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The Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) recently rounded off its biennial week-long showpeace event tagged COSON Week, with a stunning lecture that attracted, just like other of its components, the cream of the creative community in the country. This, among other activities of COSON, was pulled of under harsh prevailing realities being faced by the Collecting Management Organisation, including freeze of its bank accounts. In this interview with www.beats-onit.com, the COSON management board Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji reveals how it all happened and also the relationship between COSON the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) among other relevant issues.
COSON Week 2019 ended recently on a brilliant note with the incisive lecture delivered by Mr. Emeka Mba. What are your impressions on the week-long event?
I am exceedingly happy. The 2019 COSON Week was a massive success. Everything went exactly as planned. I always listen attentively to the reaction of people who experience the different events I help to organize. That is how I get better and better. Every event I organize should be an experience for anyone who attends; something he or she cannot forget for many years. I believe that people were excited by each of the events of the 2019 COSON Week. They were happy.
A keen follower of the biennial COSON Week will observe that some constant components of the event, like the awards, Music Machine magazine and even the children’s angle introduced at the previous edition were missing. What could be responsible for the development?
I may be chairman of COSON but I am not COSON. I work with a group of very brilliant people both on the board and in management. We have built an institution in which very vigorous discussions take place on practically everything we do There were people in the organization who expressed the opinion that because of recent events we should jettison the 2019 COSON Week. There were also people who said that recent events make it imperative for us to have a full blown 2019 COSON Week. Each group was very passionate with its position. The COSON Week has become a crucial platform for the extension of our brand and engaged communication with our different publics. My critical role as chairman is to build as much consensus as possible within the organization and ensure that no matter what challenges we face, we continue to drive our objectives. That consensus was arrived at by designing a 2019 COSON Week that achieved the basic objectives of the week without offending the sensibilities of any of the groups. At the end of the day, most of our people are happy with the outcome.
One of the lessons of the 2019 COSON Week is that in future, the character and make-up of the week might differ from edition to edition. As you recalled, in 2017, we introduced the Children’s Day at COSON House which was not in the previous editions and the COSON Week in 2017 went on for eight days instead of the traditional 7 days. Who knows what will happen in 2021?
Given the running battle COSON has been having with some banks over what has been described as the illegal freezing of its accounts, how were you able to pull off such a stunning week-long COSON Week this time around?
I believe that true leadership is best seen during a period of adversity. With the bombs that have been thrown at COSON following our rapid success, many expected COSON to have withered and died. Thankfully, God has given one the skills to manage adversity and those skills are presently on display. For many years, I have organized some of the most successful events in Nigeria. The skills and experience are today available to COSON for free. I also have significant experience in institutional brand building. That experience is also available to COSON for free. My knowledge of our subject matter, the terrain and contacts built over the years have been significant assets. I do not want to fool you that it has been easy. Tough challenges require tough people but the truth is that the 2019 COSON Week was done at minimal cost to COSON because a lot of the assets that would have cost some other organizations a lot of money were available to COSON free of charge or at significantly reduced cost.
For many observers and those who were privileged to be at the 2019 COSON Lecture, it would pass as the crowning glory of the entire COSON Week. The roll call of dignitaries at the Lecture such as the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) Board Chairman and the Attorney-General of the Federation among others would signify a new rapprochement and rapport between COSON and NCC.How do you react to this?
My overriding interest is to defend the interest of Nigerian artistes and ensure that they obtain the fruit of their labour. I will never negotiate that overriding interest. I have had to pay a huge price for my position but I have no regrets. Please understand me; I have no problems with the NCC as an institution but with some of its management staff who are misbehaving in the name of the commission and messing up what should be a great Nigerian institution. Please quote me: No one in Nigeria wants the NCC to succeed more than Chief Tony Okoroji. I risked my life and engaged in dangerous demonstrations to have the NCC set up. I was one of the people who wrote the law setting up the NCC. I served twice on the board of the NCC. I know the NCC. The NCC was set up primarily to improve the living standards of Nigerian artistes, actors, writers, film makers, etc. and the people who invest in such industries. The NCC was not set up to serve the narrow self-interest of some of its management staff or to promote their egos or to make them rich. The NCC certainly was not set up to install chairmen and directors in private sector organizations in the creative sector or to promote the cabals in the sector who with them want to control and milk these organizations. Please note that anytime the NCC loses its way, I will complain. I am certainly happy for any rapprochement between the NCC, the AGF and COSON.
Should NCC continue its antagonism against COSON in the coming days, what do you think the effect would be on the creative community in Nigeria?
The worst thing that can happen to the NCC is for the same people who campaigned for it to be set up to begin a sustained campaign for it to be scrapped. You would have noticed that for the first time in nine years, COSON did not have any EGM this December and no royalty distribution was announced. Some staff of the NCC must take full responsibility for bringing about this very sad and retrogressive development which has denied thousands of members of COSON millions of Naira in income which for several years they had begun to take for granted. What has been done in the name of the NCC to punish COSON is the exact opposite of what the NCC was set up for. The incoherence in the ‘directives’ given in the name of the NCC to COSON and the actions taken against COSON by the NCC are mind boggling. COSON members are very angry and have every right to be angry. I however counsel them to be patient as we are paying a price for our success. I am confident that our members will prevail. All hands are on deck and whatever they have lost, they will regain.
Do you see a positive way forward in the on- going imbroglio?
I believe that the presence of the Chairman of the NCC Governing Board, Dr. Tonye Clinton Jaja at the COSON Lecture was a very positive development. He showed leadership. Dr Jaja was able to experience the high-quality event organized by COSON, a Nigerian institution, in a world class building owned by this Nigerian institution. He witnessed the high quality turn out, the high tech presentation and the level of discussions. He had an opportunity to freely interact with COSON members and to make up his mind whether COSON is an institution that Nigeria should be proud of or one our nation should kill. The COSON Lecture series has easily become Nigeria’s most sought after event for the discussion of creativity, content and all-round developments in intellectual property.
I have no doubt that some of the NCC management people would have tried to discourage the chairman from coming to COSON House because they do not want him to know the truth. If you noticed, he barely spoke. He was watching and taking notes. Nobody can hide the truth forever.