Thirty-four-year-old author of Last Days at Forcados High School, Dr. Ayobami Hanif Mohammed, has accused the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the Cassava Republic Press of conspiring to violate his copyrights.

The book, written by Mohammed in 2006 as a student of University of Lagos (UNILAG) was in 2014 accepted by JAMB as the official handbook for candidates in the Use of English on the recommendation of Fafunwa Educational Foundation.

The Publisher, Ms Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, was alleged to have mutually signed an agreement with JAMB on behalf of the author for the book to be used between 2014 and 2017. By this deal, if 1.5m students buy JAMB’s form, 1.5m books would be sold. The parties involved allegedly agreed, signed and accepted the terms and conditions of the contract.

However, trouble started when the publisher after signing agreement with JAMB in 2014, turned round to request from Mohammed a lower royalty which the author refused on the premise that the fresh proposal was a violation of the initial contract.

Mohammed claimed that he met with the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede at an informal meeting on January 26 2017 where he was persuaded to accept the publisher’s offer.

But his refusal to accept the offer cost him his place in JAMB original plan as the examination body in an advertorial of Tuesday, March 14, 2017 on the sale of 2017 Unified tertiary Matriculation examination (UTME)/Direct Entry form named a new book from the same publisher for the Use of English.

According to a section of the publication, “Candidates are to note that irrespective of the choice of course of study or method of testing they will also be tested on a general text: “Independence” by Sarah Ladipo Manyika for UTME and Last Days at Forcados High School by A.H. Mohammed for Direct Entry candidates.”

This development however infuriated the author, who subsequently accused JAMB of conspiracy, connivance and infractions on the contract it reached with the publisher.

He accused the publishing firm and JAMB of not granting him access to the MoU with the examination body; pressurising him into signing a contract; no payment for his royalties for 2016; and the use of his book for Direct Entry by JAMB without his consent.

He said: “I wrote the manuscript as a student in 2006 and sent it to a nascent publishing house called Cassava Republic in 2008. It was later accepted for publication and after some time published in 2013. In 2014, Fafunwa Educational Foundation came across and read the book and sent it to JAMB for consideration for possible use in the examination. JAMB accepted the book after passing through their board on its own merit for use as General English.

“I was contacted by a representative of the Fafunwa foundation. I passed on the publisher’s (Ms Bibi Bakare Yusuf) details to them. Thereafter all communication was between JAMB and the publisher. I was not present at any of their discussions because I had a signed contract with the publisher and assumed all procedures would be duly followed.

“An arrangement was later struck between the publisher and JAMB that to prevent piracy, the book would be issued to all students who purchased the registration form. All costs were included in registration package. The book was adopted for three years (2014-2017). After this the publisher contacted me and to my shock started making efforts to compel me to deviate from my contract by agreeing to a lower royalty rate, citing discount.

“When I refused. She then suggested halving my royalty due to ‘bulk’. I refused and then all sorts of pressure, pleadings even blackmail were applied. They took advantage of the fact that I was not present at any of the discussions and refused to show me the agreement they had with JAMB, which they were contractually obliged to show me. After all this I agreed to a reduction of 4.5 per cent royalty. This was however for the first year. Each year would be renegotiated between author and publisher.”

“After the first session, 2014-2015, I was sent a statement at the end of the year showing that the number of books sold was 1,295,963 while official figures for JAMB registration were 1,475,477. I requested for an explanation for this discrepancy and the reply I got was ‘JAMB paid them for number of books picked up by students.”

Mohammed said failure to provide clear explanation to all these issues prompted him to alert his lawyer.

He added: “Earlier this year I was invited to an informal meeting with the present JAMB registrar who tried to persuade me to agree with the publisher. When the UTME registration was announced for this year I saw my book was for Direct Entry candidates while another book by the publisher was for UTME. This was against what the publisher told me from the beginning and I did not give permission for my book to be used for ‘Direct Entry’ candidates.

“Based on all these I am proceeding with legal proceedings against the publisher for gross and repeated violation of contract and against JAMB for allowing itself to be used as a co-respondent by the publisher in their brazen attempts to cheat me.

“I also believe it is imperative for the media to be involved so that the actions of the publisher of Cassava Republic would be exposed and the present JAMB administration. This is for the sake of other young authors as well as for the education sector as a whole which should not be reduced to a game of pure monetary terms.”

When The Guardian contacted the publisher, she expressed disappointment at the extent to which the author has dragged the issue, describing Mohammed’s decision as an attempt to lower the integrity of the firm.
“His action is an attempt to diminish our company in the court of public opinion. It is a pity, as Hanif has earned a sum well into the eight figures in royalties from the book.  It has been a disappointing and upsetting process dealing with Hanif’s protestations when we have acted honourably to him throughout, as we always do with our authors,” she said.
On pressurising the author into signing a contract, she explained, “We informed the author that many of our early contracts did not include a “bulk” or “export sales” clause which is usually 50 per cent of the standard royalty rate of individual sales, so we asked him to sign an addendum that included a bulk sales clause, which would allow us to go ahead with the JAMB deal and any future bulk or export sales.”
On failure to provide him access to MOU with JAMB, the publisher said, “From our perspective, the JAMB deal is like any other bulk distribution arrangement between a publisher and a buyer; it is therefore not necessary to share contractual details with authors. Not providing A.H. Mohammed the agreement with JAMB is therefore not out of character, nor is it contrary to standard publishing practice.”
On payment for his royalties, Yusuf explained that “the royalty statement for year two was sent out to the author on January 16, 2017. The royalty payment for this period is due on March 31, 2017. However, since there is a legal dispute pending, we have informed the author that we would not make any payment until the dispute has been resolved. During one of our meetings with the author’s lawyer, we informed him that JAMB told us that they are unlikely to use the book for the third year as earlier expected.

“We also explained to him that it is in our interest for JAMB to use his book for the third year, even though we are aware that they are not bound to use it since our agreement with JAMB is for two years (2014 – 2016). Currently we have a few hundred thousand copies of the book in our warehouse which we cannot sell in the open market because they have a “Not for sale” imprint on them. A loss that has to be borne by us and not the author.”

In the end, JAMB decided to use one of our other books by another author for 2017 – 2018 and we had to start the printing process again. We discovered last week in the media that JAMB would still be using ‘Forcados High’ for its direct entry students. We are not supplying JAMB with any new copies of the book beyond what we supplied them for the first two years. We understand that they may have excess from the stock we have supplied them in the last two years.

When contacted, JAMB spokesperson, Dr. Fabian Benjamin said, “We had an understanding with Cassava Republic, not the author. I don’t even know the author. The copies we are using for the direct entry candidates are the books we paid for last year, except the author wants us to return it so he would refund our money.”

On the sudden change of the book to the new one after persuasion by the registrar failed, he said, I’m not privy to the meeting with the registrar, like I said earlier; we had an understanding with the publisher not the author.”