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Tony Okoroji, COSON Board chairman
Chief Tony Okoroji is an enigma, short and simple. Anybody who counts him out does so at his own risk. Over and over again, when you think Okoroji is done and finished, he bounces back.
The brain behind turning PMAN into a major national symbol and year after year, produced the unbeatable Nigerian Music Awards that got Nigerians, from President Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha, Vice President Augustus Aikhomu, Basorun M.K.O. Abiola, Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu, and Nigeria’s most famous stars of all colours and stars from around the world, to solicit to rub shoulders with Nigerian musicians, continues to stand firm.
Almost everything has been thrown at the songwriter, performer, prolific writer, author, syndicated columnist and arguably one of Africa’s staunchest experts in copyright and related rights. Okoroji, one of the drafters of the Nigerian copyright law whose popular mantra is “I drive on a full tank of faith” continues to drive on.
The respected manager of men who is Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Nigeria’s biggest copyright collective management organisation, in this interview, gives insight into the magic that keeps him keeping on and on.
Some people are beginning to think that you are indestructible. With all the bazookas that have been fired at you, you are still smiling and walking tall as if nothing is happening. How do you do it?
No one is indestructible. Only the Almighty is. I am reconciled with the fact that someday, each of us will pass on; everybody will and it does not matter how rich or poor you are, how beautiful or ugly you are, how famous or unknown you are, death will come. So, I do not spend my time worrying about death which will come. I spend every minute I have trying to do something that will positively affect as many people as possible. Those who know me well know that I am 100% committed to the welfare of creative people in Nigeria. I am sworn to it. No threat can stop my commitment. No propaganda will stop my resolve and no intimidation will change my commitment. I am not a talker, I am a doer
I also know that none of us is going to be buried with any big car, any big house or billions of naira thrown into the grave. While I have nothing against those who have made the pursuit of these material things their purpose in life, I am not driven by personal wealth. I am driven by positive change.
There is a story that made the rounds that in December 2020, you were abducted in Lagos. Please clear the air. What happened?
During the Covid 19 lock down of 2020, there was significant suffering of Nigerian musicians. Because there was no entertainment activity going on in the country, very few were earning any income. I received many calls from musicians across the country desperately asking for help. Many were flat broke with no money to even buy Panadol to deal with their headache. I had to summon a virtual meeting of the COSON Board and a decision was taken that we immediately send some money to all our members to help them deal with the devastating situation.
It is on record that COSON was the first organization in Nigeria to offer any form of COVID 19 palliative to its members and this was done without any quarrel or rancour. Our members were very happy and expressed this happiness in telephone calls and several hundreds of posts on social media. I believe that in the action, COSON showed itself as a responsible and responsive organization.
Sadly, some mischief makers, part of the cabal of non-musicians that has sought to pocket COSON and turn it into their private ATM, fabricated a petition of lies which they circulated to various security agencies saying that there is no evidence that anyone received any money from the anti-Covid 19 distribution paid to thousands of COSON members not in cash but by verifiable bank transfer. We have complete records with names, bank details and telephone number of each of the thousands of recipients of the anti-Covid 19 special distribution.
It was based on this fabrication and blatant falsehood that on December 14, 2020, the eve of our 2020 AGM, an evil attempt was made by armed hired agents of the state, to abduct me in Lagos, whisk me away to Benin in the middle of the night and probably waste me along the way. In the execution of their devious plan, the Almighty intervened. While I was abducted, my abductors could not take me away from Lagos. God freed me.
Those who planned the abduction also brought many people by bus from Benin and elsewhere and gathered to take over COSON House, our beautiful headquarters, built without one kobo of government money and no loan whatsoever, the only structure of its kind fully owned by musicians in Nigeria, a legacy edifice. They bussed in all kinds of characters on the day of our 2020 AGM, believing that I would have been abducted out of the way and caged in Benin. In fact, the social media was filled with the falsehood that I was being quizzed by police in Benin. Meanwhile I was in Lagos at COSON House presiding over meetings. The Almighty scuttled their plans.
We have heard that men of the defunct SARS even stormed COSON House to take over the place. Is that true?
Very true. In 2019, about 12 heavily armed men of the dreaded and now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) from Abuja, stormed COSON House, our usually spotlessly clean, calm and professionally run headquarters to torment our workers. It took some telephone calls to get them to withdraw. That was one of the reasons I had no hesitation in taking part in the #endsars demonstration. SARS had become an instrument of evil.
You know that they have used every dubious legal trick to freeze nearly all COSON bank accounts making it impossible for us to continue to distribute money to our innocent members. Their game is to drive us away so that when we are gone, the few of them can feast on the money that we have worked so hard to earn to make life better for musicians in Nigeria. One afternoon, not long after I came back from a medical trip, the news came that the remaining bank accounts of COSON had been frozen. Would you believe it that the accounts of TOPS, my personal business, has been frozen, my personal domiciliary account has been frozen and my personal Naira account has also been frozen? I cannot write a cheque, do any bank transfer or even ATM. Wickedness of the worst kind! For over one year, all my accounts remain frozen. From where did the court order to freeze these accounts emanate? From a little-known Magistrate Court in the outskirts of Abuja, in a case in which neither COSON nor myself is a party.
