TEXT READ BY CHIEF TONY OKOROJI, CHAIRMAN, COPYRIGHT SOCIETY OF NIGERIA (COSON), ON BEHALF OF THE SOCIETY AT A WORLD PRESS CONFERENCE HELD ON JANUARY 31, 2018AT COSON HOUSE, IKEJA LAGOS.
Happy New Year to all of you, Gentlemen of the Press.
Since Monday, January 15, 2018, members of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) across the country have been protesting at different Federal High Court locations in Nigeria.
We are protesting what is a frightening new assault on the Nigerian Judiciary and an attempt to turn the Nigeria music industry into a gold mine belonging to no one,from where those who have made noinvestments nor contributions to the industry can cart away illicit billionsof Naira while the true creators and investors in the industry languish in penury.
We will continue to protest until the arm twisting and blackmailing of Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos is brought to an end, the Federal High Court ofNigeria is left free to do justice to all men as the judges deem fit and the Attorney–General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami is stopped from further meddling in the affairs of the Nigerian music industry.
We will deploy our voices, drums, cymbals, trumpets, guitars and every other musical instrument available to us and we will employ our talents in our protest until the whole world hears us.
Gentlemen of the press, we will continue this indefinite protest until the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) is returned to the supervision of the Minister charged with responsibility for culture as expressly provided in Section 51 of the Nigerian Copyright Act.
At the time we began our protest, a syndicate in the Nigerian music industry called Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN) together with its henchman, one MayowaAyilaranwho is neither a musician nor an investor in the Nigerian music industry and six other operatives of this syndicate, were facing seven different criminal cases before different judges of the Federal High Court as follows:
- FHC/IKJ/CR/18/2012 before Hon. Justice Olateregun-Ishola (Mrs)
- FHC/IKJ/CR/19/2012 before Hon. Justice Olateregun-Ishola (Mrs)
- FHC/IKJ/CR/20/2012 before Hon. Justice Olateregun-Ishola (Mrs)
- FHC/L/351C/2012 before Hon. Justice Babatunde Kwewumi
- FHC/352C/2012 before Hon. Justice Babatunde Kwewumi
- FHC/363C/2012. Before Hon. Justice Babatunde Kwewumi
- NCC/ABJ/CR/2/14 before Hon. Justice SaliuSeidu
This syndicate is so notorious that Justice Biobele Abraham Deorgewill of the Court of Appeal, Lagos in CA/L/925/2011, a matter brought by the NCC, an agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria, against MCSN used the following damning words to describe the MCSN cabal:
“I used to think that impunity was only a function of civil irresponsibility until I went through the evidence in the record of this appeal wherein the Respondents (MCSN) boldly and without any fear for the law brandished their avowed criminal breaches of the penal provisions of the Copyright Act 2004 with so much impunity with no qualms at all, and with outrageous and criminal conducts…”
The schemes of the MCSN syndicate to manipulate justice know no bounds. Not long ago, the cabal quietly began to trail the movement of Justice Ibrahim Buba before whom seven of their officials were facing criminal trials. Eventually, they discovered the Lagos residence of the judge who had no idea that his life may in factbe in danger. Quietly, they got one Louis Udoh, the second in command to MayowaAyilaran, the MCSN henchman, to infiltrate the residence of Justice Buba. Craftily, Louis Udoh began to make friends with everyone in the judge’s residence. Udoh showed up regularly for meals and watched football with the unsuspecting family. On one occasion, when Buba’s driver did not show up, Udoh offered to drive Justice Buba before whose court he was personally facing a criminal trial!
Is this story made up? No! A very alarmed Justice Buba disclosed this in open court upon recognizing Lous Udoh in the dock in his court!
This is the syndicate that the Attorney-General of the Federation & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, has forced the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to purportedly approve as a collecting society to collect copyright royalties on behalf of innocent Nigerian musicians despite the strong protestations of the NCC.
