If I was blessed with telepathic powers, I would probably be consoling late Christy Essien in her grave due to the rancor that has emanated from the funeral activities of her passing. What I have done here is to outline the published communications between Tony Okoroji, Chritie Essien and other industry watchers. My only surprise is that those involved have been respected senior professionals in an industry that shaped me and gives me so much pride daily. This is the reason why we have chartered accountants and Attorneys. If anyone has a grouse with expenses, hire an accountant to work out the income and expenses report as well as a balance sheet. Let the Attorneys Judge with the facts on ground. Everyone has contacts with the press in Nigeria who will be glad to release reports that will surely make headlines. Well, read the following and be your own Judge.
Tony Okoroji, NG (October 18, 2011) - Onyeka Onwenu was never elected Chairman of the Christy Essien-Igbokwe Burial Committee. She is not Chairman of the sub-committee on finance. Throughout the burial activities, she was chairman of nothing and made little positive creative contribution towards the organization of the events that I can remember. Onyeka was never appointed auditor to the committee. Indeed, she did not attend any meeting of the committee until the events had been designed and the activities had gathered momentum. Then, she surfaced and the great camaraderie we enjoyed in the committee disappeared. Onyeka found faults with everything. At one point, she wanted to be the only speaker at the symposium. At another, she wanted to be both MC and performer at the tribute night and must sing last! She fought in vain to stop the musical stampedes that took place very successfully in Akwa Ibom and Anambra and tried to truncate the special rendition of the national anthem done by a younger colleague, Eva Ogoro at the tribute night. Of course, everyone saw her in Lagos wherever the cameras and bright lights were on but when in my opinion, it truly mattered, “Madam Probity” was nowhere to be found. Onyeka Onwenu who suddenly loves Christy more than anyone else in the world never attended Christy’s burial in Awka.
I do not recall that Onyeka was at any time appointed spokesperson by the committee. Sadly, my dear sister who likes to talk about democracy and the will of the people nominated and elected herself to the position and set about to drag the widely celebrated burial of our colleague, Christy, into unnecessary controversy and to tarnish the image of the good people who labored so hard to make it succeed.
I have read Onyeka Onwenu’s tirade against me spread over the internet and published in Vanguard Newspaper of October 14, 2011. I have wondered why with her experience and a few months to her attaining the age of sixty, she would embark on this reckless and self destructive journey. Onyeka never spoke to me nor did she seek any clarification from me before spreading her venom. I am not quite sure but I have a few guesses as to what she is after and why without any provocation, she is so trigger happy and desperate to shoot my reputation down. I have had great patience with Ms. Onwenu. This time, she has crossed the line and I have asked my lawyers to take appropriate action and I will defend myself like I have done many times before.
Having briefed my lawyers, I would have chosen to keep quiet. I have decided to issue this detailed statement because of the nature of the spread of misinformation in the digital age and because of a serious concern for the feelings of the different persons who kindly gave us badly needed assistance, the thousands who happily participated in the events and those who prayed for our success. It is also important that I reassure the many young people in our industry who look up to me. I want them to know that despite the madness in Nigeria, some of us strive to live up to the values that we preach. I am also giving these details because there are those who know the truth and who owe it to me and to posterity to timely speak out and lay this matter to rest but have chosen not to. For obvious reasons, I am deeply pained to have to join issues with Ms Onwenu in public but if I do not do so now, many may say, “there is no smoke without fire” I did not start this and have no interest in seeking vain glory and would have had no need to discuss these details if the present circumstances were not foisted on me.
