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 was important to the Nigerian creative industry.

Justice Buba did not deliver the judgment. A visibly angry Buba announced that the evening before, he had 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 to Abuja 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 was this: Under Nigerian law, was 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 group MCSN, and six of MCSN’s officials were 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 to Mr. Malami giving him several reasons why what he was asking the commission to do was dangerous and unlawful.

The NCC objections did not deter 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 situation, the AGF did not file a ‘Nolle’. He ordered the NCC to abruptly withdraw the cases, referring to the powers he said he had under Section 50 of the Copyright Act as it was, to give directives to the NCC. The only problem is that the law in Section 51 expressly vested the power to give directives to the NCC in “the minister charged with the responsibility for culture” and not the AGF.

To protect their jobs, the staff of the NCC had to bow to the weird demands of Mr. Malami even though they knew very well that what they were doing was unlawful. Of course, they began to defend what they know is wrong.

On learning about this strange development, I sought to see the AGF because I was sure that his directives would set the music industry on fire. I am very familiar with the Copyright Act; I served on the committee that drafted the Act as it was. 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 having been an artiste, a producer, President of PMAN and Chairman of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON).

I met with the AGF in his Abuja office on April 6, 2017. After our discussions during which I gave to him a copy of the law and other documents, 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.

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, eyeball to eyeball, and said, “give me seven days”. Seven days passed and nothing happened. Another seven days went by and I called 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 repeatedly sent very vile text messages by a very senior aide of Mr. Malami calling me names in gutter language. This was followed by mails threatening me with legal 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 who was assigned the case was, was faced with intimidation so that he would not deliver judgment in the matter as he deemed fit.

I thought I would never see a day in my fatherland when the rule of law would be so violently and brazenly assaulted. The courts were supposed to be the last refuge of the common man. I was startled by the precedent being set: a judge being arm-twisted so that he does not deliver judgment in a case as he deemed fit. For me, it was crazy!

I demonstrated for days and carried placards in front of the Federal High Court in Lagos and insisted that the case file be brought back to Justice Buba. The case file in Suit No FHC/L/CS/1259/2017 was brought back but by then so much water had passed under the bridge…

Thereafter, I was subjected to unbelievable torture for having the boldness and audacity to insist on the rule of law in my country. I was subjected to unending defamatory statements. The Police, EFCC, DSS, NCC and NFIU were unleashed on me and my colleagues at COSON. One evening, I was abducted by five men bent on driving me to Benin City in the middle of the night and possibly wasting me on the way. The Almighty saved me. COSON bank accounts, my personal bank accounts and my private business accounts were all frozen even though there were just modest sums in the accounts, no penny of which was obtained by any illegal activity. At some point, it was difficult for me to even buy food. The price I have had to pay has been huge but I swore to defend my industry and no great nation has been built by cowards.

During one of my meetings with Mr. Malami, he informed me that he was motivated by “national interest” and not necessarily the law. I became really scared and said to him that respect for the rule of law is fundamental to the national interest and that no “national interest” can be determined by one man. He was adamant and at that point, I knew that Nigeria was in big trouble and that with the mindset of Malami, the Chief Law Officer of the nation and his oversized power in the Buhari government, our country was lost.

I have since watched Nigeria, the limousine, with Buhari relaxed in the back seat and Malami as the Chief Driver. I have watched the bizarre decisions and policies flowing from the position where one man’s interest becomes the national interest. I have followed the Paris Club refund bruhaha and the many ‘consultants’ owed humongous amounts of money. Tell me that all that is not in the national interest.

Is Malami truly gone? I would not think so until we start untying the many knots tied around the neck of Nigeria.


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