This is the syndicate that Mr. Malami is using every trick in the book to stop their trial for alleged crimes against the Federal Republic. Why is AGF Malami bent on making sure that members of the MCSN syndicate are not tried after they lost at the Court of Appeal their attempt to avoid trial?
Anyone who has followed this strange story by now knows that on December 6, 2017, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Lagos stepped into his court room in Ikoyi. His court room was full to the brim. Justice Buba was scheduled to deliver an important judgment in a matter that has caused so much trouble in the Nigerian music industry for too long.
Justice Buba did not deliver the judgment. A visibly angry Buba said that the day before, he received a petition against him from Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN) who together with the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) are defendants in the case brought by COSON. Anyone familiar with the style of the MCSN syndicate would know that they were trying to intimidate the Judge. Justice Buba announced that ‘come rain, come sunshine’ he would deliver the judgment on December 14, 2017
Lo and behold, on December 14, Justice Ibrahim Buba still did not deliver the judgment. He said that the case file had been taken from him and that he had no choice but to adjourn the matter indefinitely!
The key question Justice Buba was scheduled to answer in his judgment is this: Under Nigerian law, is the syndicate, Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN) truly an approved collecting society and authorized to collect money on behalf of innocent Nigerian musicians? Some people do not want that question answered hence the muscling of Justice Ibrahim Buba.
You may wonder how all this developed. Early in 2017, the Attorney-General of the Federation & Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, in a strange letter, directed the NCC to approve MCSN as a collecting society to collect copyright royalties for the Nigerian music industry. At the NCC, they were mystified by what Mr. Malami, a lawyer, was asking them to do. The NCC in a letter dated February 9, 2017, replied Mr. Malami giving him several reasons clearly showing that what he was asking the commission to do is dangerous and unlawful.
The NCC objections did not stop the AGF. In a strongly worded letter dated 22nd March, 2017, Mr. Malami ordered the NCC, despite the strong protestations, not only to immediately license MCSN, but to withdraw every case filed by the commission against MCSN including the seven criminal cases at the Federal High Court before Justice MojisolaOlateregunIshola, Justice Babatunde Kwewumi and Justice SaliuSeidu.
In ordering the NCC to withdraw the cases, the AGF referred to the powers he thinks he has under Section 50 of the Copyright Act to give directives to the NCC. The only problem is that the Copyright Act in Section 51 expressly vests the power to give directives to the NCC in “the minister charged with the responsibility for culture” and not the AGF.
On learning about this strange development, I sought on behalf of COSON to see the AGF because we knew immediately that this strange directive would set the music industry on fire. We are very familiar with the Copyright Act and know the Nigerian music industry from several directions.
In the company of my colleague, Azeezat, I had two meetings with the AGF in his Abuja office on April 6, and 7, 2017. The AGF said that he did not quite understand the issues but had acted out of persistent pressure from his S.A. (Media), one Salihu Othman Isa. He also told the COSON delegation that he was alarmed at some point by the persistent pressure put on him by Isa and that he had at some point asked Isa what his interest was in the matter. At our second meeting and at the request of the AGF, I gave him a document which I wrote through the night after our first day meeting stating the history, the law and the consequences of the NCC going ahead with the order given to them by the AGF.
At the end of our second day meeting, I asked the AGF what he was going to do about the matter since he had become better informed. He looked at me in the face and said, “Give me seven days”. Seven days passed and nothing happened. Another seven days went by and I placed a call to the AGF and there was no answer. I sent him a text and there was no reply. I followed up with an e-mail which received no acknowledgement. It became clear to us that we had been sold a dummy. Mr. Malami all the time knew what he was doing!
At COSON, we addressed a press conference on the issue attended by many of you. At about the same time, on April 20, 2017, I received the following text message from Sylvester Imhanobe, Special Assistant to the President on Research & Special Projects, a close Assistant to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice from his cell phone no. 0803 604 6242
“Read page News/5 of Thisday Newspaper of yesterday the report written by one AkinwaleAkintunde titled ‘Renowned Artistes Applaud AGF, NCC over MCSN Approval as Collecting Society’. Now I know why you wrote that email. You selfish ignorant fool and idiot”
I did not reply Mr.Imhanode’s vile message. I however forwarded it to his principal, the AGF who did not react in any way.
