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My Encounters With The Manipulative Tony Okoroji, By Onyeka Onwenu (READ)

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n June 30, 2016, Hon. Justice I. O Akinkugbe of the Lagos State High Court, gave a ruling in a case brought against me by Mr. Tony Okoroji. It was a ruling which I consider most unfair biased and unjust.

I arrived at this sad conclusion based on several factors which will be explored by my lawyers in my appeal.

Suffice it to say, at this point, that throughout the court proceedings,  the judge allowed the claimant’s lawyer to constantly refer to my political party affiliations, the fact that I was a member of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, appointed by a PDP president and the time of the hearing, serving in an APC government.

When my lawyer raised an objections, the judge allowed the questioning to continue. I sensed trouble. What did my political affiliations have to do with the case at hand, I wondered. With this ruling, it is clear to me that my political affiliation did matter.

What was the case about?

On May 8, 2012, the Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON, held an annual general meeting, during which an election into the board of directors of the society was held. The previous board to which Tony Okoroji and I belonged, was an interim one, necessitated by the transmutation of Performing and Mechanical Rights Society, PMRS, a previous collecting society, other vested interest into a new organization which was given government recognition as the sole copyright collecting society in Nigeria.

This registration came after a long and arduous struggle and competition with others such as Musical Copyright Society Nigeria, MCSM, led by Mr. Mayo Ayilara,  a veteran of copyright collection in Nigeria.

I presented myself as a candidate for the board election, so did Mr. Tony Okoroji ànd other eminently qualified and experienced music Industry practitioners and owners of copyrights such as Lol Akin,  Chief, (Pastor) Ebenezer Obey, Efe Omoroge, Charles Imoloame (Charlimo), Joel Ajayi, Toju Ejieyutche, managing director of Premier Music, Edi Lawani, Obi Asika, and several others.

Before this election, however, there had been serious disagreement on the interim board, regarding Mr Okoroji’s reluctance to co-operate with the finance committee in rendering proper and timely accounts and penchant for taking unilateral decisions in awarding contracts to his Events Management Company, TOPS.

For our disposition towards Tony Okoroji’s non-compliance with acceptable financial conduct, some of us were targeted for elimination from the new board. These marked members were Chief Ebenezer Obey, Laolu Akins, Charles Omoloame, Toju Ejuejitchie, an accountant and head of the financial committee of COSON and myself.

At the venue of the election, a flyer was passed around, and we obtained a copy. The flier named those who should be voted for. The names of those who were to be “eliminated” were not there. At the end of the vote tabulations, I was told that I lost out by one vote. We took all in, the flyers, the provocative speech, and statements by Tony Okoroji, who clearly was in charge of everything and had sole access to election monitors and observers.

When election results were announced, the manipulations became glaringly evident. All those whose names were not on the flyer, lost. Some of us decided to leave and we did so without a protest, convinced that as Tony Okoroji did with Performing Musicians Employers’ Association Of Nigeria, PMAN, he would shortly show his true colour as a one-man show, a leader who does not serve but relishes absolute authority, answerable to no one; a person who believes that he possesses a superior intellect, compared to everyone else.

Immediately after the election, I began receiving calls and emails from journalists, wanting to know if I was aware of my appointment into an Elders Advisory Council, or something to that effect, which had just been announced by Tony Okoroji and if I were going to accept.

I had only heard about the Elders Forum for the first time in Tony Okoroji’s welcome address at the election venue and since he did not inform me nor sought my consent before conscripting me into the forum, I rejected the position.

I believed and I went on record at the time saying that it was an unnecessary appeasement for a badly organised election. My reply was circulated to board members – old and new – as was our practice. For that, Mr. Tony Okoroji sued me for “defamation of character”. It was the second court case against me, using COSON lawyers whom I suspect were paid with money generated by my copyright dues.

What do I have against Tony Okoroji?

I have nothing personal against Mr. Okoroji. My disagreements with him have been based on principle, on issues of probity, and organizational integrity, and fair play. I have heard it said that Mr. Okoroji claims that he has been so helpful to me and I ask, in what way? I have avoided discussing this but at this point, I am compelled to.

