is all about. I enjoy writing, solving problems, putting down solutions in areas that I have interest in. Then, my mentor sent me the flier and told me to make sure I write and I did not want to look like an unserious mentee, so I wrote.
What would you say helped you win the essay?
My research and writing skills and the loads of encouragement and time my mentor invested throughout the writing process. I was never going to write the essay because I was ill around that period plus I had other tough issues on but he encouraged me and then went on to listen to me discuss and defend every idea and solution I was going to proffer to the essay problem. His encouragement helped me win.
You are a law student, how did the passion for writing come about?
I have always been a writer from my secondary school days, only that I wrote more literary works – poems and prose – then than essays. I guess my interest in writing essays and articles is as a result of the fact that I am a law student. Legal research and writing is a skill one must master in law unlike in other professions and I should say I have mastered mine quite well.
How did you address the theme of the essay ‘Making Innovation Work for a Green Future in Nigeria’?
I tried first to paint a picture of how unhealthy the Nigerian environment is and the adverse effects of this to the nation as a whole. This was basically to help readers subsequently appreciate why something needed to be done and what role the Intellectual Property system had to play in propelling the needed change. In my solutions for a greener future for Nigeria using the Intellectual Property system, I made a case for a substantive patent administration and a pre-grant opposition mechanism in the Nigeria Intellectual Property system which allows individuals file oppositions against patent registration for any innovation on the ground that it does not promote healthy environment or societal welfare. I also made a case for the protection of plant varieties in Nigeria which does not exist presently and if put in place should act as carbon sinks. I provided numerous options to make an incentive-based Intellectual Property system for eco-innovations feasible in Nigeria as well as an amendment of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion Act (NOTAP) to enable the transfer into Nigeria majorly of inventions that are environmentally friendly.
In your opinion, what role does intellectual property rights play in encouraging creativity?
Intellectual Property rights have a lot to do with encouraging creativity, and by creativity, it is not only limited to innovations. The continuous development in the literary world, entertainment world and even in the medical world is primarily hinged on the reassurance that whoever seeks to take advantage of any development (creativity) in these areas must seek the creator’s permission first and such creator has the option to decline that request. This is the development that IP system and the rights attached to it guarantee: that whoever takes advantage of your creation, however minute, without your permission will be made to pay you for it. This has spurred creativity in many spheres of life. The recurrent talk on protecting traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions is also hinged on this assurance.
In what way did participating in the competition and winning affect you positively?
Participating in the competition added a lot to my IP knowledge-base. It has also opened me to the numerous opportunities available to me to expand my IP knowledge-base. Winning has made me realise that there is no limit to becoming the best of everything I want to be; I now scout for greater opportunities not limited only to Nigeria and with more optimism. I am also now doing more to leave an indelible mark in the history of the legal profession.
What other competitions have you participated in and have you won any other ones?
I recently participated in another essay competition I hope comes out positive. Name of competition withheld.
Are you planning on practicing law or you plan on going into writing?
I plan on going into both, fulltime. I presently work as a legal researcher and writer for some persons.
Was your admission into law by accident or a choice?
It was by choice. I always wanted law right from my senior secondary school days.
Tell us more about you
I am from a middle class family of five (Mum and Dad inclusive). My mum is a fashion designer so I grew up drawing clothes and helping my mum out. I read a lot as a kid and loved dancing and acting. Until my senior secondary school, I always wanted to be an actress and a dancer and it seemed it was going to work out that way at some point because I was president of the drama club in secondary school and I later featured in a movie on the Ogun State Television (OGTV) aimed at ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). I played the role of the king in a Yoruba setting. I still love dancing and acting and I hope to one day feature in a movie that typically depicts Corporate Law in Nigeria.
My interest for law began in senior secondary school. When I am not writing, I am seeing movies, hanging around my friends and family, and having fun or just scouting opportunities outside writing to make myself better.
What other genres of writing are you into?
I write poems and prose. I have a short story published with the African Writers. I no longer write literary works though.
After school, what next?
First, I am looking to get a job with one of the best law firms in the United States or United Kingdom. I really do not know how that is going to work for someone who is just fresh out of law school with no experience but I intend to do the best I can and if that doesn’t work, I am settling with one of the big fives in Nigeria and then I’d keep pushing for what I want from there.
I plan on going all out with my support to educate indigent children especially in Ebonyi, where I am from and in the Northern part of Nigeria where it is mostly needed. I also plan on going full blown into diverse corporate investments which would serve me and my goals in the long run. I’ve got lots of scattered plans but I hope they all sum up as I draw closer to graduating.
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