GOOD News From Calabar

By Tony Okoroji

Tony Okoroji

Tony Okoroji

SOMETHING truly historic for the creative community in Nigeria happened on Monday, May 14, 2018. It was a big bang.
On Monday, in Calabar, a Federal High Court judge, Justice I.E. Ekwo delivered a landmark judgment in which he awarded the sum of Five Hundred Million Naira to COSON against the Cross River State Government for copyright infringement at the Calabar Carnival. His lordship went further to grant a perpetual injunction against the organizers of the Calabar Carnival from further infringement of copyright in the music deployed at the carnival.

I ask every creative person in Nigeria to massively celebrate Justice Ekwo’s very well thought out judgment, not just because of the monetary award but because the judgment has redefined the place of creativity in Nigeria and said it clearly that no one is above the law including our governments and no one has the right to publicly deploy the intellectual property of free citizens without authorization. The judgment is huge victory for every creative person in Nigeria.

Before anyone gets it wrong, the case is not against the Calabar Carnival but against the abuse of copyright at the carnival. I am great fan of Carnival Calabar. I have no doubt that the event is one of the greatest legacies of my good friend, His Excellency, Governor Donald Duke, himself, a fantastic musician. I commend his successors for keeping the fire burning. Courtesy of the Cross River State Government, I was for several years an official adjudicator at the Calabar Carnival which attracts tremendous attention across the nation and across the continent. Believe me, the spirit of the carnival is so infectious that if you have not been to Calabar during the carnival, man, you don’t know what you are missing.

If you think that we rushed to court on the matter, please bury the thought. We made countless efforts to resolve the matter out of court and were continuously tossed this way and that way. Even while the case was ongoing, I was pleading with officials of the Cross River State Carnival Commission that the matter be resolved out of court but I guess that like most officials of governments in Nigeria, they concluded that they are above the law. Now, the chickens have come home to roost.

I love Calabar and Calabarians. Some of the leaders of the carnival bands in Calabar are long term friends of mine. I am not sure there is anyone who knows me well who does not know the long standing friendship I have enjoyed with Senator Florence Ita Giwa who has supported me in so many ways over the years. Late Nchewi Imoke, elder brother to the immediate past governor of Cross River State was best friend to my elder brother, Victor and we spent many great moments together in my Lagos residence. Former Minister of Culture, Edem Duke is my guy. Former Chief of Staff to Governor Imoke, Alex Egbonna remains a cherished friend of my family. I wanted the matter sorted out. Just last December former First Lady, Onari Duke, was my hostess at an event in Calabar. In December, I was still pleading with officials of the Cross River State Carnival Commission to resolve the matter. They made so many promises none of which they kept.

The case lasted close to five years. I had to travel to Calabar so many times, sometimes travelling some dangerous roads in the middle of the night with so much frustration along the way. The judge to whom the matter was initially assigned unfortunately died before commencing trial. There were so many fruitless trips to Calabar with my young lawyer, Justin Ige and so many adjournments. Thank you Patrick Doyle, who like me was on the witness stand, for believing. Thank you Ras Kimono who was in court once with me.

Several times, I sat in court and listened to the decisions of Justice Ekwo who finally handled the case. It will take some doing to overturn a judgment by I.E. Ekwo. He is intellectually deep, sound, fast yet thorough, completely in charge of his court. He is one of the best I have met in the country and I have no doubt that he is headed for the Supreme Court.

While we have distributed hundreds of millions of Naira at COSON and built the magnificent COSON House, our true legacy is neither in the money nor the house. Our gift to the coming generation is in the body of legal decisions and precedents that define and protect the rights of creative people in Nigeria. At the end, I believe that it is a good thing that there was no backroom settlement of the Calabar Carnival matter because it would have denied us the opportunity of the Ekwo judgment which I believe will become a ‘locus classicus’.

During the week, I received several calls from people who want to intervene and ‘resolve the COSON matter’. I guess that because of the increased chatter on facebook, Instagram and twitter about COSON, there are people who genuinely feel that some intervention is necessary to stop COSON from going down. Of course, we know the many who do not even understand the issues and are simply searching for relevance on social media and want to be credited with solving the ‘COSON problem’ The truth is that COSON is not run on social media. COSON is run from COSON House and there is no problem at COSON House.

As we build the copyright collective management system in our country, it is natural that issues will arise that we have to address. It is my humble view that these issues cannot be properly addressed by the chatter on face book or before a group of people who are posturing and looking for photo opportunities. Each of the critical issues have left Facebook and are now before the courts of law where they will be decided.

At the Federal High Court, we have asked that the court to define whether it is the members of a collective management organization or the Director-General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission that determines the Directors or Chairman of the organization. We have also asked the courts to determine the limits of the regulatory powers of the NCC with respect to a private sector collective management organization.

At the Court of Appeal, we have asked the court to look at Nigerian law and determine whether the law provides for a regime of multiple collective management organizations for each right or single collecting societies.

At the State High Court, we have asked the court to make a distinction between fair criticism and blatant defamation.

At the Lagos State Chief Magistrate Court, there is an ongoing trial that should determine whether if anyone thinks that he has been cheated out of an office, whether he should take the office by force and begin to act in that capacity or seek judicial intervention.

As we celebrate the victory in Calabar, we must not forget that it took patience, lots of it to achieve the victory. Like in the Calabar Carnival case, a decision in each of the above cases will create the direction as to how the Nigerian creative community develops to its fullest. That will be our true legacy. Patience everyone!

See you next week.

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