Tony Okoroji, chairman of Copyrights Society of Nigeria COSON, says he faced lots of challenges to take the organisation to the level it is now.
Speaking exclusively to City People, the renowned songwriter opened up on how they fought legal battles in order to make COSON survive. He also spoke on his achievements since he emerged chairman.
COSON recently launched a new house with music library and research department in Ikeja, Lagos. Read excerpts from his interview below…
When you look back at the last 7 years of COSON, how does it make you feel considering your achievement so far?
I say to people that I drive on a full thank of faith. Faith is the 1 thing that without it, nothing else would work appropriately. When you start a project like this, you must have faith that there is sunshine at the end of the tunnel. Don’t ever look at obstacles as challenges but as opportunities. I haven’t seen anything that is difficult and can’t be solved. I like to tell the young Nigerians that despite the difficulties we have, they should stop complaining and have faith and work towards a solution. I think we complain too much. We can make things happen if we just focus our minds on solving problems rather than worrying about difficulties. Frankly, when you think about it, what did we come to the world to do? To resolve issues, all of us. I would like to call on Nigerians where ever they are that the issues we have are not insurmountable. On practically everything we have the capacity to solve our problems and create a beautiful future for our children. And most importantly, let’s get to work instead of arguing about tribe, religion and the rest.
Can you put us through your major milestones with COSON
We had a major challenge, the first been that Nigerians have formed the habit of complete lost of respect for intellectual property and in the new world, intellectual property is everything. If you look at the richest people in the world today, whether it is Mark Zukerberg or Bill Gate or J.K. Rowlings and so on, these are people that have built the strength of their wealth on intellectual property. My understanding is that if Nigeria is going to beat the challenges of the future, we must under the concept of intellectual property and start to build an environment on how it works and how to make it strive. The bricks and mortar of economy is gone and nothing is going to bring it back.
What is going to drive this nation is creativity in all its forms, be it music, movie, literature and so on. We have created a notion where we think intellectual property ought to be free; we can watch movies for Free, read articles for free, listen to music for free and so on, forgetting that people spend money to create these contents. I have told people that they can make money from their content by copyrighting it, but each time I tell them, they’d just laugh at me. People have told me that COSON would never make a penny.
Within the broadcasting industry, I have alot friends but they never took me seriously until I started to take them to court. People keep saying the legal system in Nigeria doesn’t work, well it works. You simple just have to get your cases very well aligned and have the patience to follow the process to a logical conclusion. I guess that’s what we did to show the people that we are serious.
No one would have expected that i would go to court against an organization run by Ben Bruce whom I consider a friend or go to an organization run by the likes of Kenny Ogungbe and co. The fact that I am friends with all these people created a situation where they didn’t take the matter as serious I thought they should. I wasn’t representing myself; I was representing musicians across the country. So if I had shook hands with them and went home, I would have denied these musicians their right.
So at some point, push had to come to shove. At some point when we were about to go court, their initial reaction was to say that they were going to ban the songs of musicians who were members of COSON, and i said fine, lets see where that takes you. And until a matter that has been refused to be resolved for 40 years, we eventually had to come to the table and resolve it and i am grateful to all these people, they still remain my friend, we still shake hands and greet each-other and they have come to understand that we are not doing this for ourselves but for the Nigerian musicians and the nation as a whole.
How did you come up with the model for COSON to function on?
My believe is that we are here to create wealth for the musicians not to make money off them, So if we go to them and say bring money from the little that they have, they would lose trust in us. Though their are collective bodies in the world that charge for services but we made the decision never to charge them. what we do is that we license their music, get some money and we are required under the law to take a small percentage which is monitored by the Nigerian Copyright Commission.
This is what we use for administrative purposes. The money collected on behalf of the artist would be well accounted for, they would see the statistics and result. You know, people would doubt that we pay royalties to musicians. we pay royalties to thousands of musicians across nigeria, but nobody publicizes it. There are artistes who collect millions from COSON. Now there are people reacting to COSON HOUSE.