Tony Okoroji, in the presence of Emma Ogosi who is my witness visited me in my flat in Surulere in the 80s to convince me to run as his vice president for the presidency of PMAN. He said that he would not run without me as people hardly knew who he was. Indeed he was right.

We won the election and for the first year, I paid his salary at PMAN  and also gave the association 10% of all my earnings, to pay for sundry expenses. I signed all PMAN letters. It was a great partnership and we achieved much, instituting the PMAN Awards and the fight against Piracy.

Problems, however, creeped in, as soon as we raised  some money. N20 million, given to us by then, President Ibrahim Babangida. I decided to resign, rather than contend with Mr. Okoroji over financial matters. Mr. Okoroji went on to drag my name through mud, sponsoring numerous negative articles about me. I still have copies with me.

I was not the only person who was so treated. Chief (Mrs.) Christy Essien-Igbokwe, of blessed memory and Fummi Adams were also victims.

Mr. Okoroji sought to replicate the same tendencies at COSON. He knows how to humble himself when he wants to climb up on the backs of others. But as soon he is done, you will become an ardent enemy. This time around, some of us who were familiar with his antecedents, decided not to to leave COSON for him. We just stepped aside to watch.

Tony Okoroji likes to refer to himself as my friend and brother. He is neither. He has only maneuvered to use my name to his advantage and has always turned around to try and destroy the very name and personality that had served him so well. It is called envy, jealousy and covetousness, wrapped up in a scheming, over ambitious and manipulative mind.

When Mr. Tony Okoroji’s house was destroyed by fire in the mid 90s and he lost everything it was to me that his current side-kick, Mr. Patrick Doyle, turned to for help. I drafted and sent letters to governors, government officials and high net worth Nigerians, and raised a lot of money for Tony Okoroji. I was never told how much, but Okoroji was nicely rehabilitated.  And there was never a word of thank you or even acknowledgement from Tony or his side-kick.

One of the most preposterous claims I heard Tony Okoroji’s lawyer make on his behalf in court was that I once asked him for help in paying school fees for my children in the United States. What an insult! What gainful employment has Mr. Tony Okoroji ever been able to sustain to cater for his seven children, and then afford to help me in the payment of school fees.

He failed as a used Car Dealer after leaving PMAN. He tried his hands at events management and quit. He could not make it as an importer of goods either. No wonder he has stuck desperately to COSON for dear life.

What happened was that COSON was holding on to my royalties for months on end, claiming that it had not received the logs from the end users to determine  my share. I needed my money, it was mine, and there was no dispute about it. I suggested that COSON should approximate my share based on previous experience and if there was a shortfall or an overpayment, it would be adjusted when the logs were received.

It takes a manipulative mind to conjure up and weave such falsehood around an entitlement that was honourable earned by a hard working mother.

In the past four years, however, I have only managed to earn, less than N160,000 from my copyrights, from COSON and even then, it is disputable, if all of that was actually paid. I am only certain of N117,000 which was only paid in June 2016 after much protest.

Everyday, I receive notices of heavy airplay of my music. I turn on the TV and I hear my songs being used on music reality shows. Why then must I wait four years for these payments, even when we hear that general distributions are made yearly? Who at COSON decided to keep back my money and how many more artistes are so affected?

More Questions

Who indeed are the members of COSON and how many are copyright owners? An independent audit of COSON membership will reveal that 70% to 80% of the members are non-copyright owners. They may be musicians who have been registered to swell the ranks and provide Tony Okoroji with a sizable number of minions. Artistes who know they are not entitled but would owe their membership to his benevolence.  These are the people he uses at election time and who will keep him as chairman of COSON for as long as he wishes.

About the treats to my life

One of the major points of disagreement at the interim board was the issue of financial prudence in managing COSON’s scarce resources and Tony Okoroji’s incessant demand for more funds that most us opposed, as well as the award of contracts to his company TOPS, without due process.

It got really contentious at one of these meetings that Mr. Okoroji, out of the blues, accused me of planning to send hired assassins after him. We were all aghast and astounded. I could not imagine where this accusation was coming from so I declared right there and then that probably he had plans to do just that to me and wanted to preempt any accusations against himself.

