Revue  

Rumble in the house of COSON

A cross section of COSON Board members at COSON House


Okoroji Must Go, Aggrieved Members Insist
COSON Is Under Attack From Outside, Says Embattled Chairman

Though the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) had made noticeable impact in the creative industry as the sole registered collective management organisation in the country, 2017 remains a landmark year in the history of the organisation. After years of operating from a rented apartment in Ikeja, Lagos, the leadership of the organisation successfully built and commissioned the COSON House amid applause and commendation from members and stakeholders in the entertainment industry.

In his remarks at the grand opening, COSON Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji thanked his Board, the management of COSON and the team of skilled Nigerian professionals, who worked tirelessly to build COSON House in record time without any money from the government, any support from any donor agency or any loan from any bank. Located on Oluwaleimu Street, off Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos, the multi-million-naira edifice became the first real property owned by any association, union or group in the Nigerian creative industry.

Also at the event, the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Moses Ekpo, who was the first Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), recalled how Professor Egerton Uvieghara (as former Chairman of NCC) midwifed the copyright administration in Nigeria, adding that without Uviegbara, this history wouldn’t have been possible. He, therefore, sued for peace among musicians, praying that the commissioning of the ultra-modern complex should bring eternal unity to Nigerian musicians.

“We pray that the ultra-modern complex should bring eternal unity to Nigerian musicians. Before now, musicians in Nigeria have been scattered. This is because of the fact that none of them has enjoyed the sweat of his or her labour. For me, it has been a great honour to part and parcel of writing this history,” he said.

But as it turned out, what was expected to unify the musicians seems to have paved way for a major crisis within the organisation. Less than a year after the COSON House was officially opened, leadership crisis has ensued in the once progressive and peaceful organisation. Observers are worried that, if not properly handled, COSON might go the way of PMAN, which is still fraught with leadership tussle.

Precisely on Thursday, December 7, 2017, news filtered in that the COSON Chairman Chief Tony Okoroji has been removed by the Board and replaced with Efe Omorogbe, who served on the interim board at inception before he was elected into the COSON Board on May 8, 2012.

Though keen observers had suspected internal wrangling within the COSON Board, a Director in the organisation and Co – founder Naija Ninja, Dare ‘Baba Dee’ Fasasi, who spoke on behalf of other board members, said, “the change is occasioned by the need to reposition COSON and lead it to its new era. It is time to consolidate on our gains and ensure that we get the society to the place of our dreams.”

Another COSON Director Obi Asika was quoted to have said, “On behalf of the Board and members of COSON, we want to thank Chief Tony Okoroji for his relentless service during his time as Chairman of this great society. It is on record that during the tenure of Chief Tony Okoroji, COSON made giant strides such as the commissioning of the magnificent COSON House; the first of its kind in the Nigerian music industry, the launch of COSON’s digital licensing platform, CLAP, amongst several other key projects.

“His tenure also brought about the collection and distribution of royalties by COSON yearly without fail since its approval in Nigeria. The remarkable achievements made are visible for all to see and are a lasting legacy of the work of Chief Tony Okoroji.  However, we are confident that we are moving forward in the right direction and we know that COSON will continue to benefit from Chief Okoroji’s reservoir of knowledge and goodwill,” Asika, Co-founder CABAL Entertainment, said. 

However, in a dramatic turnaround on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, members of the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) from different parts of the country met at the COSON General Assembly and restored Chief Okoroji as Chairman of the society. There was singing and dancing, as Chief Okoroji, who was initially absent from the meeting, arrived the COSON House, following the demand of the members and a long telephone conversation initiated by music icon, Prof (Sir) Victor Uwaifo, who chaired the General Assembly.

The meeting, which was attended by several icons of the music industry from different parts of the country, resolved that the purported change of the Chairmanship of the Management Board of COSON on December 7, 2017, just 12 days to the Extra Ordinary General Meeting, under bizarre circumstances, be condemned and annulled by the COSON General Assembly.

The COSON General Assembly, which had in attendance the likes of Sir Shina Peters, Ras Kimono, Kenny Saint Best, Efe Omorogbe, Joel Ajayi, Sikuru Agboola, Azeezat Allen, Hon John Ewelukwa Udegbunam, Prince Biodun Eguakhide and others, clarified that Chief Okoroji remains the Chairman of the Management Board of COSON.

Accepting the decision of the General Assembly, Chief Okoroji said that he is humbled by the love of the members of COSON and holds no animosity against anyone as a result of what had transpired in COSON.