1 hereby state categorically that I do not have one naira belonging to the Christy Essien-Igbokwe Burial Committee. In all, the sum of thirteen million naira was passed through me to the committee: a ten million naira cheque from Akwa Ibom State Government and three million naira in cash from Cross River State. Both were handed over to the committee. I did not demand neither did I receive any commission, honorarium, token or compensation for obtaining the money. I was not paid a penny for the over two months of back breaking work that I did to make sure that we kept the promise I made on behalf of the committee that Christy Essien-Igbokwe would be buried like a queen. Indeed, I spent substantial amount of personal funds to ensure the success of a project which I believed in and which despite the attempt to stain it will remain a watershed moment in the history of events organization in Nigeria. I never was a signatory to the Committee’s account and was not even a member of the finance committee and there was no key decision I took without obtaining the authorization of the Chairman of the committee, Dr. Austin Izagbo. At the end of the burial, I submitted very comprehensive financial reports on behalf of the two sub committees that I headed
I was only drafted by the committee to help with fund raising when it became clear that the entire project was about to collapse because the Contact Committee of which Ms. Onwenu was a member, had failed to raise any money. At every meeting all I heard from Onyeka was how she was ‘in touch with the First Lady’ A good number of us including Austin Izagbo and Bisi Olatilo put in significant time and personal funds towards the success of the burial. I do not know of any money that Onyeka contributed towards the project. When Onyeka Onwenu sings I celebrate her because she is a very good singer but being a good singer is not a licence to act without self control and without any consideration for the consequences of your actions on others.
I am a very busy person and did not seek to be part of the Christy Essien-Igbokwe Burial Committee. I was invited to the committee by Christy’s husband, Edwin. Despite the size of the committee and my protestations, I was requested by the members to head two key sub committees: the Ceremonial sub Committee and the Publicity sub Committee. The ceremonial committee was charged with designing and executing the events and the Publicity Committee with promoting the activities. I was warned by friends of the high risk of my name being tarnished. I ultimately agreed to undertake the assignments because I believed in the cause but I warned everyone in the committee that I did not want to be part of any scandal.
The committees worked for weeks without one naira from anywhere. As Chairman of the Publicity Committee, I tapped on the substantial goodwill I enjoy with the media and I was answered positively and comprehensively. As a result of the work of my committee, over one hundred million naira in direct advertising was given to the burial activities by diverse media institutions in Nigeria free of charge, not to speak of the massive amount of editorial support, something that had never happened. I will never stop expressing my gratitude to the Nigerian media for their generosity. Among the several media friends I personally pleaded with on the phone were Mr. Tony Onyima, Editor-in Chief of the Sun; Mr. Sam Amuka Pemu, Publisher of Vanguard; Mr. Demola Osinubi, Managing Director of the Punch; Mr. Kunle Bakare, Publisher of Encomium Weekly; Mr Azuh Arinze, Publisher of Yes Magazine, Mr. Olisa Adibua of Beat, Classic and Naija FM; Mr. Lekan Ogubanwo, the Permanent Secretary in charge of LTV, Mr. Bola Agboola, the FRCN Director of Marketing, etc. I personally went to plead with the leadership of TVC, met with Chief Steve Ojo, owner of Galaxy TV and spoke with my friends at NTA, AIT, Channels, etc.
At the editorial and reportorial levels, I continuously spoke with countless journalists. Those I could not speak with, I wrote letters to. I invited a number of crack journalists to join the Publicity Committee and was constantly on the ‘neck’ of friends like Nat Biefoh Osewele of the Sun, Nonye Ben Nwankwo of the Punch, Charles Okogene of Independent, Kabir Garba of the Guardian, Fred Onyeka Nwalue of Metro FM, Patience Okeafor of Galaxy, Alozie Uzoukwu of STV, Ifeoma Oti &Jasmine Egeonu of AIT, Hazeez Balogun of Compass, Azuh Amatus of Entertainment Express, Ayo Lawal of PM News, Tunde Laiwola of LTV, Emeka Nnamani of Ray Power FM, etc.
While I had a number of good journalists on the Publicity Committee who had been asked to write stories to promote the events, it was clear that many of them were busy especially as there was no honorarium for the work they were asked to do. Ultimately, I had to write most of the press releases that drove the events. At the end of the day, I had written about 71 press releases which were circulated and published daily across the length and breadth of the nation. I once mailed a press release on the events to Ogbonna Amadi who is credited with the vile article published in Vanguard seeking to destroy me. A few minutes after receiving my mail, Mr. Amadi replied, warning me not to send any such “trash” to his box.
