Face of Agulu


Tony Okoroji

Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Chief Tony Okoroji, has described as ‘huge’ the recent agreement between COSON and the broadcasting industry in Nigeria represented by Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) and Independent Broadcasters Association of Nigeria (IBAN).

Chief Okoroji was addressing some members of COSON who had stormed COSON Headquarters in Ikeja to congratulate him and celebrate the agreement, days after the high profile event at Eko Hotel & Suites where the documents were signed. The intellectual property activist whose work across Africa is widely acknowledged and whose leadership and doggedness won the battle for the COSON-BON/IBAN pact said, “the many people who have described the agreement as ‘historic’ are correct. It is a watershed moment. By the agreement, the entire broadcasting industry across Nigeria undertakes to start immediately to pay for the music which they had for many years used for free. They will also make some payments for the works which they had previously used. Beyond the money, this instantly uplifts the status of creative people in Nigeria and changes the nature of our relationship with users of our works. The whole concept of intellectual property is no longer just a theory in Nigeria. It has finally come to life. This will have a massive impact on our economy down the road”.


Asked how he feels about the members of COSON who stabbed the struggle in the back, the former president of PMAN said, “The victory is not mine. It belongs to all Nigerians and every single person in Nigeria’s creative enterprise including those who may not have shared our vision because they did not understand. At this point, we cannot be small minded. We must be forgiving. The victory also belongs to the broadcasting stations which can now do their programming without fear of law suits. There is no question that I feel fulfilled that our labour has not been in vain and that I have not misled practitioners in the Nigerian music industry. Of course, to get the agreement was tough, very tough and so much sacrifice had to be made along the way. It is not easy to forget the period in 2013 when my name was read out several times every day on radio and television stations across Nigeria with so much scorn you would think that I was a criminal. All is well that ends well and I hold no grudge against anyone”


Chief Okoroji said that it would have been impossible to get the agreement if Nigeria had a system of multiple collective management organizations. According to Okoroji, “people who are not familiar with collective management of copyright wonder why a liberal democrat like me would clamour for a sole collective management system for music in Nigeria. In the struggle to get this agreement, everyone could see the significant effort to break COSON and to deploy divide and rule tactics. That would have been a lot easier to accomplish if we had another approved CMO in the music industry. That is why around the world even in liberal democracies, the sole CMO system is the vogue”


Chief Okoroji was full of praise for the NBC DG, Mr. Emeka Mba. In his words, “the agreement probably would not have happened but for the immense effort made by Mr. Emeka Mba, Director-General, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and his staff who worked tirelessly to bring the parties together and to trigger the negotiations. I also need to recognize the contributions of Mr. Afam Ezekude, the Director-General, Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) and his staff. Without their untiring efforts and close engagement in this process, it may never have been done.


“There were several moments during the negotiations when it very much appeared that we had reached a deadlock and that the negotiations would break down. At those moments, it took the special experience and skill of Mr. Mac Emakpore who chaired the negotiations to get us to swallow that which we would otherwise not even have chewed. We are therefore forever indebted to Mr. Emakpore”.


It will be recalled that in 2013, COSON instituted several multi-million naira law suits against some of Nigeria’s biggest broadcast stations including AIT, Ray Power, STV, Rhythm FM, Beat FM, Classic FM, Naija FM, Smooth FM, Brila FM, etc., with a threat to sue many more broadcast stations. In response, Broadcasting Organizations of Nigeria (BON) and Independent Broadcasting Association of Nigeria (IBAN) announced the suspension of the broadcast of the music of nearly all the topmost musicians in Nigeria, all of them members of COSON on radio and TV stations across Nigeria. This resulted in massive public outrage across the country including the intervention of the House of Representatives.


The rapidly unfolding events were followed by an all-out media war between the music and broadcast industries. It took a major public pronouncement made by the NBC at the beginning of 2014, which pronouncement set up the COSON/BON/IBAN/NBC/NCC Joint Committee for tempers to cool and the negotiations that led to the agreement to commence.