“As a father, I know that in any family, what happened recently in COSON would happen from time to time. Though I disagreed with the process through which a handful of the members of the Board conspired to remove me, I had decided before the call from Prof Uwaifo to move on and continue to serve the Nigerian creative community in his private capacity. But I commend the members for quickly stepping in and resolving the issues and positioning COSON for much greater achievements in 2018,” he said.

At this point, it became clear that COSON, which is currently in court over the directive of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami to register MCSN as a collective management organisation, is indeed experiencing leadership crisis.

At a press conference held on Wednesday, January 16, 2018, at the Protea Hotel, GRA, Ikeja, the aggrieved Board Members, including Omorogbe, Dare Fasasi, Obi Asika, Joel Ajayi, Sikiru Agboola and others, maintained that Okoroji remains sacked as the chairman of COSON, assuring members of their decision to reposition the organisation under the leadership of Omorogbe.

“Contrary to the fraudulent narrative being sold to the public since the purported reinstatement of Tony Okoroji, the former chairman of COSON board was voted out at the December 7, 2017 board meeting after more than four hours of deliberations on issues surrounding the illegal dissolution of standing committees and the board’s position in reaction to a petition addressed to it by concerned stakeholders,” Omoregbe said.

Allegedly written by respected stakeholders and COSON founding fathers including Evangelist Ebenezer Obey – Fabiyi (MFR) Himself, Obey Music & Pioneer Music/Afrodisia; Mr. Bode Akinyemi – : Ivory Music; Chief OsitaOkeke – : OssyAffason Ltd; Chief Rogers Okonkwo – : Rogers All Star Records; Mr. Laolu Akins – : Artist, Composer & Publisher and Mr. Toju Ejueyitchie – : Premier Music Publishing Ltd), the petition, according to Omorogbe, raised pertinent questions about the running of the society by the board under Tony Okoroji.

“His lengthy responses to the issues offered neither reasonable defense nor admittance of wrongdoing. The need to save the society from the highhandedness and gross abuse of office by the then chairman of the board became apparent. Consequently, 6 out of 10 board members present at the emergency board meeting of December 7, 2017 voted for Okoroji’s removal as chairman,” he said.

Some of the reasons given for Okoroji’s removal at the emergency meeting, which attended by a representative of NCC Mr. Obi Ezeilo, include: Dissatisfaction with the clear conflict between him acting as Executive Chairman of COSON, and him acting as a contractor and consultant to COSON through his company TOPS and other vehicles; Dissatisfaction with the continued engagement of companies owned by fellow directors (Azeezat Allen and John Uduegbunam) as consultants to COSON; Disapproval of the manner of handling of an earlier petition by Premier Music Publishing Company Ltd (the owner of over 1,000 musical works and sound recordings), personalisation of the issues and misrepresentation of the directors’ true sentiments in his response to the NCC query on the same petition; Disapproval of the conduct of the chairman on the issue of negotiation and payment of the contractor who handled the renovation work at The COSON House.

Other allegations include; Disapproval of the chairman’s claim of 10 per cent commission on licensing income deemed to have been “brought in” by him; Disapproval of the 15 per cent commission claimed by TOPS/Creative Legal from MTN’s settlement payment and the fact that the sum of N22,500,000.00 was paid out without the knowledge, approval and signature of the finance committee chairman, Joel Ajayi and other members. As a rule, signatories do not sign cheques to themselves as beneficiaries and payments above N2,000,000,00 require board approval; Disagreement with the hurried and illegal dissolution of all standing committees in the absence of key members; Lack of confidence in the credibility and ability of the chairman to superintend any proposed restructuring process that will enthrone world class corporate governance to protect the society from unethical business practices and abuse of office; Disapproval of Okoroji’s request for the board’s approval for COSON to underwrite a quoted sum of N26, 200,000.00 as cost incurred by his company, TOPS in the execution of The COSON Week among other allegations.

But in an interview with The Guardian at the COSON House, Okoroji called on stakeholders and Nigerians in general to disregard statements from the aggrieved members, who he said had been removed as COSON Board members.

“I read somewhere that I ‘hijacked’ the meeting; I don’t know how I could have hijacked a meeting chaired by Prof. Sir Victor Uwaifo. We had representatives of different groups in the industry, Ras kimono was there, KSB, Shina Peters… and I hijacked the meeting? I don’t have such powers. There was nobody at the General Assembly, who was not a member of COSON or a proxy; their views were clearly expressed in a video, which is available on YouTube for anybody to watch,” he said.

While urging the aggrieved members to accept the will of COSON members and work together with his team to deal with issues that will further the interest of musicians in Nigeria, Okoroji said, “the members of COSON have decided that COSON will not be another PMAN, which at a point had four different people claiming to be president of the organisation at the same time. We are working hard; the reconstituted board is already at work; we are working to ensure that we do that which protects the interest of our members.”