Its real, you can see it, touch it, feel it but we have spent a whole lot more on royalties distributed to musicians than we spent on Coson House. Again, i think that its the nature of Nigerians to believe that things cant work in Nigeria. I have had to pay a price personally. People would just say soething or write something negative about me without any proof because they feel i must have been doing something illegal.
I have had to go to court so many times and yet nobody shows up with concrete proof or evidence. And then it comes back to the same result. I know people who are straight forward in the country. Its not everybody in Nigeria that is a thief.
Lets congratulate you on the COSON house, Can you fill us in on why you decided to build it?
Well, i remember our members were concerned and complaining that we were paying rent and i agreed completely with them, And we said if we must do something, lets do something significant because it’s also a pointer to everyone that the creative industry has come of age. For so many years, nobody could do something like these but we have a structure and we achieved it completely by ourselves and we are proud of it. we didnt go the government for a dime. Not a penny form anybody be it the federal government, state government or any financial institution or individual. The COSON HOUSE was 100% built with our money.
The Coson House design was all done by young Nigerians. we didnt go to any foreigner to design for us. The building from foundation to finish was built by young Nigerians. The building is not just for administrative purpose. The Coson library is very important to me and it would help spread the knowledge of our intellectual property in the Music industry. we also have the Coson Arena where we had our recently held June 12 Lecture. It would surprise you to know that the Arena was the proposed Chairman office.
I told them to tear down the wall and convert it into an Hall which would be used to teach people knowledge via seminar and meetings and so on. So i don’t have an office in Coson house. I don’t have a table or chair. Its my joy that the Coson house was built by young Nigerians from all across Nigeria who worked together, slept in the building together, ate together and built this beautiful edifice together. That’s a sign that we Nigerians can work together and make this country a better place. i dont want any war in Nigeria. i love this country Nigeria. I experienced the Civil war and i know the damage it did to Nigeria so i want peace for this country. i challenge every Nigerians, lets all go to work and stop complaining and make Nigeria great. we talk too much and do very little.
What was the reaction and reception after the Coson House?
It’s a work in progress. The people are excited with the transparency and accountability they see. Coson house has almost become a Mecca for Nigerian artistes. Almost every artist wants to touch the wall and believe its real. The other day i saw a reggae artist come here and he was crying because he said he thought he would never be alive to see this become a reality in Nigeria. I tell every artistes not to say they don’t have a house in Lagos. The Coson House belongs to every artist who is a member of the organization. They are a part owner of the building, This is not a Tony Okoroji House, its a COSON house and it belongs to us all as musicians.
How does COSON work? whats the module for disbursing royalties to artists?
Anyone who uses music in a public or commercial setting under the law must first understand that it is somebodies property and cannot deploy it without a license or authorization. we would continue to do an incredible amount of communication to educate people about this. when communication failed we used the legal system. People ask me how can you go to court against very big organizations? we’ve gone to court against some of the very big organizations. we’ve gone to court against the biggest broadcasting organizations in Nigeria. we’ve gone against some Federal Broadcasting organizations. we are in court presently against Cross River government over the Carnival that they do. we’ve gone to court against some of the biggest banks. All these is for the interest of the country. Nigeria would be a better nation if we understand that intellectual property is where the world is right now. we have got to begin to respect creativity. Oil would fall but creativity would continue to be in abundance.
How do you plan to engage the government?
Since oil had began to crumble, the government have been looking in this direction. They need to know that our creative industry has got a lot of value. The government are paying a lot more attention even-though i think they don’t know how it works. we keep engaging them. I was in Abuja the other day and we had a series of meeting with Government officials and DGs and so on. To get value you must give value and our creative industry has been giving out value but piracy is killing us. the government should take the issue of piracy more seriously than ever before. Everywhere you go, even outside Nigeria, you hear or watch Nigerian music. Our music have gone global. But the problem is they are not well accounted for. They get pirated and push outside the border and that’s millions of Nigerian money flushed away. If it was our oil that was been handled such way, Nigeria would go to war. Its time they take the creative industry more seriously.