Months after this, there were four attempts by unknown persons to follow me home. On one occasion, one of the cars that attempted to follow me home, came to my house and parked, switching off its lights, at 3 am. Because the police was fully informed of the goings-on, a police patrol car was nearby. The offending vehicle beat a hasty retreat on hearing the siren. These attempts were well documented by the Lagos Police Command which launched an investigation.

My neighbors were able to obtain a license plate number at the back of one of the vehicles used. It was traced to a used car dealer who claimed that it had been stolen from him. All this information can be verified with the Nigeria Police Force.

Mr. Okoroji, based on the accusation he made against me months earlier, was of course brought in for questioning. When asked about the accusation he made, he promptly, and categorically denied , in the presence of the very people before whom he had made the statement, the first time. These people had gathered to try and settle the matter at the police station. Only Mr. Tony Okoroji can explain why he lied.

Who were these people? They were  eminent individuals. Chief Ebenezer Obey, who was represented, Laolu Akins, Mrs. Keji Okunowo, Sir Victor Uwaifo, and others. I would not provide these names if I had made up this story and if I were not telling the truth. The fact that Tony Okoroji could lie so blatantly, proved to me that indeed he had no respect for me or anyone else and that he know something about me being followed.

In Conclusion…

Attempts have been made by some key members of COSON to settle this matter between Tony Okoroji and I but he remained adamant in his quest to “deal” with me. Mr. Okoroji would prefer that  people like me should leave COSON for him. He forgets that he is sitting on our legacy, our commonwealth.

Tony Okoroji stands on the shoulders of those who have also sacrificed and laboured for the development of the Music Industry in Nigeria. Whilst no one begrudges him of any accolades and rewards that are due him for his contribution, by the same token, others must be allowed the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labour and sacrifice. I have left Tony Okoroji alone to destroy COSON as he does everything else as soon as money starts pouring in but I will not allow him destroy my name as he has vowed to do. He held unto  for over an hour at the airport, for a vile and hateful outburst, vowing to destroy me.

Instead of allowing the court process to be completed, Mr Okoroji has taken to the airwaves to spew out more lies about me. He neglects to mention. however, that he lost the other case he instituted against me, regarding my successful eff to get him to release the N3 million donated by Cross River State for the burial of our colleague, Chief (Mrs.) Christy Essien Igbokwe. Funds which he paid into his personal account instead of a dedicated one and only repaid after my appeal was leaked to the press , by persons unknown.

Tony Okoroji would also not mention the many court cases he has lost to people like Mayo Ayilara and MCSN. I wonder how much COSON has spent on Tony Okoroji and his court cases. Does he do much else beside?

In 2009, Mr. Tony Okoroji wrote and caused to be published, a highly derogatory and libelous article on Mr. Mayo Ayilara of MCSN,  a rival collecting Society, using my name. When Mr. Ayilara sued me over the article, Tony Okoroji designated a COSON lawyer to defend me but promptly withdrew same when I opposed his handling of financial matters at COSON.

Mr. Ayilara concluding that my name had been used to publish the article was kind enough to withdraw the suite. It was not my style of writing and that could be clearly seen.

It would seem that the very thing Tony Okoroji is fond of accusing others of, is what he is fond of doing to them. What a perfect schemer, manipulator and user of people.

Conclusion

By God’s grace, I will pursue this case to its logical end. The God of truth and justice who sees all and knows all will vindicate me, I am sure. I stand on every word in this rebuttal, as the truth. I have named witnesses. They will read this account and know in their hearts that I have spoken the truth. Tony Okoroji himself will know in his heart and in his spirit that I have spoken the truth. I hold no grudges and I begrudge no one but I stand on my principles. I fear no one but my God.

To Mr. Patrick Doyle who is Tony Okoroji’s lap dog, I say this: why don’t you be a man, stand on your own and speak the truth at all times. I was embarrassed but rather touched when you knelt down at Eagle’s Square, in public, at an event early last year to apologise for running me down in the newspapers, Tony, with regards to the burial committee funds. But I had forgiven you, even before you asked. I could have sued you but I left you alone, believing that you would one day come to your senses. You did, but only temporarily. Now you are back to your old self, maligning on behalf of Tony Okoroji.

I leave you to God. Be blessed.

Onyeka Onwenu is an iconic Nigerian musician and member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR). She is also a veteran journalist and broadcaster. She is also a politician. 

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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