How the Nigerian music industry becomes a warring zone

Jùjú, highlife, fuji, Yo-pop, Afro-jùjú, Afrobeat, Palmwine music, Afroraggae, inter alia, are the Nigerian music that history is replete with in the Nigerian music industry. They are Nigerian Folk and secular music known locally and beyond the West. Bronze carvings in the 16th Century in the present day Nigeria depicted the existence of musicians and their instruments before the European contact. Ronnie Graham, an historian who specialised in West Africa, attributed the success of the Nigerian music industry to the country’s culture and its “thirst for aesthetic and material success and a voracious appetite for life, love and music, and a huge domestic market, big enough to sustain artistes who sing in regional languages and experiment with indigenous styles”. Apart from such artistes as IK Dairo who started to take on new electric instruments imported from the United States and Europe and techniques in Rock N’ roll, soul, and later fun in the 1950s, 60s and 70s which became very popular in Nigeria (and elements of these genres were added to jùjú following World War II), Fela Kuti, Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade, were in the early to mid 1970s, three of the biggest names in the Nigerian music history. The Ghanaian E. T. Mensah was known for his highlife style of music. Bobby Benson & His Combo was the first Nigerian highlife band to find audiences across the country. Jim Lawson & the Mayor’s Dance Band followed. The group achieved national fame in the mid 70s, ending with Lawson’s death in 1976. Rocafil Jazz and Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother” was a pan-African hit that sold more than 13 million copies, more than any other African single of any kind. Today, Nigeria is called “the heart of African music” in line with her music developmental strides.

Thursday, May 20, 2010, would ever remain indelible in the minds of friends and lovers of the Nigeria’s music industry. This day was when the Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr. Adebambo Adewopo announced that the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) has received the Federal Government approval; COSON was going to be the sole copyright collective management organization in the Nigeria’s music industry, as against the Musical Copyright Society Nigeria’s (MCSN) posturing. COSON’s Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji reportedly said, “We are grateful to the NCC for taking this bold decision. The victory is not for any individual but for the entire music industry. There will be no losers as a result of the COSON approval as we intend to find accommodation for everyone regardless of which side of the argument the person may have been on. The approval is not the end of the struggle but the real beginning. We must show that we deserve the trust that has been bestowed on us and must rise to the challenge and work together to bring true benefits to every stakeholder. By the grace of the Almighty, we will not fail”.

The announcement threw up merriments and discords among those whose sole occupation is to earn a living by crooning upon the receipt of the certificate of the approval delivered to COSON by an official of the NCC. The COSON office at number 18, Mojidi Street, off Toyin Street, Ikeja, Lagos State, was flooded by people, and congratulatory messages from the music stakeholders were in piles. Investigation had it that musicians that included Evangelist Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi described the COSON approval as “excellent” and “the work of the Almighty”. Multi award winning sensation, 2Face Idibia painted the development as “sweet and lovely!” while his manager, Mr. Efe Omorogbe exclaimed, “wonderful… wonderful… wonderful!”. Jos based Alhaji Dan Maraya Jos, spoke on the phone and congratulated musicians across Nigeria for what he called “a monumental victory. Ms Onyeka Onwenu wasn’t exempted in the congratulation banquet as it was reported that she was in Abuja when the news filtered the air. Her words: “It may have taken many agonizing years but ultimately the forces of unity within the industry have prevailed over the agents of divide and plunder”.

While musicians that include Sir Victor Uwaifo, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Onyeka Onwenu, Laolu Akins, Dan Maraya Jos, Christy Essien Igbokwe, 2Face Idibia, Sammie Okposo, Olu Maintain, 9ice, Sunny Neji, Rugged Man, DJ Stramborella, Eddy Remedy, Mr. Kool, 2 Shotz, Baba Dee, Bouqui, Rooftop MCs, Kenny Saint Brown, Kefee, Midnite Crew, Eldee De Don, MI, Azeezat, Jazzman Olofin, KC Presh, X Project, Asha, Konga, African China, Owen Gee, Funmi Adams, Majek Fashek, Daniel Wilson, Alex Zitto, Tony Okoroji, Ras Kimono, Stella Monye, Shina Peters, Wale Thompson, Kollington Ayinla, Adewale Ayuba, Orlando Julius, Dekunle Fuji, Lord of Ajasa, Zoolezoo, Ekwe Original Stereoman, Danfo Drivers, Rhymzo, DJ Jimmy Jatt, Muma Gee, AY. Com, ID Cabassa, Klever J, Zidon Poperella, Terry G, Nomoreloss, W4, Omotola Jolade Ekehinde, Yinka Ayefele, OJB Jezreel, Djinee, Blackface, Chris Ajilo and more than one thousand other Nigerian artistes from every part of the country were in jubilation mood as members of COSON which cuts across the spectrum of the music industry in Nigeria, the likes of Charly Boy and Orits Wiliki were crying blue murder over the none-approval of their Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN).

