Home FEATURED Opinion (22/12/18): The Birthday Boy Continues To Drive On A Full Tank...

Opinion (22/12/18): The Birthday Boy Continues To Drive On A Full Tank Of Faith, By Tony Okoroji

Tony Okoroji

Wow! I am 61 years old today, December 22, 2018. How come I feel like 16? Considering what I have been through, it is truly a miracle to be alive. Please join me, my friends, in thanking the Almighty who has made me his tool to be used in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

When I turned 55, I wrote a piece which I posted on the Internet. For Saturday Breakfast today, I adopt the piece with some update. Thank you for reading…

When I took the decision several years ago to spend my life in the promotion and defence of the rights of creative people in Nigeria, I was not blind. I knew that there would be many obstacles along the way and a huge price to pay. I have seen the desperation with which people fight against positive change, especially when they think that change would deny them the privileges they seek.

I have been dragged to the EFCC, the ICPC, SSS, the dreaded SARS; been in and out of court more times than I can recollect. Intricate schemes have been set up to defame me, distract me or destroy my name. This year, it was widely broadcast that I have been charged for a criminal offence. I did not kill anyone or steal anything. What I did ‘wrong’ was to serve my country with all my heart.

Is it not a miracle that I am 61 this December 22 and I have never been to jail? It is indeed incredible that I am alive to see this day. Despite the relentless assault on my name, people still trust me and give me the privilege to serve them. This past Tuesday, members of COSON from every nook and cranny of Nigeria showed me indescribable love in Lagos. It was a mammoth crowd at the COSON EGM. They told me in clear terms that they value the work that I do and would not allow anyone to shame me. It was a birthday present like no other.

Two days after, in Baltimore Maryland, I watched with tremendous pride and joy as my baby daughter, Stephanie Chinenye Okoroji, graduated at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County (UMBC). My girl thought I was in Lagos. She did not know that I was in the auditorium watching with pride, having arrived Baltimore a few hours earlier and having conspired with my brother, Iyke to keep the information from her. How do I describe the yelp by my baby when she saw me at UMBC? Unforgettable! Incredible! Unbelievable! It was worth every kilometre I travelled and every hard Naira it cost. It was a birthday present like no other.

My friends, for decades, the Nigerian artiste has remained at the periphery of national discourse. We may have sung his songs with passion, watched his movie with glee or read his book into the middle of the night but we still did not quite have any respect for him. Fela may have been the most recognized Nigerian name in the world, but many at home simply saw him as an irritant. But please, show me one truly successful nation on earth which had not created a special place for its creative geniuses.

For many decades, Nigerian artistes have paid people at radio stations to have their music played so that the radio stations can make money. Many have entertained in hotels with rooms they could never sleep in and restaurants they could never eat in. If Wole Soyinka had not been given a big international prize by a Norwegian organization in faraway Oslo, many in our country would have brushed him aside as just an old rascal with over grown grey hair.

I realized long ago that the nation of Nigeria would never realize its immense potentials if it did not tap from the huge creative energy of its many talents. Today, our most positive worldwide identifiers are not our politicians and certainly not our 419 businessmen. They are our young musicians, actors, actresses and writers.

As a result of my efforts and those of my colleagues who share the passion in an organization that did not even exist a few years ago, the tables are fast being turned. Contrary to repeated warning from many that we were bound for failure, radio stations in Nigerians are now beginning to pay musicians for playing their music and TV stations too! Fired up by a slogan, ‘let the music pay!’, even hotels across the country are beginning to understand that someone owns the music they deploy to make money.

I was told that you can never win a case against a government in Nigeria. It took me many trips to a court in Calabar and many sessions on the witness stand to break the jinx. This year, 2018, the Federal High Court sitting in Calabar awarded 500 Million Naira to COSON against the Cross River State Government for copyright infringement in the unlicensed music deployed at the Calabar Carnival.

As we put value to that which was taken from us for free, we will inspire many in our industry, stimulate investments in our country, create more jobs, begin an Intellectual Property revolution in our nation and that is very good for Nigeria.
I have seen the pride on the faces of Nigerian musicians who never thought that someday, they would watch a movie or sing and dance in a structure like the COSON House, a magnificent building that belongs to them. I know some of them who have been able to buy the drugs they desperately need because they got an alert from COSON.

You would think that everyone would be happy with the work we are doing. Not quite. The more we do, the more envy, greed and covetousness we generate in some people. In the last one year, there is no kind of plot that has not been hatched to hang something on my neck, harass me, intimidate me and chase me away from COSON House commissioned last year and which I toiled day and night to ensure that it is built.

I am a great believer in the rule of law and our system of justice. I have relied on that system to clear my name several times when I have been defamed. That system has been an important platform for the incredible work that COSON is doing. I verily believe that ultimately, the system gets it right, even if it first meanders left and right.

I know that the great success of COSON, its professionalism, openness and never-say-die spirit are driving some people crazy because COSON exposes their failure. In a season in which everyone else is distributing hampers and goodwill, they are distributing hate. They celebrate that they have used a court order obtained behind our backs with falsehood to lock up money that belongs to thousands of Nigerian musicians, money that would have made this Christmas a period of happiness for them. I verily know that ultimately, the courts will get it right and thousands of Nigerian musicians will wear the smile which they deserve.

As I turn 61 today, I recommit myself to the Almighty to use me as He wishes to free the creative community in Nigeria from the servitude it has long been in. I recommit myself to the COSON revolution which will gather more steam in the New Year. Please join me in thanking the Almighty. I promise to continue to drive on a full tank of faith.

See you next week.

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