Veno sues Airtel N350 million over ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ copyright violation

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Buhari’s uncanny pact with Veno’s song 37 years after

By Godwin Okondo

Album sleeve of Veno’s released in 1985

POPULAR Nigerian music star of ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ fame, Veno Marioghae-Mbanefo, has sued telecom giant Airtel Nigeria Ltd for copyright violation, and is claiming N350 million in damages. A statement of claim was filed at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos on Friday, September 23, 2022 by Marioghae-Mbanefo’s legal representative Felix, Igelige & Associates, with Barristers Rockson Igelige and Simon O. Evivie leading the legal charge against Airtel Nigeria Ltd for rights infringement.

Among other things, Veno is seeking “A declaration that Airtel’s use of her song “Nigeria Go Survive” for advertising, promoting, and telemarketing Airtel’s business, products and services to its subscribers or customers without naming her as the author or copyright owner for the illegal use for Airtel’s business breached her statutory right under section 12 of the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
“A declaration that Airtel’s use of her song “Nigeria Go Survive” for advertising, promoting, and telemarketing its business, products and services to its subscribers or customers without the consent, license and/or authorisation of Veno first sought and obtained constitute an infringement of her copyright.”
She is therefore praying for an order of the court to award against Airtel Nigeria Ltd in her favour the sum of N200 million (two hundred million naira) as general damages, another N50 million (fifty million naira) as damages for violation of her statutory right under section 12 of the Copyright Act, Cap. C28, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and an order of the court to award against Airtel and in her favour the sum of N100 million (one hundred million naira) as aggravated damages for Airtel’s unlawful and flagrant infringement of her copyright.
Other reliefs Veno is seeking include “an order of perpetual injunction by the court to restrain Airtel Nigeria Ltd, its agents, servants, privies, successors-in-title or assignees from further broadcasting, publishing, transmitting, or using her song “Nigeria Go Survive” for advertising, telemarketing and promotional purposes or in any other way using the song or any of her copyright song as a ring tone or caller tune without her consent, license and/or authorisation being first sought and obtained.
Veno is also seeking an order of the court directing Airtel Nigeria Ltd, its agents, servants, privies, successors-in-title and assignees to remove the song “Nigeria Go Survive” copyright which belongs to her from Airtel’s list of songs for advertising, business, telemarketing, and promotional purposes, and any other order the court may deem fit to make under the circumstances of this case.
It will be recalled that since April, the songster and Airtel Nigeria Ltd have been going back and forth over Airtel’s copyright violation of her work, a claim which Airtel has continued to deny even when evidence abounds of Airtel’s continuing use of Veno’s song ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ to telemarket its products and services. Airtel Nigeria Ltd therefore threatened to sue the Isoko-born songster for defamation of character and falsely making claims about her work being illegally used. But Veno has stuck to her guns and said she was ready with evidence to make Airtel Nigeria Ltd pay for its flagrant violation of her copyright to the song ‘Nigeria Go Survive’, a song she recorded back in the 1980s to popular acclaim, and which still resonates with Nigerians who are experiencing current socio-political realities.
While filing the suit last Friday in Lagos, Veno said she has lined up four star witnesses who will help her in prosecuting the case. With Nigeria’s current harsh socio-economic situation, Veno’s ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ has become even more resonant with many desperate Nigerians, young and old, seeking the exit door to ‘Check out’ like the popular Andrew of the song in the 1980s when the iconic song was made. Last August, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had the song’s title on its Twitter handle, an indication of the song’s evergreen status and continuing power to speak to the times.

Veno Omarioghae-Mbanefo

Veno’s legal team enlisted the services of a valuation company, Lekan Akinwumi & Co, an indigenous Estate Surveying and Valuation company with specialty in Intangible Assets Valuation that include copyright, brand, trademark, patent, trade secret, skills, etc on assets that are moveable properties that can be securitized. Lekan Akinwumi put value on the incomeAirtel possibly made while illegally using Veno’s ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ song for its business that assisted her in arriving at N350 million claim.
Indeed, Veno’s evergreen song and Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s reincarnated leader would seem to have some unsavoury, uncanny pact at critical moments of Nigerian history. ‘Nigeria Go Survive’ was made shortly after Buhari was ousted from power in 1984, with his misrule that sparked an exodus of Nigerians from the country; it was what inspired the song. ‘Andrew no check out o’ is a popular line from the song performed by the late Nollywood star Enebeli Enebuwa that urged Nigerians not to abandon ship but to remain to exploit the abundant resources and potential in the country and to keep hope alive. Nigeria was only saved by Buhari’s ouster by Ibrahim Babangida. Again with Buhari in power some 37 years later, the exodus of Nigerians the other countries is unprecedented, which makes the song even more poignant and timely. This would explain Airtel Nigeria Ltd latching on the song to urge Nigerians to be resilient while turning to its products and services, as means of surviving Nigeria’s hard times.
However, legal fireworks are set to begin as to the legality or otherwise of Airtel’s unauthorised use of Veno’s iconic song to telemarket its products and services to its millions of subscribers without prior consent from the copyright owner.

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