Because of lack of funds, I had to personally write the advert copies for radio, print and TV and supervised their production and syndication. I coordinated the organization of two major and very successful press conferences, one at Niteshift Coliseum and the other at Teslim Balogun Stadium. As a result, the Christy Essien Igbokwe burial became the talk of the nation and everyone wanted to be part of it. While a good number of people in our committee commended the pain staking work we were doing to celebrate our colleague, Ms. Onyeka Onwenu sent out text messages to all and sundry complaining that Tony Okoroji was engaged in self promotion!
As Chairman of the Ceremonial Committee, I worked with a fantastic group to design the seven different events of the burial. With the kind assistance of the Lagos State Commissioner for Sports, Barrister Waheed Enitan Oshodi, I got Governor Fashola to allow us the use of Teslim Balogun Stadium, free of charge. I pleaded on the phone with the General Manager of the National Theatre, Malam Kabir Yusuf and a hall was given for the Symposium free of charge and the VIP foyer given for the Lying in State also free of charge. I drafted in Segun Arinze, Baba Dee, Fred Edore, Azuh Amatus and Yinka Davies and I spoke with each of them several times every day no matter where in Nigeria I was. That was how the entertainment industry and the media were mobilized and the four teams that played the celebrated Match of the Stars in honour of Christy and the cheer leading ensemble were formed. Through Felix Awogu and Fred Edore, both of whom I will remain ever grateful to, the teams were fully kitted like professionals free of charge by Zenith Sports. With the approval of the committee, I invited Lagos lawyer and former police officer, Mr. Victor Eiremokhae to join the committee and to head the security team and without any compensation, he did a first class job. Without asking how the Match of the Stars was conceived or put together, Ms Onyeka Onwenu arrived at Teslim Balogun Stadium on match day, smiling from cheek to cheek; to do the kick off, jumping around the stadium and posing for photographs everywhere.
I assembled the artistes that gave the wonderful performances at the Red Carpet Tribute Night. When rehearsals could not begin because there was no money, I provided personal funds to the band to start rehearsals at African Shrine graciously made available to us by Yeni Kuti who showed great commitment to the success of the event. I was convinced that Frank Edoho of Who Wants to be a Millionaire was the right compere for the Tribute Night. I spoke with Frank countless times. It became clear that while Frank wanted to do the show, he had already been paid to do another event that night. Between Frank and I, we agreed that the only way that he would make the Coliseum event was to give a refund to those who had previously paid him. Frank will bear witness that I made significant personal contribution towards this refund. Nowhere in the financial statement to the committee did I mention this or seek that I be repaid. Indeed, the only person I informed about this was Dr. Izagbo after the event.
I was aware of the well known dispute between the Igbokwe family and Governor Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. There was clear agreement between me and the Chairman of the Burial Committee, Dr Izagbo that we owed a duty to Christy to attempt to resolve the dispute. Consequently, I called a contact in Uyo who helped set up a meeting with Governor Akpabio. I invited my very good friend Bisi Olatilo who was then in Abuja and he graciously cut his trip to join me in Uyo. Ms. Onwenu was asked to travel with me. The two day meeting in Uyo with the governor was a turning point as it helped to clear much of the clouds that hovered over the entire project. Governor Akpabio showed the kind of simplicity, maturity and forgiving spirit not usually associated with people who occupy such positions in this part of the world. He went out of his way to help douse whatever tension existed between the Igbokwe and Essien families. Let me say that without Godswill Akpabio, the Christy Essien burial would have ended differently.
