Press Release | 18 December 2010 06:11 CET




There was unexpected drama at Court 15 of the Federal High Court Annex on Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi on Tuesday, December 14, 2010. The many music industry representatives who had arrived the court as early as 9.00 am to witness the continued trial of Tony Onwujekwe alias “Alaba King of Pirates” were shocked when the presiding Judge, Hon Justice Okon Abang suddenly announced that he had decided to hands off the celebrated case and had decided to send the files back to the Chief Judge to assign the matter to another judge.

The decision of Justice Abang was the culmination of what had become a running battle between the judge and the lead defence counsel, Chief Theodore Ezeobi SAN. Since the trial commenced earlier in the year, Chief Ezeobi has challenged virtually every decision made by the judge with respect to the admission of evidence.

At the last adjourned date, December 7, 2010, the confrontation came to a head as Prosecuting Counsel; Mr. Obi Ezeilo of the Nigerian Copyright Commission led the Investigating Copyright Officer, Mr. Kunle Olatunji in evidence. Chief Ezeobi took great offence when the judge over ruled him to admit the evidence of Mr. Olatunji. Mr. Olatunji had told the court that during his investigation, he discovered that the accused was reproducing the sound recordings of various artistes without authorization. It was Chief Ezeobi's position that Olatunji was not in a place to make such a statement which he described as “hearsay”. Prosecution counsel, Ezeilo hotly disputed Chief Ezeobi's position and the judge agreed with the prosecution. Chief Ezeobi then demanded an adjournment to allow him produce his authority to which Mr. Ezeilo disagreed saying that since the court had already ruled on the matter, there was nothing to be gained from Chief Ezeobi's authority and that the only option left for the defence, if dissatisfied, was to appeal the ruling. When the judge refused the adjournment, Chief Ezeobi began what appeared like a shouting match making it difficult for the judge to continue with the trial.

In a swift reaction to the events, the Nigerian Music Industry Coalition has petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Daniel Abutu. In a letter dated December 15, 2010, the coalition wrote, “Since the trial in the above matter began, members of our coalition have attended every court session and followed the proceedings closely. It is our considered opinion that the Defence Counsel, Chief Theodore Ezeobi SAN has set out methodically to intimidate and frustrate the Judge and frustrate the trial. We therefore can understand the atmosphere in which the Hon Justice Abang on December 14, 2010 announced in court that he was seeking the transfer of the case to another judge”.

The letter which was copied to the Attorney-General of the Federation, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Director- General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission sought the urgent intervention of the Chief Judge to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice in the case. According to the coalition, “Chief Ezeobi needs to be called to order and the trial concluded without any further delay. The unfortunate consequence of not taking prompt action may be that the very frustrated victims of piracy in Nigeriawill lose faith in the judicial process and may resort to self help. That will be sad'.

Commenting on the development, Chief Tony Okoroji, a key driver of the Nigerian Music industry Coalition and Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) said “We knew that they would try every trick in the world to derail the train of justice. They are mistaken if they think that we will not match them action for action. If it becomes necessary, we will mobilize thousands of musicians in Nigeriaagainst them. The international community is watching. We are ready for any manoeuvre they may wish to try. At the end of the day, Justice will be done”

Also reacting, Hon. John Ewelukwa Udegbunam, National President, Music Label Owners & Recording Industries Association (MORAN) said “Several times this year, I have risked my life to undertake the long journey from Onitsha to Lagos to witness every proceeding in this historic trial. Anyone who thinks he will derail this case is dreaming. They do not understand the indomitable spirit behind our current determination to fight the pirates to finish. Justice Abang has so far done an excellent job. The Chief Judge should give him the required protection to finish what he has started”.

The music industry watches as the events unfold.


Other sites The Nigerian Voice