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The Magnate versus The Musician 2: By Onigegewura

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Abioro's TYC also launched him to stardom
'Isola Abioro l'o gbemi jadee....' Barry sang later in his hit 'Oke Agba' If only and if only Abioro had been flexible and not that rigid, maybe he would have been the father of Nigeria music stars and doyen of Afican music promotion
Chief did not only dismiss the request for a raise. He opened another file on his table and brought out a new set of documents. Your guess is right! A new five-year contract! By now, Sunny Ade had learnt enough law. He had become a professional mathematician. He had obtained his Master of Business Administration from practical experience. He knew the implication of putting pen to paper. He applied for an adjournment.

The King of African Beats found himself in a quandary. His new songs were ready but Chief had threatened not to release any new album until he signed the new contract. And KSA was not ready to sign any new contract until the issue of royalty was resolved.
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KSA remembered his grandmother’s proverb. Ti abiku ba gbon ogbon ati ku ni igba erun, iya abiku a gbon ogbon ati sin oku e si etido. If an abiku decided to die during the dry season when he knew that the ground would be hard to dig, his parents would also decide to bury him by the riverside where the ground would not be hard to dig.

Sunny Ade decided to release his record with another company. His plan was to use the album to bargain for a better deal with African Songs. Instead of the measly 20 kobo, he was confident that the chairman would be ready to pay him at least N1.00 per copy. The album was recorded in Nigeria but taken to London for mixing. What Sunny Ade did not know was that Chief Abioro was a master at the game. Before Sunny could get a copy of his own album, Chief Abioro was already in possession of the new record.Image result for Images of Bolarinwa Abioro

Baba Ibeji was composing fresh materials at home when the court bailiffs arrived. They served him with an order of interim injunction! The court order was as comprehensive as it was broad. Sunny Ade was prohibited from sale, distribution, marketing, dealing, etc. etc. of the record. He read the order again. Even without being a lawyer, he knew the implication of the document he was holding.

With palpable emotion, his mind went back to how he came to Lagos from Abeokuta with only one shilling and eighteen pence! He remembered his years with Baba Sala. He recalled how he got stranded with Baba Sala’s travelling theatre in Jebba and Kano. How he did not see his mother for two years whilst he suffered to make it as a musician. He recalled how his first album sold only 13 copies. Now when he was at the threshold of success, this court order! With grim determination, he knew he couldn’t afford to quit.

He remembered his first day at Oshodi when he missed his way trying to locate Moses Olaiya’s house and how he was directed instead to Dr. Victor Olaiya at Tinubu. He recalled how he knelt down in the dust of Oshodi to pray. Immediately he knew what he must do. Sunny went down on his knees and with an emotional voice, he prayed and prayedRelated image.

It was not the Sunday Adeniyi that knelt down to pray that stood up. He had become empowered. He had become emboldened. That same evening, he established his own label.

Sunny Alade Records was born!

He didn’t bother to sit down again. He remembered the threat of Chief Abioro to bring him down at all cost. He needed a lawyer who knew his law and who would be prepared to fight his cause against the Magnate. He went off in search of Gani Fawehinmi.
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Gani: Never shys away from a good fight.
He picked the gauntlet on behalf of KSA, and gave it a good fight
Gani collected the court papers and looked at the claims. He looked at his client. He looked again at the claims. Chief Abioro was not leaving anything to chance. He knew what he wanted from the court. His lawyer had read the agreement between African Songs Limited and Sunday Adeniyi.

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Sunny with his lawyer at the court premises: The the day he won the final battle
of the 40 year old tussle on sole copyright ownership of his works
Chief Abioro wanted only four things from the court: a declaration that the agreement between ASL and Sunday Adeniyi and his boys was still subsisting; an injunction restraining Sunny Ade from distributing or selling the record; an account of all sales of the record; and N1 million for breach of contract.

I hope you are not sneering at the N1 million as being ‘chicken change’. Remember this was in 1974. The price of a brand new Volkswagen Beetle car was about N500 at that time. N1 million in 1974 was a princely sum!

On the day of the trial, the court was filled to capacity. Gani Fawehinmi was armed with every conceivable legal authority. The law books he brought to the court were more than enough to open a library. There were books on Contract. There were books on Human Rights. There were volumes on Intellectual Property. Gani even brought some books on Slave Trade.