I have heard that a rumour has been activated that Governor Akpabio gave me millions to do the documentary on Christy. I suspect that this is a key reason for the long brewing hyper ventilation of Ms. Onwenu to boil over. I state categorically that The Story of the Lady of Songs which has been broadcast by several TV stations in the country was funded entirely by me and has financially set me back significantly. Contrary to Ms. Onwenu’s assertion, nowhere in the financial report sent by me to the Christy Essien- Igbokwe Burial Committee was one naira requested as cost of the documentary. I did the research and wrote the script and within two weeks, in the midst of the mind boggling challenges of organizing probably the most elaborate burial in Nigerian history, I traversed the country with a film crew led by an incredible Nigerian known as Razak Izebe, and day and night we shot the visuals across several states, edited on the road and produced the first ever cradle to grave story on any Nigerian artiste. Austin Izagbo and Bisi Olatilo will bear witness that Ms Onwenu was repeatedly requested to participate in the documentary and she declined.
It may be sour grapes or bad belle but Ms. Onwenu has set out to rubbish The Story of the Lady of Songs describing it in her internet and newspaper tirade as ‘substandard’ I have however received commendations on the work from several professionals whom I have great respect for. The so called “substandard” documentary has been seen by millions of Nigerians on several TV stations like AIT, Channels, TVC, Biscon, Galaxy, NTA, etc. It is arguably the most broadcast documentary in Nigeria in recent times. Many people have told me that through the documentary, they have learnt so much about the life of Christy Essien Igbokwe that they did not know. The documentary is today a national resource and an everlasting legacy to the memory of Christy. It does not matter to me if Ms Onwenu develops a headache each time The Story of the Lady of Songs is broadcast but someone should remind her that Nigeria is a free country and that she has every right to do her own documentary on Christy or anyone else and get it shown wherever she may choose.
In the tirade in which Ms. Onwenu could not find one good thing done by me towards the Christy burial, she also complained about the use of COSON staff in the burial arrangements. I am Chairman of the Board of COSON which is a non-profit making organization. Until her death, Christy Essien-Igbokwe was a member of COSON. I owe no apologies to Ms Onwenu for requesting the hard working staff of COSON to participate in the burial arrangements of our member. Indeed I commend all the COSON staff who made valuable contribution to the success of the events:- Vincent Adawaisi, Elizabeth Ike, Isa Haruna, Benice Eriemeghe, Yemi Oyerinde, etc. To the staff of COSON, Ms. Onwenu’s complaint would be a joke especially coming from ‘Madam Probity’ who regularly demands that the staff of COSON come to her private office to do her private work. Ms Onwenu likes to complain about everyone’s leadership but I am not aware of any complex organization that she has handled or any serious group that she has successfully led.
A few days to the commencement of the burial events, it was reported at a committee meeting that the only drinks that had been mobilized by the welfare committee apart from the Ragolis water kindly donated by Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, were a few crates of Seven Up! I was alarmed and requested that I be allowed to intervene. I then called my friends at Nigerian Breweries Plc: Tony Agemonmen, Edem Vindah, Sampson Oloche and Ngozi Nkwoji and Nigerian Breweries stepped in and donated much of the drinks we received for the events.
What I truly do not understand is how I could have taken the many wrong decisions which Ms. Onwenu alleges and yet the organization of the events of the Christy Essien Igbokwe burial have been widely acknowledged to be masterful and Onyeka Onwenu has basked in the glory of the success of the events. It beats me how she cannot see the contradiction.
Despite the fact that, I live in Lagos, for several weeks, I did not go home because of the Christy Essien burial. Home and office were a room in a modest guest house in Ikeja which I shared sometimes with four other persons, several laptops and internet modems. While Lagos slept, we were deep at work. It was from this room that 24 hours a day, we mobilized Nigerians and did the important organizational and media work that drove the celebrated events of the Christy Essien burial which Nigerians witnessed. Some of us went for days snatching fifteen minutes sleep here and there. Austin Izagbo visited Room 302 at least 25 times. Ken Olumese was there and so were Yinka Davies, Eva Ogoro, Kaka Igbokwe, Chika Okpala, Lemmy Jackson, Pal Akalonu, Cornel Udofia, Victor Eiremokhae, Kunle Akintayo, Aladave, Aniekan Umanah - the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information and many others whose presence inspired us to successfully wrestle with the many challenges and tie together the hundreds of different elements that made the grand idea a reality. Onyeka Onwenu never came.