The staff of COSON and I have been subjected to the never-ending and mentally tormenting multiple and simultaneous invitations and threats of arrest from DSS, EFCC from Lagos and Abuja, Police from Lagos, Benin, Abuja, etc. The only people we have not heard from are the Boys Brigade and Boys Scout! That is why we went to court against the IGP, the DSS and EFCC together with Stanbic Bank and they were ordered by the Federal High Court, Abuja to show cause for the treatment they have meted to us. We are not crazy. If we have anything to hide, we could not have gone to court against the nation’s top investigative agencies. By now, they would have opened our files and messed us up in public. The truth is that we have done absolutely nothing wrong. We have only dedicated ourselves to diligently serve our profession and our country. The security agencies have been deployed by evil men to torment us but as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”. Let me make it clear that I will not stand at attention before a cow and salute it because of its size.
Who and who is part of this cabal that you talk about?
We know the people who have led the attack against COSON and are desperately determined to hijack our organisation. They are people who have never truly played music in their lives or have they any real stake in the music industry. None of them is a true musician, performer or publisher of music but they have attached themselves to the industry with Velcro. Please check them out. Despite their loud mouths, none of them has ever done anything of substance for the musicians of Nigeria. They are carpetbaggers, “guy men” and scammers who have done nothing for the industry but want to be beneficiaries of our hard work and are consumed by greed and their desire to grab COSON and milk it. Their greed became unbearable when we commissioned the magnificent COSON House in Ikeja. They said to themselves, “to build this edifice without borrowing any money, COSON must be a gold mine. We must take it over!”
I can say with 100% certainty that no one at COSON House has a catapult not to talk of a penknife. I do not see how anyone at COSON can be said to be in any way a threat to national security. So, what exactly is our business with DSS? I have also said it before that we have no access to one naira of government funds. We do not do money laundering, we do not do oil bunkering, we do not do ‘yahoo-yahoo’ or internet fraud of any kind. We do not deal in drugs and we are not engaged in any criminal activity of any sort. What is our business with EFCC? We have never picked the pocket of anyone not to talk of robbery. What were the heavily armed men of SARS doing at COSON House? But they have kept hunting us. There is no big money in any of my accounts that will suggest that it is the proceed of any crime and they know it. Why are they freezing my accounts?
Without any question, in an increasingly lawless Nigeria with all manner of bandits and scammers operating openly and nearly all great institutions of state captured and destroyed by men who have no soul, the objective has been to use the agencies of the state to subject us to mental torture, terrorize us, overwhelm us, drive us away and turn COSON, the beautiful organization we have built for the welfare of Nigerian musicians, into their personal ATM and gold mine.
They have practically taken control of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, an organization some of us fought very hard to build to protect and promote the rights and interests of the creative people of Nigeria. Regrettably, the NCC has become their SPV and a tool of the devil with its main objective being the destruction of COSON and the denial of the constitutional rights of our members. They appear prepared to tell any lies and destroy anybody to gain control of COSON or to kill it. Let me repeat that I will not stand at attention before a cow and salute it because of its size.
You have retained the significant support of COSON members despite the deluge of attack on your person and character. How come?
It is said that a clear conscience fears no accusation. I believe that the musicians of Nigeria know me. I am one of the most investigated persons in this country. If my key desire was to make money for myself, it cannot be at COSON. I have enough contacts and goodwill in the country that I can deploy for that purpose. I did not know that the Nigerian Financial Investigation Unit (NFIU) a special federal government agency which I never knew existed, had been asked to investigate me. It was only after we sued the IGP that the facts came out. They have details of every naira that has entered or left my accounts in the last several years even money I gave to my wife to buy food! There is no transaction in any of my accounts that I cannot defend. I wonder why they have not published their findings.
Despite the bazookas relentlessly targeted at COSON, our membership continues to grow. Let me repeat that I am 100% committed to the welfare of creative people in Nigeria. I am sworn to it. No threat can stop my commitment. No propaganda will stop my resolve and no intimidation will change my obligation.
What of the call for the forensic audit of COSON?
Yes, about two and half years ago, those intent on hijacking COSON, people who were sleeping while we were building, were all over social media shouting that COSON is not accountable and that there had to be a forensic audit of COSON on top of the statutory audits we have done every year without fail, something no organization in the Nigerian creative industry has ever done.
To set the records straight, our Board invited one of the most reputed and trusted auditing firms in the world to do a forensic audit of COSON. Instructions were given to all operatives at COSON to give unfettered and unhindered access of every COSON record and document to the auditors.
For over seven months, the auditors inspected thousands of documents at COSON, contacted every bank in Nigeria with respect to COSON, went through bank records, invoices, receipts, minutes of minutes, etc, and interviewed several officials of COSON including myself, several times. A temporary office was indeed set up at COSON House for the operation of the auditors to make sure that they did a thorough job.
I am very proud to say that after this intense process, no fraud or misappropriation of any funds of any kind was discovered at COSON. I make bold to say that if every Nigerian organization is run at the standard of COSON, Nigeria will be a sweet country to live in.