But COSON was not the only organization that applied for the Approval. According to an account, Adewopo said that three organizations had applied for the approval namely: Wireless Application Service Providers Association of Nigeria (Ltd/Gte), Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (Ltd/Gte), and Copyright Society of Nigeria (Ltd/Gte), but that the findings of the Committee set up by the NCC to appraise the applications held that of the COSON in a high esteem. His words: “The application of Copyright Society of Nigeria (Ltd/Gte) demonstrated the highest level of compliance to the statutory and regulatory approval conditions. Furthermore, the Committee also noted that the establishment of COSON followed a broad-based consultative process which allowed for the participation of the majority of stakeholders in the music industry and therefore provided a wider and more accommodating platform to all stakeholders who will make for a stronger and more cohesive collective management”.

NCC could not approve the MCSN, which was in charge of this ‘Collection’ as the (authentic) sole copyright collective management organization in the Nigeria’s music industry, Charles Oputa,( popularly known as Charly Boy) and Orits Wiliki, a strong ally of Charly Boy decided to seeing that Adewopo and Okoroji didn’t rest their cups after drinking. Charly Boy started leading a battle with the COSON led by Tony Okoroji and by extension, Adebambo Adewopo. (Charly Boy is 57. He is a grandfather and son of the revered legal luminary, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa). In an interview with a national newspaper, Charly Boy said that the approval of COSON was “… been powered by those who have exploited us, those never sympathetic to our plight. It’s very interesting to note that most of these people are the ones we fought when I was PMAN president. The same people that were not friendly with we artistes, recording labels that have cheated the artistes and pirates who have defrauded the artistes, are those who make up COSON. This is a huge problem, but this is a fight that must be won and which I am giving my all to”.

When Charly Boy was asked that he’s part of MCSN, which was approved by NCC DG, Adebambo Adewopo, who also doubles as its solicitor. And that for the DG to have approved COSON, many expected him to embrace it, hear him: “How can I embrace a company made up of people who have always been against artistes and who have never cared about artistes’ welfare? Like I told you, the make-up of COSON is questionable. How come we have all the recording companies,

which have been washed away with time, record labels that have not been paying artistes their dues, and known pirates who have metamorphosed into distributors, agents and label owners, all in COSON? Why Adebambo, of all people, would approve such a society beats my imagination. We fought for him because we thought we had a good person who was representing the industry. I know the kind of support he had from MCSN at that point in time. To do a 360 degree turn around is something that beats my imagination. Since it has turned out like this, what we all owe Bambo is to make sure he does not succeed with his plans. I am using this opportunity to call for his resignation because he is not the one to regulate what happens in this industry. You can’t use corruption to fight corruption, it’s not possible…”

Charly Boy reiterated that it was not the alleged low profile that MCSN was maintaining that led Okoroji to floating COSON. He said that for MCSN to have been in charge of collecting over ninety percent of Nigerian artistes’ rights, it must have been doing something good. That most artistes, including Nollywood actors, are all registered with MCSN (before the approval of COSON). Hear him: “I don’t know who COSON is representing. What led to Adebambo’s declaration of COSON as a sole collecting organization is what we need to find out. We shall get to the bottom of it one day. In this day of liberalization, everybody has freedom of belonging to any association of his or her choice. Do you know how many telecommunication companies we have in Nigeria, including political parties?”

Investigations revealed that Ope Banwo, the CEO of Stingomania Entertainment who is a US-based lawyer and a former CEO of Dove Media further commented that the activities of Charly Boy were unproductive. He said that it was ridiculous of Charly Boy to accuse the legal adviser to his own Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) organization of bias for licensing COSON. He described the ‘attack’ by Charly Boy on the leadership of COSON as unfair, irrelevant and libelous. Banwo’s comments were, according to investigation, contained in a release issued by his publicists and made available to journalists.

Hear him: “It is most unfair of Charly Boy to attack the leadership of COSON the way he has done on the pages of newspapers without addressing the issues that are relevant to stakeholders in the industry other for him to say that Tony Okoroji and DG of NCC, Bambo Adewopo are irresponsible…. common sense will suggest that if Bambo (Adewopo) were to be biased, he would have done it in favour of an organization that he is still officially their legal adviser instead of a new entity…. Frankly, I am really curious to understand how Charly Boy could come out and blast Adewopo for licensing COSON. I mean the guy is the legal adviser to your own MCSN from what I hear. If Charly Boy’s own organization’s legal adviser is saying MCSN does not deserve to be re-licensed, what exactly does Charly Boy want us to do? That is clearly a vote of no confidence in him by the most important legal person attached to his organization…. All I want in the collecting body is change and results”. Banwo dared Charly Boy to come out and publish the list of people whose lives got better with his collecting society or the people who received fair compensation for their copyrights. ‘‘I advise Charly Boy to get involved in fights that will produce results and not just fight for fighting sake. I advise Charly Boy to take a leave and allow new and fresh hands like Banky W, MI, Don Jazzy to take over so as to move forward,’’ he had said.

