Uzo Chikere is one of those exceptional Nigerian journalists who have dedicated their entire careers to the promotion of the Nigerian creative industry. ‘The General’ as we call him, is a fountain of knowledge in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Whether on radio or in print, Uzo Chikere has been special. Hereunder is the first part of a conversation I had with him which he published in his blog, Beats-onit. I got the permission of ‘The General’ to serve this discussion which was first published before the recent significant engagement of the creative industry with Minister Lai Mohammed. Welcome to Saturday Breakfast on a day we mourn the passing of the great musician, Segun Bucknor. Please read on.
1. From all indications, TOPS would appear to have jettisoned the Nigeria Music Awards (NMA) which it revived in 2007 through 2008. What is the outfit’s major thrust in the entertainment industry presently?
The fact that the razzle and dazzle of the Nigerian Music Awards has not been felt for a while is a pointer to the fact that I am human after all. It is true that the Nigerian Music Awards is the forerunner to all the major entertainment award events that take place in Nigeria today. You can therefore say that now there are alternative interests in the Headies, NMVA, AFRIMA, MAMA, the COSON Song Awards, etc. none of which existed when the NMA used to titillate the country and the continent. I know that none of these events can quite replace the NMA when you think of its history and the national pride and prestige associated with it. The NMA in its peculiar concept is an all-consuming project – several events in one, a national celebration like no other. The organizational and administrative demands, the creative requirements, the funding necessary for the NMA to be held to the standard for which it is known can be enormous.
With other award events emerging, I had to make a very difficult decision either to deploy my 24 hours a day to continue to do such very tasking events like the NMA or to deploy my time to building a copyright collective management system that the music industry in Nigeria so desperately needs especially in the digital age. You cannot imagine the amount of work and time that has gone into building COSON. I am sorry that TOPS, NMA and several other things had to take a back seat. God has been exceedingly generous to me. He however refused to grant my request for 26 hours a day. The NMA is not jettisoned. In the fullness of time, it will re-emerge.
2. Of recent you have been immersed in Intellectual Property development and protection as exemplified in your activities at the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON). What is the next level especially as it relates to your romance with some young music talents being seen around you recently?
I know that because of my close engagement with the building of the Intellectual Property infrastructure in the continent, people tend to forget that apart from having been a performer, I spent a significant amount of my earlier career as a producer and A&R Manager at the international recording company, EMI. I enjoy the challenge of providing wings for young talents to fly. My relationship with the young artistes who today frontline TOPS and whom I refer to as the TOPS All Stars is not a romance. It is a marriage. We are a unique family working closely together and bouncing ideas off each other and we are painstaking in our effort to ensure that each of the talents within the TOPS family finds success and reaches the top of his or her career. Each of them has access to my knowledge, experience and contacts. The digital environment has changed many things. At TOPS, we are determined to be stylish, forward thinking, do things differently and be a leader in the entertainment business. By the grace of the Almighty, working with the team I have, we will redefine the entertainment business in the country. I wish I had the resources to do more for more young people who need assistance. I really wish.
3. Are you about saying good bye to COSON?
No. I do not want what happened to PMAN to happen to COSON. With the instability that PMAN has endured, I have learnt that any withdrawal from COSON must be gradual and systematic. I am human and not indispensable but I understand the COSON vision, its very foundation and how the building blocks have been laid. I know the unique strengths and weaknesses of the organization. There is no question that there are people who dream of being in the leadership of COSON not because they want to defend the interest of the members but because they think that COSON has money that they can get their hands on. They neither have the knowledge nor the training to deal with the very complex subject of collective management of copyright. They lack the liver to take on the many enemies who are determined to thwart the system. They do not possess the skills to manage the many contending interests but they are very hungry for office. In less than six months, such people will destroy this wonderful organization we have carefully built. I saw it happen at PMAN. As you well know, I gave everything to building PMAN which was a most respected organization in Nigeria. When I left as President, suddenly, all kinds of people descended on PMAN and it was torn apart. It has been so painful to watch. At some point, four people claimed to be president of PMAN at the same time!
I do not have to show up every day at COSON as I used to because the management is gradually maturing and professionalized and a lot of the systems are being automated. For instance, very soon much of the membership issues, remote registration, monitoring of the use of works and royalty distribution at COSON will no longer be subject to human frailties. They will be handled by our newly developed computer system called the COSONET. We are also about to launch our automated licensing platform called CLAP (COSON Licensing Application Platform). These systems will ensure 100% transparency and accountability which are absolutely necessary for the continued growth of the organization. I remain a very active chairman of COSON committed to the ideals of COSON and defending the rights of the members every day. The COSON management and members of the Board have access to me 24/7. Physical presence does not matter much anymore. More and more, I am deploying technology to work for COSON wherever I am and managing my time differently and efficiently. No… COSON will not be an orphan. Anyone preparing to celebrate Tony Okoroji’s departure from COSON as a result of the work currently going on at TOPS should return the champagne to the fridge.
4. Can you let us into your vision for the creative industry especially with regards to music recording and production given your background as a producer, artiste and repertoire (A & R) Manager and also recording artiste yourself?
I look forward to the Nigerian creative industry making significant contributions to the national economy and helping to reverse the recession which the nation is facing. We have the potentials to be a major contributor to the nation’s GDP because our music, movies, literature, fashion, programming and content are in great demand across the world. In other words, we have the products that the world wants. We just have to ensure that we get true value for these products. For this to happen, those who make policies in the country need to understand that the nature of wealth in the world has changed significantly and that the brick and mortar economy is gone. As a nation, our mindset must change if we must be part of the new knowledge economy. To dwell endlessly on the price of oil is not helpful. What is the value of our intellectual property which is massively pirated at home and abroad?
I have repeatedly asked for serious dialogue between the government and those who understand what we must do to get true value for our intellectual property so that we can earn better income, encourage more investment and provide good paying jobs for our citizens. We have sent major recommendations to the government. We are asking for serious meetings and not photo opportunities. I am not interested in a hand out from government. We have concrete policy recommendations which the nation can implement and seriously energize our part of the economy. What we presently lack is a serious partner in government to work with. When the President asks us to think out of the box, we are an example of citizens thinking out of the box. I want to see proof that the government is ready to engage.