I was in Abuja that Tuesday morning at the Federal High Court. I was to be a witness in an important case brought by COSON against a major Abuja hotel. The next morning, at 9 0’clock, I was scheduled to be in Calabar on the witness stand at the Federal High Court in another case brought by COSON against the Cross River State Government over copyright infringement at the Calabar Carnival.

My arrangement was to travel by the only flight from Abuja to Calabar that Tuesday afternoon after testifying in Abuja and to spend the night in Calabar.

The courtroom in Abuja was filled with lawyers, a good number of them, Senior Advocates of Nigeria. They came with their politician clients. As is the practice, any case that has a senior advocate gets precedence over other cases. And so, the senior advocates began to argue. Since I did not have a senior advocate, I had to wait.

I waited and waited for my case to be called. For where? The one flight from Abuja to Calabar left. I stepped out of the court, made a desperate call and had a new arrangement to be on a flight from Abuja to Uyo with the hope of doing the about two hours journey from Uyo to Calabar, by road. I was still in the court when the Abuja/ Uyo flight also left. At a point, it became clear that my case was not going to be called. I got very agitated. I had arranged for my lawyer to fly from Lagos to Calabar and he was already in Calabar waiting for me. So much time, money and energy had been invested and I was going to miss both the case in Abuja and that in Calabar. What if the judge strikes out the Calabar matter?

It was now early evening. There was no other flight to Uyo or Calabar. My being in Calabar the next morning looked impossible. It was then I called the airport and asked if there was any flight going to Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt to Calabar by road would take about six hours on a normal day. I was told there was one seat left and the flight was to leave in about one hour. I begged for the seat to be left open for me. I got a cab and asked the cab guy to drive like mad to the airport. I was the last person to board the flight as the door was about to be shut.

We arrived Port Harcourt just before 8.00 pm. It was impossible to get a cab at that time to go to Calabar. I ultimately got an old small car at an exorbitant price to take me to Uyo. By the time we navigated the go-slow infested streets of Port Harcourt and struck the highway to Uyo, it was almost 9.00 pm.

We then began a journey that did not make much sense. The road was pitch dark. The headlights on our car were not very good. It was a lonely road. There was no car behind us, overtaking us or coming in front of us. There were very few houses on either side of the road. I called a senior friend in Uyo to explain where I was, and he screamed. In a trembling voice, he told me that we were driving through the heart of a most dangerous part of Ogoni land and that no sane person drives on that road after 7.00 pm. How else do I get to Calabar? It was too late to turn back. All kinds of crazy thoughts crossed my mind. What if we got kidnapped by the much-feared Ogoni gangs? What if our rather old car broke down in the middle of nowhere?

Lo and behold, we made it in one piece to Uyo after midnight. I took a deep breath, found a hotel, had a bath and closed my eyes for a few hours. Early next morning I was on my way to Calabar. My immutable late colleague, the Rub-a-Dub master, Ras Kimono and Efe, his sweetheart, were waiting in Calabar to cheer me up. Also waiting was my good friend, Patrick Harry Doyle who joined me to testify in the case. At the Federal High Court, I mounted the witness box and testified with all the passion I could muster. After all, I had journeyed through the shadow of death to be in Calabar. After what I had been through, I could not see how we would lose the case.

Something truly historic for the creative community in Nigeria happened on Monday, June 26, 2023. It was a big bang!
On Monday, the Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar handed down a historic decision affirming the 2018 judgment of Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Calabar, ordering the Cross River State Government of Nigeria to pay the sum of N500,000,000.00 (Five Hundred Million Naira) to Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) for copyright infringement at the Calabar Carnival.

Before anyone gets it wrong, the case was 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. Courtesy of the Cross River State Government, I was for several years an official adjudicator at the 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 have missed.

If you think that we rushed to court on the matter, please bury the thought. I made countless efforts to resolve the matter out of court and was continuously tossed this way and that way. Even while the case was ongoing, I pleaded with officials of the Cross River State Carnival Commission that the matter be resolved out of court. I begged the Chairman of the Carnival Commission, Gab Onah, whom I consider a friend. I pleaded with then Attorney-General of the state, Attah Ochinke but I guess like most government officials in Nigeria, they concluded that the government is above the law. I had to wash my hands off participation at the Calabar Carnival. I could not continue to be part of a system that rapes the rights of creative people, the battle of much of my adult life. 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 Lyell Imoke, 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.

The judge to whom the matter was initially assigned unfortunately died before commencing trial. There were so many fruitless trips to Calabar and so many adjournments.

I travelled to Calabar at least 15 times in search of justice in the matter. I was told that I was a fool to expect to win a case in Calabar against the Cross River State Government. But we won both at the Federal High Court and at the Court of Appeal each sitting in Calabar.

It took us 9 solid years of stringent legal battle to win this historic victory for Nigerian musicians, the entire Nigerian creative family and the copyright system across the world. The courts have affirmed the intellectual property rights of creative people in Nigeria and stated loudly that in Nigeria, no one is above the law, not even the government. This is the legacy we leave for the coming generation. The monetary award is important but more important is the precedent set by the courts.


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