Within 24 hours on April 25, Imhonode, this senior officer of the Buhari Government sent me three text messages as follows:
- “Stupid fool. With your big fat head. I am told that you have not relent to say foolish things about me. Be careful, the law of libel will put you in control. Common adulterous man like you. Bastard!“
- “I understand you addressed a press conference today and my name is mentioned. Be ready to hear from my lawyers in a long drawn legal battle. I knew that you arrogant pride will bring your fall. Idiot.”
- “I have read your statements you made of me at your press conference. You will soon hear from my lawyers”
This was followed by mails threatening me with court action.
On August 11, when it became obvious that despite his promise, the AGF would never address the problem, we took the issues to the Federal High Court, Lagos. We filed Suit No FHC/L/CS/1259/2017by way of originating summonsseeking a resolution of the issues. We did not choose the Judge. Justice Ibrahim Bubato whom the case was assigned, is being harassed, intimidated and blackmailed. He is being forcefully prevented from delivering judgment in the matter.
Since we cannot find reprieve from the Attorney-General of the Federation and we are not allowed to get reprieve from the court of law, it appears that we are being told to resolve our problems with machetes and AK 47s. We thought that we would never see this kind of day in our fatherland when the rule of law is so violently assaulted. The courts were supposed to be the last refuge of the common man. We are startled by the precedent being set: a judge being arm-twisted so that he does not deliver judgment in a case before him.
We have repeatedly said that we have no idea what decision Justice Buba would have come to. What we know is that all the parties, including COSON, have a right to go to the Court of Appeal if any of us is dissatisfied with the judgment. We therefore demand that the case file in Suit No FHC/L/CS/1259/2017 be returned to Justice Ibrahim Buba so that he can deliver judgment in the case as he deems fit because we run the risk that the legally mandated period within which judgment ought to be delivered after trial will soon run out.
At the same time that Justice Bubawas being harassed, a strange coup was hatched from outside of COSON to quickly get rid of the Chairman of the Board of COSON so as to penetrate our organization and stifle our resistance to the perfidy going on at the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal High Court. On December 19, 2017, members of COSON from across Nigeria said absolute ‘no’ to the coup. We are not unaware that the NCC is being pressured to find a reason to subjugate COSON. The conspirators have their sights at the upcoming Private Copy Levy scheme in which they believe that they can make billions, one of the key reasons for the rushed purported approval of the MCSN syndicate which is the vehicle they want to deploy to shaft the music industry. Let them be informed that the members of COSON are prepared to take on anyone crazy enough to attempt to destroy COSON , a great Nigerian success story.
The developments in the collective management of copyright, an area in which our country has recently been making tremendous progress,have become more and more curious because of people who do not want to be bound by the law.According to newspaper reports, in one of the recent bizarre developments at the Federal High Court, a judge of the court on January 19, 2018 awarded an incredible sum of almost N6 billion to the MCSN syndicate against Multichoice Nigeria for purported copyright infringement.
This recent development is bizarre for so many reasons including the following:
- At the time the purported infringement took place, MCSN was not an approved collecting society and there is a plethora of Court of Appeal decisions stating that without approval, MCSN cannot collect royalties in Nigeria. In fact some of the decisions are to the effect that without approval, MCSN will not even have the locus to bring an action for any infringement of copyright to court. Please see the decisions of the Court of Appeal in Appeal No. CA/L/78/2008 (CDT v MCSN), Appeal No CA/L/575/2009 (MCSN v NCC), Appeal No CA/L/576/2014 (MCSN v CBS ltd) and Appeal No. CA/L/350/2013 (NCC v MCSN)).It is with this knowledge that Mr. Malami in 2017, through a convoluted process ordered the Nigerian Copyright Commission to approve MCSN. We are not aware that the so-called approval was back dated. On what basis then was this mammoth award, the biggest by far in the history of copyright in Africa, made?
