Tosin Ajirie; Tony Ogaga
The Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) is in deep crisis.
Established in 2010 to license users of music for commercial purposes, collect and distribute royalties to the owners of the used works, COSON remains the only collective management organisation in the country.
However, the crisis rocking COSON started with a petition dated October 30, 2017 and addressed to the management board of the organisation as well as signed by industry heavyweights and founding board members including veteran juju musician, Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, Mr Bode Akinyemi, CEO, Ivory Music, Chief Rogers Okonkwo, CEO, Rogers All Stars Records, Chief Ossy Afasson, CEO, Ossy Affason Ltd., Laolu Akintobi aka Laolu Akins, ace composer, singer and producer, and Mr Toju Ejueyitchie, CEO, Premier Music.
In the petition, the stakeholders revealed that the society has been able to grow its royalty earnings tremendously from a paltry N20 million when it was established in 2010 to N345 million in 2016. However, they pointed out that if the organisation had adhered strictly to the copyright regulation that allows a maximum 30 per cent deduction for administrative cost, royalties due to members would have been much more bigger that what were actually distributed. The implication of this was that the actual amount being paid to the artistes was far less than what was approved by the Board.
Raising a red flag, the petitioners said: “We are concerned that the distribution policy of the Society is rather opaque and appears not to be fair. Furthermore, it does not seem that much effort is being made to make the process better. A transparent and fair distribution policy would encourage content creators to be more prolific and creative, and financial investors in creative works would invest more.”
On COSON Week, though the petitioners applauded the idea behind the project, saying, “it made sense as a means of creating awareness for what COSON was about”, they queried the unethical practice of having companies affiliated to one or more directors of the Society being involved in organising and promoting the event. This, they said, was against article 3(6) of the MEMART of COSON.
The stakeholders also raised concern that the “Society is looking like a monopoly that is being run by a dictator” and “it does not appear to be one in which alternate views are allowed to provide increase efficiency and effectiveness. If care is not taken, this will ultimately be the undoing of the organisation”.
According to Efe Omorogbe, COSON board member and CEO, Now Music, a company that manages the affairs of pop star, Tuface Idibia and some other top Nigerian artistes, when it seemed change was not forthcoming and it was still business as usual in the organisation, they were compelled to convene an emergency board meeting on December 7, 2017 at the COSON House, Ikeja, Lagos where all the grievances were tabled and ironed out.
“The purpose of the meeting was among others, to confront the chairman, Tony Okoroji to respond to a number of issues, which had been raised both within and outside the management board of COSON. The issues had caused a lot of negative press but over the time had eroded the confidence reposed in COSON and also negatively affected the perception of COSON as a transparent, professional and ethical body,” he said.
Omorogbe, who listed other issues causing disaffection among members and tearing the organisation apart, said after hours of deliberations, with no satisfactory explanation from Okoroji, the board decided to move a motion for his immediate removal as chairman.
Hear Omorogbe: “When the matters were presented to Mr. Okoroji at the said meeting of 7th of December, 2017, he did not have any cogent or reasonable explanation for his actions. Following this, the board moved a motion for the immediate removal of Mr. Okoroji as Chairman and the election of another board member as the new Chairman of the board. In attendance were 10 board members including Mr. Obi Ezello (representative of Nigerian Copyright Commission), who conducted and recorded the board votes when Okoroji was removed.”
Following Okoroji’s alleged sack, the board voted Efe Omorogbe as chairman and with immediate effect, banned directors and their companies from operating as vendors or consultants to COSON under any guise. The board also commenced engagement with PWC and KPMG for auditing and strategic growth support.
Nevertheless, a counter coup was staged a few days after the purported sack of Tony Okoroji. At the center of the coup were iconic highlife musician, Victor Uwaifor and other stakeholders.
Citing Section 8 of Memorandum and Articles of Association (MEMART) of COSON, which states “notwithstanding any provision in these articles, the General Assemble shall be the supreme organ of the society with powers to vary, annul or otherwise modify any decision or action of the Management Board”, a general assembly was convened and Okoroji was returned as chairman.
While reacting to the coup and counter coup, Okoroji said he has no interest whatsoever in quarrelling with any of his colleagues. In his words: “At this stage in my life, I am only interested in doing things that add value to the lives of as many people as possible. My commitment to the Nigerian creative community is not negotiable. It is of course now well known, that on December 7, a press release was sent out declaring that I had stepped down as Chairman of COSON. The entire process or lack of process was bizarre. I attended what was an emergency COSON board meeting to review the 2017 COSON Week, a specific matter. Suddenly, I was told to step down, with no prior notice, no charges, no hearing, nothing.
