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Okoroji Opens Up On Malami

On December 6, 2017, a Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Buba stepped into his court room in Ikoyi, Lagos. 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 creative industry.

Justice Buba did not deliver the judgment. A visibly angry Buba said that the evening before, he received a petition against him from a party in the case, obviously trying to intimidate him. He announced that ‘come rain, come sunshine’ he would deliver the judgment on December 14.

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 he had no choice but to adjourn the matter till further notice!

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? Somebody did not want that question answered hence the muscling of Justice Ibrahim Buba.

You may wonder why this is important. The MCSN cabal, together with its henchman, one Mayowa Ayilaran and six of MCSN’s officials are facing seven different criminal cases before different judges of the Federal High Court. Each of the cases was filed by the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC), an agency of the Federal Government.

How did this bizarre tale take this crazy turn? 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 replied Mr. Malami giving him several reasons clearly showing that what he was asking the commission to do is dangerous and unlawful.

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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 Mojisola Olateregun Ishola, Justice Babatunde Kwewumi and Justice Abdulazeez Anka.

Any ‘baby lawyer’ will tell you that the AGF has the power to file a ‘Nolle Prosequi’ to stop any case. In this case, the AGF did not file a ‘Nolle’. He ordered the NCC to abruptly withdraw the cases, referring 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 law 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 to see the AGF because I knew that his directives would set the music industry on fire. I am very familiar with the Copyright Act; I served in the committee that drafted the Act. I am familiar with the Copyright Commission; I was twice on the board of the commission. I know the Nigerian music industry from several directions.

I met with the AGF in his Abuja office on April 6, 2017. After our discussions including documents I gave to him, Mr. Malami 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 me that he was alarmed at some point with the unending pressure of Isa and that he had asked Isa what his interest was in the matter. I believed Mr. Malami.

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To cut a long story short, I asked the AGF what he was going to do about the matter since he had become better informed. He looked at me, eye ball to eye ball, 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 me that I had been sold a dummy. Mr. Malami all the time knew what he was doing!

At COSON of which I am chairman, we addressed a press conference on the issue. Thereafter, I was sent a battery of very vile text messages by one Sylvester, a very senior aide to Mr. Malami calling me names in gutter language totally unbecoming of a senior government official. This was followed by mails threatening me with court action.

When it became obvious that despite his promise, the AGF would never address the problem, we took the issues to the Federal High Court for a resolution. Justice Ibrahim Buba before whom the case is, is being harassed, intimidated and blackmailed. He is being forcefully prevented from delivering judgment in the matter. I thought that I would never see this kind of day in my fatherland when the rule of law is so violently assaulted. The courts were supposed to be the last refuge of the common man. I am startled by the precedent being set: a judge being arm-twisted so that he does not deliver judgment in a case as he deems fit. Absolutely crazy!

I have no idea what decision Justice Buba would have come to. What I know is that all the parties have a right to go to the Court of Appeal if any of us is dissatisfied with the judgment. At the same time that Justice Buba is being harassed, a strange coup was hatched to quickly get rid of me at COSON followed by so much falsehood being peddled around which they think will destroy my integrity. You think it is a coincidence? Forget it! They are all being cooked in the same kitchen. Somebody is afraid of the judgment of Justice Ibrahim Buba.

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I have followed the matter of Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pensions Reform. I followed the testimony of the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita at the House of Representatives 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. He should be told that he is not.

I am asking all the judges in the Nigerian legal system to insist 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. Tell me, if they are allowed to get away with this, what will they not do next? With a bible in my hand, I swore to defend the rights of the Nigerian creative community. Nobody, no matter how powerful he thinks he is, will stop me from doing that.

By the way, if something funny happens to me in the coming days, Nigerians ought to know in which kitchen it was cooked.