The first application Gani brought before the court was for an order to compel African Songs to produce its statement of account over the preceding three years. The court granted the order. It was discovered that the company was making almost N900,000 every year from the sale of Sunny Ade Records. It was also discovered that the total sum that KSA received was N62,000 in the almost ten years he was with the company. How can you be asking me what is 900,000 divided by 62,000? I have told you that I’m not a mathematician. Please do
That was the conventional outlook of guy's
Ready for Sunny's party in those days
n’t ask me about percentages or fractions.

Gani did not forget to raise the issue of how 20kobo became 15 kobo. He also cross-examined Chief Abioro at length on the onerous terms contained in the contract. Gani put it to the chief that the contract was in restraint of trade and that it was therefore null and void as it amounted to colonization of  King Sunny Ade, a free citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a citizen of the Commonwealth!

My Lord Justice L. J. Dosunmu listened patiently to the parties. His Lordship also asked the witnesses some probing cases.  The court thereafter adjourned the matter to February 14, 1975 for judgment.  It did not even occur to the King of African Beats that the day was St. Valentine’s Day. His only preoccupation was to find out the direction in which the pendulum of justice was going to swing.

On February 14, people started arriving at the court as early as 7am. The court officials had hectic time controlling the mammoth crowd that had come to court to witness the historic decision.

In His Lordship’s judgment, Justice Dosunmu held that although some of the terms of the contract were stringent, that was not a ground for holding the contract invalid. In effect, the contract between ASL and KSA was therefore valid. As the court pronounced on the validity of the contract, Sunny looked at his lawyer. Gani signaled to him to be calm, the court had only resolved one issue out of four.

With regard to the second claim, the court held that since the records in question had been distributed all over Nigeria, there was no way the court could order them to be recalled. The court therefore refused to restrain Sunny Ade and his marketer, M. Ola Kazim from distributing the album. A tiny smile crossed Sunny’s face.

You recall that Chief Abioro was asking for N1,000,000 as damages for breach of contract. The court ruled that for recording with another company during the subsistence of the contract, Sunny Ade was liable. He was asked to pay N300! Yes, Three Hundred Naira! From N1,000,000 to N300! Sunny smiled for the first time.

The court having found that the contract was still subsisting, KSA was ordered not to release another album pending the expiration of the contract with Chief Abioro’s company, which was due in six months. Six months! What am I going to be eating? Sunny thought. Apparently, this was the only part of the judgment that Anti Wura, Buroda Alani's third wife must have heard, and heard wrongly too!

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Years after the battle is over: A duet with a proffesional colleague, Ebenezer Obey
As if reading Sunny Ade’s mind, Justice Dosunmu said he realized that Sunny Ade would need to eat and feed his family in the six months that the contract had to run. His Lordship therefore held that the injunction was limited to only recording of albums and that Sunny Ade was free to do live performances for fees. His Lordship said that this was  in order to avoid a situation where the King of Music would starve or be compelled to go back to Chief Abioro.

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Chief Abioro 3rd From left: Good vision to promote African Music,
But derailed by rigidity and over shrewdness in managing the business, even the social aspect.
Other musicians ran for dear life from his company and went elsewhere. Bad market indeed!
The Judge had hardly risen before King Sunny Ade jumped up to hug his counsel. He was free! He gave Gani a bear hug. He had learnt his lesson. Creativity and Business must go hand in hand. Years later, the King of Music recalled: “The lesson I learnt from the episode is that if an artiste is churning out hit records, he needs to keep an eye on the business side of things. If not, he would be in a mess.”

The historian Is not a judge, history is.
                                                                                    Onigegewura

And history's verdict from Soji Graphics perspective, Onigegewura?

Chief  Yakubu Bolarinwa Abioro had a good vision to promote and showcase African Music, to the world. But inflexibilty and lack of dynamism as in too much strict business shrewdness and policy rigidity in managing the business, even the social aspect, derailed the vision. 

Other musicians having both heard and seen the ordeal of King Sunny Ade and the attendant mess of a conflict it generated with Emperor Pick Peter and others for years, ran for dear life from his company and went elsewhere. And that was it. It truncated the vision, and eternity. How Ayinde Barrister managed to wriggle himself out of such firm grip to manage his label Oluyole Records, remains a subject of another story.

Younger generations of indigenous promoters in the ilks of Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye(D1), came in many years later,  with much dynamism and flexibility in managing both the business and social aspect of it and made a great fortune.

                                              Soji Omole  


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