He continued: “I want to say again that I’m not interested in any quarrel or finger pointing with anybody whatsoever. I will continue to express my love for any member of COSON and anybody, who wants to do well for the creative community, I want to work with him/her; quarrelling and finger pointing doesn’t help anybody.”

Responding to the allegation of plotting to become a sit tight COSON Chairman, the copyright expert explained, “I do not wish to be chairman of COSON forever; I’m chairman, I believe, because I have the intellect; I understand the subject of copyright, as much as anyone else in Nigeria. With all humility, I can deal with the issues of copyright; I know it. I’ve given my life, not for one day or two days, I have passion for what I do. I have relationship with all the members of COSON across the country and I have the liver to confront those, who oppose this organisation and what it stands for; the results I believe are there for people to see,” he said.

On the alleged infractions raised by the aggrieved members before his removal, Okoroji described them as mere allegations, insisting COSON as an organization is under attack from the outside.

“I’ve said that I do not want to throw banters with anyone; this is one example of half-truth. Yes, the board has the right to elect a chairman, but the General Assembly has the right to annul any decision of the board that it does not like. The General Assembly is the supreme organ of COSON. If the board does something and the General Assembly does not like it, the General Assembly, under our rules, has the right to say, ‘sorry Board, we are the members of COSON, we elected you and we have the right to say no to what you have done.’ It’s in the article 17 of COSON constitution, so, there’s nothing the General Assembly did that it does not have right to do.”

On the allegation of awarding the COSON House project to his personal company, he said, “TOPS is not involved in construction; I don’t do any contract in COSON. The issues they have raised, the management has shown me that they have answered every issue they raised and submitted that to the appropriate authorities of government. At COSON, we have absolutely nothing to hide. How they suddenly discovered these infractions immediately and some of them have been in the board for seven years, I do not understand. But I want to repeat; I don’t want to be involved in quarrel with anybody,” he harped.

Visibly angered by the allegations leveled against him, Okoroji warned, “this is not the first time people have libeled me; I’ve gone to court over and over again. I hope I’m not forced to go to court again because, if you want to say something about me, please have the evidence. I don’t want to go to court and then somebody calls me in the middle of the night to say, ‘you know, we used to be friends…’ If you want to libel me, have your facts.”

He continued: “I’m not a rich person, but I dedicated my life to doing things for everybody. Some of these people fighting me have dedicated their lives to making money; I have nothing against that. I have dedicated my life to serving the creative community and on December 19, 2017, members of COSON showed me that they appreciate the sacrifice that I’ve made. And I’ve promised them that I will work for them as long as God gives me the energy to do this work.”

While extending olive branch to the aggrieved, he said, ‘anybody, who wants to help in this work, is welcomed; even the people who accused me are welcomed. But you can’t force yourself on the members of the society; they have the right to decide who leads them and they have made that decision; it doesn’t matter how many press conferences you called thereafter, it changes nothing. You can’t lead an unwilling people; it’s that simple,” he said.

Recalling incidents that led to his removal as Chairman of COSON, Okoroji explained, “there was no allegation against me. It was an emergency meeting to look at the report of the COSON week; that’s all that was slated. Nobody asked me about any issues; there was no allegation leveled against me. All I heard was somebody saying, ‘I’m moving a motion for the chairman to step down.’ That was what happened. I was in dismay over what brought about that action, but after second thought, I knew that there was a problem from the outside,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Chief Tony Okoroji commenced an indefinite one-man demonstration in front of the Federal High Court, Lagos. He said his action has become necessary to draw the attention of the world to a new and dangerous attempt to destroy the Nigerian judicial system by the blackmail of a Nigerian judge to force him not to deliver a judgment written by him.

Through the protest, which lasted for three days, Okoroji is asking all lawyers and judges in the Nigerian legal system to insist that the case file in Suit No FHC/L/CS/1259/2017 which he said was taken away in bizarre circumstances from Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos, just as he was about to deliver judgment in the suit, be returned to the judge so that he can deliver his judgment and any of the parties dissatisfied with the judgment can proceed to the Court of Appeal.

According to Chief Okoroji, “the key question Justice Buba was scheduled to answer in his judgment is this: Under Nigerian law, is the syndicate known as Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN) truly an approved collecting society and authorized to collect money on behalf of innocent Nigerian musicians?”

Okoroji was insistent that some people desperately do not want that question answered hence the muscling of Justice Ibrahim Buba and the failed machinations to remove him Chairman of COSON.

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