- At the time the award was made, the case before Justice Buba brought by COSON challenging the authority of MCSN to collect royalties for musical works and sound recordings in Nigeria was in court. No decision had been made on the key questions raised. We have little doubt that the withdrawal of the case file is not unconnected with this jumbo award.
- A number of the works said to have been infringed are works in the repertoire controlled by COSON for which Multichoice Nigeria has obtained a legitimate license. Indeed, COSON has received reactions from some of its international affiliates wondering what the hell is going on in Nigeria as some of the works for which MCSN was said to have received the award belong to these COSON affiliates and at no time did they assign the works to MCSN.
- If Multichoice Nigeria, a single Nigerian company providing employment to hundreds if not thousands of our citizens can be said to liable up to the whopping sum of 6 billion Naira for copyright infringement in the broadcast of 18 songs as reported by some newspapers since no one is yet to see a copy of the judgment, then it will require the entire national budget of Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to pay for the entire Multichoice content.
- Where is the precedent for this kind of horrendous award? For a nation that continuously says that it badly wants direct foreign investment, which rational person would want to come and invest his money in Nigeria and expose himself to this kind of frightful shake down? In our opinion, there can be no worse killer of the economy than this kind of blatant conspiracy against the Nigerian nation using the MCSN syndicate.
Some of us have spent practically our entire adult lives campaigning for the respect for intellectual property rights in our country. Our campaign has been for a responsible intellectual property system. Rather than help the collective management of copyright in Nigeria, the kind of shake down of Multichoice which will ruin entire companies will turn decent people against the collective management of copyright and hurt our industry and our country. After Mutichoice, who will be next?
In the events that we have spoken about, it is clear to any serious observer that the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, is being played like a tambourine and has become the turntable through which much of this very bad music is coming out of the Federal High Court, an important national institution. Justice Kafarati is not in control. If all these can happen while he is in an acting capacity, what will happen if he is made the substantive Chief Judge?
When Justice Kafarati on September 16, 2017, was sworn in as the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen said to him:
“The scale you wield and the sword is mighty. You must be fair to all. A sense of injustice breeds dis-unity and it is our responsibility to ensure that we return to the good old days by restoring the pride and confidence people had in the judiciary”.
Justice Kafarati has not shown that he heard the CJN or that he has the capacity to meet the standards demanded by the CJN. We therefore demand that Justice Abdul Kafarati should not be confirmed as the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court. We indeed request that in the interest of the need to restore dignity and respect to the Federal High Court, he should resign from the bench.
We have written several letters to the Acting Chief Judge with several reminders none which he has replied or even acknowledged.
We have also followed the matter of AbdulrasheedMaina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pensions Reform. We followed the testimony of the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita at the National Assembly Enquiry. Everything she said is familiar. There is a pattern. We know about Malami and Maina and we now know about Malami and MCSN. How many others in this MMM Plus scheme don’t we know about? It is clear that we have a Chief Law Officer who erroneously thinks that he is the law and is not answerable to anyone. Once again, he has deployed the Federal High Court system to try and escape scrutiny. The time has come to tell him that he is not the law.
We call on the President Muhammadu Buhari to call Mr. Abubakar Malamito order. We call on the National Judicial Council and the National Assembly to ensure that there is a full and transparent probe of what is happening at both the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal High Court.
We ask the Federal Executive Council to direct the immediate return of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) to the supervision of the Minister charged with responsibility for culture as expressly provided in Section 51 of the Nigerian Copyright Act so that the Commission can be properly deployed to the promotion of the Nigerian creative industry instead of being a tool for the pursuit of devious schemes as it is presently being deployed.
On these issues, there will be no retreat and no surrender I wish to repeat that we will continue to deploy our voices, drums, cymbals, trumpets, guitars and every other musical instrument available to us and we will employ our talents in our protest until the whole world hears us and the issues raised here are addressed.
We owe it to our children.