“I did not need to be told that a conspiracy had been hatched. A coup was in the offing. In the job that I do, I step on many toes on behalf of the musicians I swore to represent. There is also the fact that COSON, which I lead, has grown in leaps and bounds. COSON, which nobody gave a chance a few years ago, has become a major Nigerian success story with significant resources. Without doubt, COSON has become very attractive and suddenly, everybody wants to control COSON. I understood that there were forces outside of COSON working with forces within COSON determined to get rid of me. They were in a hurry. When you are faced with such a situation, there is no argument that can help you. The decision had been made and nothing you say will change anything. I saw people I considered my friends, people I used to eat and drink with, with blood shot eyes, desperately trying to find something to hang on my neck!
“I am determined that what happened to PMAN would not happen to COSON. I am very sensitive to anything that would destroy COSON or damage the fantastic brand we have meticulously built through incredible toil. I was concerned about a major controversy around COSON. I laboured weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays to build the magnificent COSON House, the only structure of such standard in the Nigerian creative community. We did not get any assistance from anyone, including the government to build COSON House. We did not take a loan from any bank. COSON House belongs to Nigerian musicians forever and was delivered on schedule.
“I refused to have an office allocated to me at COSON House. I do not have a cubicle or desk at COSON House. I requested that the walls in the section of the building originally earmarked for the office of the chairman and his secretary and P.A. to be brought down and the roof raised. That is what is now known as the COSON Arena where we hold meetings, conferences and other events with the best technology you can find anywhere.
“I had nothing to pack at COSON. So, I picked up my laptop and left COSON House without complaining to anyone. I went to my private office at TOPS, which is not far from COSON House to work. I did not think there was anything to be gained if I showed anger because of what had just happened. I did not want to give the enemies of COSON the pleasure. I remained calm and prayed to the Almighty to take over. Twelve days later on December 19, members of COSON from every corner of the nation met at COSON House. It was a scheduled Extra-Ordinary General Meeting scheduled before the events of December 7. That meeting was the first to be held in our new building. In the interest of peace, I decided to stay away from the meeting of the General Assembly. I was at work when I received a phone call from one of the most revered COSON members, Prof Victor Uwaifo. Apparently, he had been elected to chair the meeting of the General Meeting. He informed me that members of COSON had insisted on seeing me. I tried to argue with him but he was insistent.
“Thereafter, the COSON General Manager, Mr. Chinedu Chukwuji called me saying the same thing. In our industry, you do not say no to a legend like Sir Victor Uwaifo. So, I went to COSON House, the first time in twelve days, and found the place overflowing with COSON members. The reception I received from the members of COSON will remain in my heart for the rest of my life. As I entered the COSON House Arena, the explosion of love and respect by COSON members for my life long dedication to the cause of the Nigerian creative industry was overwhelming. I cried.
“At COSON House, I saw people’s power the way I had never seen it in Nigeria. The members were emphatic that they do not recognise nor accept any change in the leadership of COSON and resolved that the Board be immediately reconstituted without the persons behind the sad events of December 7. They kept singing and singing. The entire proceeding was captured on video and anyone can see it on Youtube. I hope that one day, Nigerians will have the opportunity to see what happened at COSON House on December 19, 2017. There are many lessons to be learnt from it in the development of our nation.
“We have reconstituted our board to inject fresh blood into the decision making process at COSON and to drive the society towards greater achievements in 2018. We now have on the board such well-known names in our industry as Sir Shina Peters, Ras Kimono, Azeezat, KSB, Richard Cole, and John Udegbunam etc. These are people who have shown unwavering commitment to the success of the COSON vision. I am very happy that instead of one female, we now have three on our board. That I believe is significant progress in terms of representation for the teaming number of wonderful female practitioners in our industry.”
On the allegation of running COSON without due process, Okoroji had this to say: “Naturally, you will expect that the coup plotters will concoct some cock and bull story to justify their perfidy. Is that not the way of coup plotters? Ask anyone to show you any organisation in the history of the Nigerian creative industry that has been run in a more transparent and accountable way than COSON. Why do you think that COSON has become a major Nigerian success story? It is because COSON has been run at world standard. If COSON was a failure, no one would be interested in the organisation. Each and every allegation made by these individuals has been answered in detail and the answers sent to the relevant authorities. At COSON, we have absolutely nothing to hide and we are set to make even more progress.”
WAITING FOR NCC
Meanwhile, sources close to Omorogbe disclosed that he is unrelenting, as he and his group are eagerly waiting for the response to the petition they addressed to the Director General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), Mr Afam Ezekude.