However, on August 12, 2010, the news that Charly Boy had been arrested by the Nigeria Police in Abuja, were sketchy. The alleged arrest was what was described as his breach of public peace and harassment of the Director-General of Nigerian Copyright Commission and was in police custody. Journalists described Charly Boy’s actions as nothing but a display of lawlessness and gangstarism. A statement credited to the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition signed by Onyeka Onwenu, Efe Omorgbe, Laolu Akins, John Udegbunam and Toju Ejueyitchie, investigation revealed that the arrest of Charly Boy might have been necessitated after several reported harassment attempt by Charly Boy and Mayo Ayilaran over refusal of the licence for MCSN by NCC. In a report, Nigerian people were reminded of how the Mayo Ayilaran/Charly Boy led MCSN first applied for approval to the NCC in 1993 when Mr. Moses Ekpo was Director General of the commission. Under Ekpo, NCC refused to approve MCSN based on issues bordering on the accounts and finances of the organization. MCSN rejected the verdict of the Commission and launched a never ending media attack on Ekpo until Mr. Ekpo left office. Ekpo’s successor, Mr. S.O. Williams on similar ground also refused to back the statutory approval of MCSN which resulted in MCSN unleashing a campaign of calumny against Mr. Williams until he died. Similarly, Mr. Williams’ successor, Professor Eyinna Nwauche also vehemently rejected the approval of MCSN. MCSN in 2004 used Charly Boy and his thugs to harass and hound Professor Nwauche leading to his withdrawal from the NCC. The successor to Professor Nwauche and present Director-General of NCC, Mr Adebambo Adewopo who himself was once a lawyer to MCSN, also rejected the approval of MCSN. Once again, MCSN hired Charly Boy to use thugs to hound, harass, intimidate and blackmail Adewopo. It is time Charly Boy and his MCSN gang are clearly told that Nigeria is a nation of laws. This writer investigated that Mr. Charles Oputa (presently) does not hold any recognized leadership position of any type in the Nigerian music industry. “He is clearly behind times and not conversant with the present thinking in the industry,” reiterated the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition. Going further, the Coalition group said that Charles Oputa has not participated in any of the negotiations and discussions which have taken place in the last one year and which are responsible for the recent stability and positive developments the industry is enjoying. He is not a spokesperson for the music industry and his ranting in no way represents the view or position of the Nigerian music industry.

Nigerian Music Industry Coalition had said that the backward views which Charly Boy was suddenly promoting without shame in various newspaper and magazine articles represented the desires of those who had employed and paid him to create confusion and scuttle the progress (presently) being made by the music industry in Nigeria both in the collective management of copyright and the now portent battle against piracy. It is clear that Mr. Charles Oputa, the self professed “area farther”, the report said, was willing to do anything to gain publicity, but has been deployed to scatter the huge progress presently being made by the music industry in Nigeria. Further, the 57 year old “Charly Boy” who forced his way into the leadership of PMAN destroyed the association and left the music industry in total disarray and confusion was clearly unhappy that without him the industry is achieving the kind of progress he was incapable of promoting. So he is ranting and ranting. He has ganged up with the enemies of the industry, who like him, have been feeding fat from the toils of Nigerian artistes. Now they want to tear down COSON, one of the biggest achievements of the Nigerian creative community in years.

Notwithstanding, Charly Boy who was not comfortable with Onyeka Onwenu fought back when a reporter asked him in the interview: “What do you think of Onyeka Onwenu’s involvement in COSON?” Hear Charly Boy: “We all know the antecedents of Onyeka. For the few artistes in COSON, they are ignorant because they don’t understand the issues on ground. We have a lot of artistes out there who still don’t understand what copyright is all abo

ut. It’s unfortunate that because of the quest for survival, most artistes are ignorant of what they could do with their rights. There is a lot of awareness to be done and we’ve started something by instructing that if any fake person comes to make demands from them, they should ask for the Deed of Assignment…What is happening is wrong. People know my fight as PMAN president and were aware of our stand because we thought Bambo was unjustly victimized. We all rallied round him to make sure that he was not sacked. It was from this fight that we created the Federation of Intellectual Property Owners (FIPO) and part of FIPO’s mandate at that time was to make sure that we secure Bambo’s appointment as DG of NCC. Now we have realised that things have gone so bad, compared to how we left it, I have decided to come back, especially in this circumstance, because people recognize me as an artiste first before being a social engineer…Bambo’s time is up, he has lots of explanations to do. I won’t reveal our strategy to get him out of the office, but it’s going to come. I am going to lead the battle. If I fought and succeeded in making sure that Bambo was retained as DG of NCC, I can equally rally the industry to see that Bambo is removed”.

Written by
Odimegwu Onwumere
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