In the Beginning
Following the failures and lacklustre set-up of past artist representative bodies like The Nigeria Copyright Council, Music Collective Society of Nigeria (MCSN) and the Performing Musicians of Nigeria (PMAN), the fate of Nigerian artist laid prostrate as piracy and infringement of copyrights held sway in the land. Hence in 2009, an agreement that had previously been proposed as far back as 2000 to collapse all existing collective right structures into one finally gave birth to the formation of The Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). COSON was officially birthed on May 20, 2010 and in nearly eight years has been riddled with more controversies than achievements.
In 2009, three organisations applied to be approved as collective management organisations for the Nigerian music industry. The organisations were COSON, MCSN and WASPAN. Only COSON was approved by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) as it had the biggest involvement of the actors in this whole game: The Nigerian artists alongside national associations like PMAN, NARI, MORAN and AMB all affiliated with the COSON leadership. No sooner had COSON had this victory than it began to battle court cases with Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) who refused to accept the decision and challenged the body all the way to the Supreme Court, where they eventually lost.
Ever since its registration as the solely approved music CMO in Nigeria, the body which prides itself as Africa’s fastest-growing collective management society for musical works and sound recordings have had unending court cases mainly instituted by the MCSN challenging the NCC for discrediting its application, but approving COSON’s.
After years of incessant court cases, COSON had its way and were fully licensed to collect royalty and other rights on behalf of Nigerian artists. It is worthy of note that in April 2017, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had directed the NCC to approve MCSN as a collective society. This directive raised further unresolved questions.
COSON’S FEATS THUS FAR
Perhaps Tony Okoroji’s biggest contribution since his leadership is the construction of the COSON House in Ikeja which was commissioned on May 20 2017 giving the body a home and creating a legacy that will outlast his name. It was also under his leadership that the ‘No Music Day’ which directs that all broadcast stations and major users of music across the country are not to broadcast any form of Nigerian music between the hours of 8am-10am on September 1st of every year (though with very little success), this move was made to focus attention of music users and consumers on the widespread infringement of the rights of composers and stakeholders in the Nigerian music industry.
Outside setting up the body’s digital platform, COSON Licensing Application Platform (CLAP), he also championed the successful COSON week last year which ended with the keenly contested awards night. He is also credited with winning major landmark judgements against hoteliers, telecommunication giants and radio stations which has seen a sufficient amount of royalties paid to artists yearly.
After seven years as Chairman of the body, Thursday, December 7 2017 supposedly witnessed a new dawn as the body announced a change in its leadership with the appointment of talent manager and Now Muzik boss, Efe Omorogbe who is also a founding member of the collective society and was elected into the board of trustees in 2012 as its new chairman. The announcement was made by the likes of veteran artist and COSON director Dare ‘Baba Dee’ Fasasi alongside Obi Asika, who is also a founding COSON director.
Speaking after the election, Baba Dee stated that ‘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’’. Mr Obi Asika, co-founder of CABAL Ent went further to praise the ousted chairman, “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… it is on record that during his tenure, COSON made giant strides… However we are confident that we are moving forward in the right direction and we know that COSON will continue to benefit from Chief Tony Okoroji’s reservoir of goodwill and knowledge”. The election had in attendance 10 board members who voted 6:4 in favour of the removal of Tony Okoroji with a representative from the NCC, Mr Obi Ezeilo present to record the votes.
But in a swift turn of events on Tuesday, December 19 2017, the COSON general assembly under the chairmanship of Sir Victor Uwaifo condemned the election that led to the emergence of Efe Omorogbe and reinstalled Tony Okoroji and reconstituted his board which includes the likes of Azeezat Allen, Ras Kimono, Sir Shina Peters and Kenny Saint Best to continue running the affairs of the house till the next Annual General Meeting of the society in May 2018.
“I attended an emergency board meeting that called for a specific matter. Suddenly, I was told to step down, with no prior notice, no charges, no hearing, nothing. I understood immediately that a conspiracy had been hatched. It was a coup. I saw some of the people I used to eat and drink with, with bloodshot eyes, desperately trying to find something to hang on my neck! I knew instantly that the coup was sponsored by elements outside of COSON.
“I am sensitive to anything that would destroy COSON or damage the great brand that we have painstakingly built through unbelievable toil. I did not want any controversy around COSON. I did not want COSON to become another PMAN. I do not have an office, cubicle or desk at COSON House which I laboured to build. I had nothing to pack. So, I picked up my laptop and left COSON House without complaining to anyone.” Tony Okoroji said in an interview shortly after the announcement.
In his response, Efe Omorogbe released a statement explaining that respected stakeholders and COSON founding fathers like Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Mr Laolu Akins and Chief Rogers Okonkwo amongst others saw the need to save the society from the highhandedness and gross abuse of office by the Tony Okoroji led board. He also accused Tony Okoroji of financial misappropriations in his 9 point statement and referred to the event of December 19 2017 as an illegality. He alleges that ‘Mr Okoroji also paid himself the sum of N22,500,000 (Twenty-Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira) through his company TOPS Limited from MTN’s settlement payment for royalties without the knowledge, approval and signature of both the finance committee chairman, Mr Joel Ajayi and other board members, which contradicts COSON rule that all payments above N2,000,000 (Two Million) must be approved by the board’
Efe Omorogbe’s position is strengthened by a petition to the Nigerian Copyright Commission, NCC, dated December 20, 2017. The management society listed the disapproval of Mr Okoroji’s request for the board’s approval for COSON to underwrite a quoted sum of N26,200,000 (Twenty-Six Million, Two Hundred Thousand Naira) as cost incurred by his company, TOPS Limited in the execution of the COSON Week 2017. The petition also noted that for three (3) years in a row the board has had to approve the bill, with no oversight, no tenders, noting that the board was no longer prepared to allow the Chairman (Mr Okoroji) to consume COSON.
It further revealed that the manner in which Omorogbe’s board was dissolved and Okoroji reinstated as Chairman in a motion sponsored by Mr Okoroji, is contrary to the procedures set out in Articles 17 of the Memorandum and Articles of Association (MEMART), which states that “only the Chairman of the board (who as at the date of the new election was Efe Omorogbe) can validly preside and convene such a meeting”.
“We, therefore, request your intervention as a regulator to save the industry from the damaging actions of Tony Okoroji and his collaborators who in an attempt to avoid the much-needed change and maintain status quo, seem hell-bent on setting the industry back by decades.
“We implore you as regulator to declare the purported actions as illegal, null and void, directing the board to return to the status quo as at the 7th of December 2017 when the chairman was removed for gross misconduct and abuse of office contrary to all corporate governance ethical codes and contraventions of section 254 (1b (ii) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act”, the petition to NCC read.’
Tony Okoroji who turned 60 in December and his board have already swung into action as they led a delegation to the burial of the father of one of their members in Imo State recently. It will be interesting to see how this drama unfolds. As at the time of writing this article, Efe Omorogbe has called for a Press Conference on the COSON situation and promised to fight this till the very end.
In a press release signed yesterday by the Omorogbe faction consisting of Efe Omorogbe, Dare Fasasi, Obi Asika, Audu Maikori, Sikiru Agboola, Joel Ajayi and Paul Okeugo:
“To those who say the on-going conversation is exposing the CMO to public ridicule, we say on the contrary, this is defending the integrity of COSON. By stating the TRUTH about Okoroji’s sack and demanding probe we are indeed reassuring the public that the society will not tolerate unethical and illegal practices. The COSON well-meaning people want to associate and deal with is the one Okoroji’s actions are threatening to destroy.”
Okoroji’s sack as COSON president still stands.