Until about a decade ago, the average Nigerian musician wasn’t keen on pursuing the right to royalties anytime his music was used anywhere, on radio, on TV, in a movie, in an advert-anywhere.
Now, several singers, some song writers and some music producers are keen on their royalties and willing to follow the money, which is why organizations like Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) exist.
Like everything in Nigeria, COSON has been politicized with Tony Okoroji on one hand and 2Face Idibia’s long time manager and friend Efe Omoregebe on the other side contesting to leadership of the Society.
At the risk of sounding cynical, the leadership puts you in charge of the millions of naira that COSON makes in revenue from collecting royalties on behalf of Nigerians in the country and abroad.
The current controversy began in 2017 with split elections, where one group re-electing Tony Okoroji who has led COSON since its inception, and Efe Omorogbe was elected by a different group.
The tussle for who leads the organization made the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ban COSON from collecting royalties on behalf of its members, who were upset that COSON refused to hold another election for the two candidates.
Unfortunately, the NCC failed to realize that the problem was not the election, but one of transparency.
Some members of COSON, including Audu Maikori, Group CEO at Chocolate City Group, Obi Asika, founder and head, Storm Records Sunny Neji, the singer as well as Omorogbe requested an independent audit of the COSON’s financial statements, but Okoroji refused o the grounds that the books had already been audited by an internal auditor.
This was after the Music Publishers Association of Nigeria (MPAN) offered to underwrite the cost of the audit.
Omorogbe who is leading the stakeholders in demanding for an audit of the financial records of COSON made some serious claims.
“The body generated ₦200Million less than it did the previous year. It also spent ₦31Million on office security, as against ₦1Million the preceding year. For legal fees, the society allegedly spent N34million whereas it only spent ₦17Million the previous year.”, he said in an interview in 2018.
In other statement released in December by COSON board members who were in support of the audit they alleged that the society could not explain how it spent ₦42Million between May and June 2018.
Tony Okoroji has continued to deny the claims.
“Without the prompting of anyone, we have had our accounts audited every single year by auditors appointed by our Annual General Meetings. We have had the audited accounts reviewed and approved by our AGM as required under the law and filed each annual returns with the Corporate Affairs Commission and sent an incomparably huge activity report every year to the NCC. Without any question, COSON has been the most transparent and accountable organization in the history of the Nigerian creative industry. Since our approval, COSON has distributed hundreds of millions of Naira as royalties to our members and affiliates.
“When the COSON House was commissioned nearly three years ago, a lot of people were surprised that there was not one Naira of government money in the acquisition and construction of this magnificent building, no donor dollar or pound came from anywhere and that we did it with no bank loan and no debt of any type.
”For eight years, not one of the highly trained staff of COSON received his or her salary one day late. It is also a fact that no COSON member has ever paid any registration fee, monthly dues or subscription of any type yet every COSON member is entitled to some income from us every year,” Okoroji said at the last world press conference held on March 10, 2020, at the COSON House in Ikeja.
From accusations to lawsuits, to counter-lawsuits, from 2017 to 2020, COSON lost its bark and bite as a collecting society because it spent most of its resources on lawsuits.
All of these things slowed down COSON, but did not stop it from collecting royalties on behalf of its members.
A large part of the revenue of most Nigerian musicians comes from live performances, so during the current pandemic, live shows and tours were all postponed till further notice, so most musicians rely on royalties and digital streaming revenues to survive.
So, despite the problems faced by COSON, the organization went ahead to announce palliatives of ₦11,000 for its current 4,500 members.
This move was commendable considering the financial difficulties that has sprung up since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In response to Tony Okoroji’s gesture the Music Publishers Association of Nigeria (MPAN) in supporting the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC)’s decision to conduct a forensic audit of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) announced that its members have begun withdrawing from using COSON as it relates to international representation.
This simply means that if their song is used anywhere outside Nigeria, COSON cannot collect the royalties on their behalf.
Artistes and labels who have withdrawn include Omawumi, Sound Sultan, 2Baba, Ill Bliss, Terry G, Chocolate City music, Green Light Music Publishing (representing the catalogues of the likes of Del B, Blaqjerzee, Sess, Chopstix)
More members are expected to withdraw their rights to international representation in the coming days.
While these artistes still remain members of COSON, others like Olamide and music publishing companies like The Plug (representing Davido and Mayorkun) have terminated their membership.
Olamide signed a contract with an American record label in February this year.
“The truth of the matter is that the revenues will leave Nigeria before it comes back to Nigeria again. Just like the way crude oil is refined. It will be extracted and exported and will be brought back as fuel. Right now, if you have a PRS in the UK and a SAMRO in South Africa, if they are the music publishing company representing you, when they collect royalties on your behalf, it will first go to South Africa or the UK before it comes to Nigeria. A good percentage of the money will leave the shores of Nigeria, which is normal. On COSON as an entity it will definitely affect their own earnings because, the more members they get, the more money that they will make.
“So, if a lot of musicians are withdrawing from using COSON, it is not good for them, it is not good for the economy to say that we do not have a proper collection society.
But for COSON, as people withdraw being represented by the body, it will affect their revenue big time, because you cannot rely on just upcoming artistes to run a about 300 million a year office,” explains Kaycee Oguejiofor, a music talent manager. He believes that if artists are withdrawing their international representation from COSON they would look to other collection bodies like SAMRO (The Southern African Music Rights Organization) in South Africa or PRS(Performing Rights Society) in the UK will get a good part of the revenue made by the artiste outside Nigeria and outside the continent.
“Musicians who have large influence in the industry and on social media can also contribute to the problems COSON will face”, Oguejiofor adds. “ 2Face has a huge influence in the music industry, imagine the number of artists he could have influenced to withdraw using COSON. Imagine Davido’s social media influence. If he tweets one tweet to discredit COSON it would take a huge amount of money, time and energy to repair the damage caused by one Davido tweet“.
It will obviously take more than a palliative to make things right at COSON.
Obidike Okafor writes on the economics of culture production for Bookartville.com. He is the Senior Content Manager at his own firm OBDK Media and part time Communications Manager at Dyslexia Nigeria. An arts journalist and content producer, he has worked for NEXT, and reported for OMENKA Magazine. A widely consulted consultant on Nigerian arts and entertainment, Okafor was awarded art journalist of the year in 2009 by the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Lagos Chapter, and was a nominee for art journalist of the year 2011 in the Nigerian Art Expo awards.