By Tony Okoroji
This time five years ago I was unlikely to be found in the same room with a gentleman known as Efe Omorogbe, CEO of Now Muzik, the managers of Tu Face Idibia, J. Martins, Timi Dakolo and several other top artistes. For some reason, Efe did not like me and I did not care about Efe either. What was it between me and Efe, you may ask?
Five years ago, Efe and I had never even met. We had never spoken to each other but we were sure we knew each other very well and what we knew we did not like. Foolishly, we had listened to middlemen and allowed them to define who we are. In the Nigerian entertainment industry and the media which fraternise with it, there are many middlemen who speak very authoritatively about people and things they know nothing about. There are also some for whom it is profitable to keep everyone apart. They succeeded in keeping me and Efe apart.
I had heard that Efe who was secretary to the emerging Association of Music Business Professionals (AMB-PRO) was very passionate about the music industry in Nigeria and was deeply frustrated that the huge effort being put into the industry was yielding little dividend. For too long in Nigeria, the music industry has subsidised the broadcasting industry, the hotel industry, luxury bus operations, shopping malls, banking halls, airlines, taxis, advertising, churches, Alaba Market, etc, etc. The more great music our industry created, the poorer we all became because a nation of about 170 million music loving people with over 400 licensed broadcast stations, many thousand hotels, nightclubs and pepper soup joints had told itself a big lie that the creators and investors in Nigerian music had an obligation to provide free music to everyone round the clock.
Several years back, I had unceremoniously left a sweet paying job at EMI, the multi-national music company and submerged myself into wrestling with the hydra headed problems of PMAN. The fulcrum of my life became a never ending campaign about intellectual property issues, the organisation of demonstrations, the rewriting of the nation’s copyright laws, the institution of a copyright commission that works, the setting up of a collective management system that yields income to the practitioners, etc., all of which made so many enemies for me and brought little food to my table. I was not getting younger and the problems were not getting smaller because negative people always positioned themselves to poison the air and make it impossible for good people to truly work together.
So, one morning, I asked one of my assistants to place a call to Efe Omorogbe and request that he came to see me. Considering the atmosphere, I was not sure what Efe’s response would be. Lo and behold, Efe showed up at the two bedroom flat office of PMRS on Mojidi Street, Ikeja. There was no doubt that he was snatching looks at me with utmost suspicion. Ten minutes into our first ever conversation, I made up my mind, ‘I like this guy’. We spoke for hours on practically everything ailing the industry and what we needed to do. I urged him to ask as many questions as he wished on any issue.
While Efe is crazy about ‘Man U’ and I am an Arsenal fanatic, we found out that when it comes to the Nigerian music industry, we are on the same team and should long have been passing the ball to each other.
I had just finished the manuscript to my book, Copyright & the New Millionaires. I gave Efe the manuscript and asked for some feedback. My sense is that reading the manuscript changed his perception. I believe that he found to his surprise that I am not the stark illiterate he had been told I was and that I can actually read and write! I also believe that he found that on many of the issues, some significant sacrifice was already being made to address them and the nature of the sacrifice was not such that could have been motivated by short term personal interest as he had been told.
From then, Efe and I forged a partnership to bring together as many of the cacophonic voices in the music industry as possible. The Nigerian Music Industry Coalition was born bringing together 10 of the important national associations in the industry. That led to the bridging of the gap between the so called old and new schools of the music industry and ending the age old dog-eat-dog rivalry between the eastern and western axis of the industry as represented by MORAN and NARI.
Efe Omorogbe and I believe so much in the unity of the industry that for many months we did little else but mobilise to strengthen the coalition and fight off the many obstacles thrown on the road to the approval of COSON. Some people may think that the regulatory authorities approved COSON happily. I do not think so. I believe that they were scared by the enormous coalition that COSON had galvanised and did not believe that they could successfully explain away the rejection of an organisation with such wide spread support.
Before the approval of COSON, at about 8.00 pm, one evening at the Mojidi Street Ikeja office of PMRS which eventually became the take-off point of COSON, several of us, including Efe, hunkered down, trying to compose a simple slogan that would capture our intent and fire up what we were dreaming of as a COSON movement. Many bright ideas were thrown on the table to which we said yes and then, no. Someone had just uttered the evergreen words, ‘Let the Music Play’ to which I retorted angrily: ‘For too long, the music has been playing in Nigeria and nobody is paying for it’. In frustration, I simply shouted, ‘Let the music pay!’ The reaction was instant. It appeared that we had finally found the magic words that would communicate our frustrations, our dreams and our hopes and instill the needed energy to do what we must do.
I have worked with a great team of persons making outstanding contributions but none of the many changes that have taken place in recent times would have happened without Efe Omorogbe. Efe and I don’t always agree. We argue vigorously on many issues but none of our arguments is driven by ego but a desire for full understanding of the issues so we can make informed decisions.
In the trenches, I have experienced many situations when most Nigerians would have chosen a path that resulted in personal benefits. Repeatedly, Efe has taken the option that brought the greatest benefit to the greatest number even if he had to pay a huge personal price. While most people are busy looking for what they can take, Efe is asking of what he can give.
Take five, Efe Omorogbe!
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