During the week, the news was all over town. Chief Tony Okoroji and some officers of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) have been charged with a crime. While this narrative is being widely promoted and spread in the media, nobody has served me with one piece of paper or any charge whatsoever.
Who did I kill? What did I steal?
Last year, we did what some may have considered very unlikely. Under my leadership, COSON, on behalf of the musicians of Nigeria commissioned the state of the art COSON House with some of the most modern facilities in Nigeria. In setting up COSON House, we did not ask nor receive one kobo from any government whether Nigerian or foreign. We did not borrow one Naira from any bank. We did not get one dollar as loan or grant from anywhere. COSON House was set up with our sweat and the deft management of our resources.
Overwhelmingly, the often-derided Nigerian musicians have shown great pride in the fact that they now own this magnificent structure. Stars of all sorts have visited COSON House. It was at COSON House that we celebrated the life of our much beloved colleague, the Rub-A-Dub Master, Ras Kimono and sent him home from Lagos in grand style.
At COSON House, we have retained the services of some young Nigerians whom we have given the best training around the world to become experts in the collective management of copyright in music. Their salaries have not once been paid out of time. What they do is to professionally ensure that people who use music in Nigeria in a public or commercial situation pay for the music. That is consistent with Nigerian law. Before COSON was set up about eight years ago, I was repeatedly told that collective management of copyright cannot work in Nigeria.
When COSON House was commissioned last year, it opened the eyes of many. Some of those who were sleeping, woke up to the fact that this thing that they thought could never work can actually produce results. Those who had no time for us or sneered at us while we labored day and night and set up the COSON structure, suddenly resolved that they ought to be the real beneficiaries of our labour. With some of their friends in the present government, they conspired and decided to hijack for themselves what belongs to the thousands of musicians of Nigeria.
To justify their greed and covetousness, they began to spread lies against me. They called press conference after press conference to promote the blatantly false narrative that I stole from those I have sworn to serve and that I own houses all over the place. They have tried to use the security agencies to harass and intimidate me.
The truth which these people very well know is that at 60 years old, with all the positions I have held, the only house I own is an uncompleted building in my village. I do not own a hut anywhere else in the world. I do not own any big money either in a bank, hidden inside a mattress or buried in a soak-away pit. I have long decided that a good name is better than gold and not every Nigerian has to be a thief.
To defend my good name, I have filed four defamation cases against their wickedness. As I write, not one person has filed any defence to any of the cases nor put one shred of evidence before any of the courts.
Please do not feel sorry for me. I am a very happy and proud man. I have found out that Nigerians still appreciate honest service. The members of COSON have not let me down one inch. In their thousands, they understand what is going on. They know that some people want to turn them into their “mugu” and suck them dry. The know that my “sin” is that I have stood stoutly in defence of their rights and interest and that I have not allowed the dogs of prey to hijack what belongs to them They have stood with me and repeatedly passed votes of confidence in the work which I have done over the years with all the passion and commitment I can muster.
When, with the aid of their friends in government, the coup plotters made the brazen coup attempt to foist themselves as the leaders of COSON, a 100% private sector organization with no government money, the members of COSON overwhelmingly said no. COSON members led by the revered Prof (Sir) Victor Uwaifo one of Nigeria’s most brilliant and celebrated musicians of all times, went to the Federal High Court. In court, they obtained an order compelling the gentleman falsely parading himself as the new Chairman of COSON from further doing so. The order subsists.
While the matter was in court, COSON received an incredibly funny “directive” not from a court of law but from the head of a Nigerian government agency: COSON should no longer earn any income on behalf of its members who have legally assigned their works to COSON but COSON should continue to pay the salaries of its staff who are not allowed to do any work! We were also forbidden to spend our money to buy diesel to power our generators, pay our electricity or water bills, fuel the operational motor vehicles of the organization, etc.
Nobody informed us how we were supposed to continue to pay the salaries of our staff without any income. Nobody told us whether the government has unilaterally authorized the free use of the private intellectual property of citizens in the COSON repertoire since the property is no longer supposed to be licensed. Nobody told us from where the owners of this intellectual property are supposed to earn their living. Most importantly, nobody told us under which law these bizarre directives were made.
The members of COSON, once again led by Prof (sir) Victor Uwaifo, went before the Federal High Court which on September 19 issued a very clear order suspending the purported suspension of the licence of COSON and freezing the COSON bank account. The order still subsists.
Rather than chase after pirates who are killing Nigeria’s creative industries or take on the people looting our nation dry, they are busy drafting charges to jail Tony Okoroji for defying their blatantly unlawful directives. The funny thing is that I risked my life to have this government agency set up and I am one of the people who drafted the law setting up the agency.
They know that I have committed no crime neither has any officer of COSON committed a crime. This is intimidation gone crazy.
I am convinced that no great nation in human history has been built by cowards. I have therefore made up my mind that if I have to go to jail in the defence of the rights of creative people in Nigeria, I will do so with my head held high. If I have to lay down my life in the defence of the people whose rights I have sworn to defend, it will be death so sweet.
I stand with COSON!!!
See you next week.