The unending war between Tony Okoroji, the former president of Performing Musicians Employers’ Association Of Nigeria (PMAN) and popular Nollywood actress, Onyeka Onwenu which dates back to 2011, finally came to an end yesterday.
Okoroji had went to court following the publication of an article in the Vanguard newspaper edition of October 14, 2011, which claimed he diverted N3million donated by the Cross Rivers State Government towards the final burial of Christy Essien Igbokwe.
He termed the allegation a deliberate attempt to malign or defame him, and said that it is ‘unjustified, unwarranted, malicious, wicked, reckless and libellous.’
The case was however thrown out by a Lagos State High Court. Back then, Justice I.O. Kasali who ruled in the case, submitted: ‘For words to be defamatory of a party, the said words must have lowered that party in the estimation of right-thinking members of the public and there must be evidence of this from a person whose views of that person have been so adversely affected’.
At the Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja on Thursday, June 30, 2016, the veteran actress, Onyeka Onwenu was ordered to pay the sum of N5 million as damages for defamation of character to Chief Tony Okoroji, the Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON).
Hon Justice I. O. Akinkugbe (Mrs.) who delivered the judgement in Suit No: ID/935/12 filed in 2012, also ordered Onyeka Onwenu to tender an unreserved public apology to Chief Okoroji to be published in Vanguard Newspapers and www.vanguardngr.com, the website of Vanguard Newspapers.
Reacting to the judgment, a jubilant Tony Okoroji who was in court said: ‘Once again, as has happened several times before, the courts have come to my rescue proving that despite what may be said to the contrary, you can obtain justice in Nigeria. This has taken close to four years of going in and out of court but at the end of the day, I must thank Honourable Justice Akinkugbe who the Almighty has again used to do justice for her professionalism. I must also thank my lawyer, Mr. Justin Ige for his commitment and thoroughness’.
‘I have committed much of my life to fighting for the welfare of every musician in Nigeria and protecting the interest of all including Ms. Onyeka Onwenu. In the battle, I have spared myself no inconvenience or discomfort and countless times, I have had to risk my life, my reputation and the welfare of my family.
‘Working with my colleagues at COSON, we have made available to musicians across Nigeria hundreds of millions of naira as we set out with the building of the most professional, transparent and accountable organization in the history of the creative industries in Nigeria, something that was considered impossible just a few years ago.
‘I wish I never had to take Ms. Onwenu to court. I consider every Nigerian musician including Onyeka a member of my extended family. Onyeka however left me with little choice. I went to court in self defence. Till today, I do not know what wrong I did to Onyeka Onwenu. As someone I considered a close colleague and friend, I was shocked at the level of hatred she had generated within herself to justify her all-consuming campaign of lies without foundation to destroy the one thing she knows that I cherish most; my integrity.
‘Every appeal to Ms Onwenu to reconsider what she was doing fell on deaf ears. Onyeka Onwenu has known me for many years. She knows very well that under no circumstance would I take a penny that does not belong to me but it suited her purpose to project me to the world as a thief. Onyeka knows that I am a stickler for rules and order but it made her happy to tell the world that I am lawless and a despot.
‘I know that very few people will believe this: three years ago, Onyeka Onwenu went to the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Ikeja to wickedly report that I was chasing her around at night in a red Jeep in her neighborhood with the intent to assassinate her! This crazy report with absolutely no foundation was made a few days to my birthday (December 22) and Christmas.
‘I have little doubt that the intent was to have me suffer in jail during my birthday, Christmas and New Year. It took the wisdom of the police authorities and the intervention of elders in the music industry such as Evangelist Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi, Prof Victor Uwaifo and Dr. Ben Ofoeze to save me from the wickedness carefully planned for me by someone I had treated with so much respect and love as my sister and friend.
‘My commitment to my colleagues in the music industry, the whole of the Arts and the Nigerian nation remains unshaken. From the work we are doing, I see a very bright future soon for the creative industries in Nigeria. How many times have I passed this road? I hope my experience will be a lesson to young Nigerians that if you keep your hands clean and do your job diligently, it does not matter what wickedness any man or woman may contrive against you, the good Lord will protect you. The harder they come, the harder they fall’.