After Ms. Onwenu joined the committee and the atmosphere became soured, I realized that a concerted attempt was being choreographed to smear me. I had seen this happen before and I did not want to be part of it. Unknown to most members of the committee, on August 14, I wrote to Chief Edwin Igbokwe informing him that I had decided to quietly withdraw from the committee. I immediately commenced arrangements to travel with my friends, Patrick Doyle and Mahmoud Ali Balogun on an important business trip to South Africa from where I would proceed to the United States to join my wife. My plan was to remain in the US until the burial activities were over. Upon receiving my mail, Chief Igbokwe who was in Anambra, sent a mail pleading that I rescind the withdrawal. He followed it up with phone calls. (My mail and Chief Igbokwe’s reply are hereby forwarded)
On the prompting of Chief Igbokwe, Dr. Izagbo rushed to Room 302 where he found me at a meeting with Patrick and Mahmoud planning our trip. For several hours, we argued back and forth on the effect my withdrawal would have on the burial arrangements. I told Dr. Izagbo that I could no longer operate under the atmosphere that had developed. Dr. Izagbo who shares a common ancestry with my wife pleaded with me and prevailed on me to reverse my decision in the interest of the committee, assuring me that he would take charge and ensure that my name was not dragged to the mud.
Once again, I have to pay lawyers to clear my name for doing massive unpaid work in furtherance of the beliefs that I hold. I have travelled this road before. I thank God that each time, He has given me victory. By His grace, it will happen again.
Onyeka Onwenu - A BATTLE line appears to have been drawn between ace musician, Onyeka Onwenu and Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON, boss, Chief Tony Okoroji as the former has asked the latter to give account of the N3 million donation made by the Cross River State Government to facilitate the burial rites of the departed songster, Christy Essien-Igbokwe.
In a letter sent to Okoroji, and made available to Weekend Groove, Onyeka is compelling Okoroji to step forward and clear the air by simply accounting for the whereabouts of the said money.
The letter reads in parts; Dear Tony Okoroji: “I write this letter with a pained heart, one full of disappointment at the news that you pocketed the N3 million donation made by the Cross River State Government to the Christy Essien Burial Committee for use towards her burial programme.
‘I understand that you took this decision because you claimed you were owed certain amounts for “unauthorised” expenditures made by you during the burial week. Unauthorised, because you did whatever you wanted and undertook actions against the decisions of the committee as a whole.
Actions such as the making of a documentary and the commissioning of satellite musical stampedes in other States. You headed sub-committees assigned to you but handled everything to the exclusion of other members and then you took over other sub-committees and insisted on imposing yourself on everyone else.
“I know you like to say that others were not up to doing the work but that is a misinformation that suits your imagination. How could they when you wouldn’t let them. How many meetings did you have with members of your subcommittees?
How many remedial meetings were called by the committee to redress some of your mistakes did you respect? You took delight in presenting us with a fait accompli, in setting programmes for events that were even outside your purview and jurisdiction. You even dared to impose pre-printed programmes that went against the committees decision.”
“We tolerated all these just so we can protect the integrity of the burial programme and protect all our reputations. You believed your own hype and thought that you were smarter and more cunning than anyone else. Did you not inform us that you made that substandard documentary on Christy with your own money, therefore, we had no right to complain.
Yet you have now turned around to charge the committee for it. Let me note here that you used COSON staff, paid by copyright owners, something you have done, consistently over the period of your chairmanship and which you know or should know is patently wrong.
“You also said that the MCs you brought in for the tribute night at the NiteShift, against the committee’s decision had offered their services free of charge.
But now you are charging for their services. During our last committee meeting and in response to my objection to your “one man, devil may care” decision taking, your inability to be a team player and total lack of regard for the people you are supposed to work with, you accused me of having the capability of sending hired assassins after you.
What a reckless thing to say and how irresponsible are you. I decided to ignore you but on a second thought, you had projected onto me something that you were considering doing yourself. I have taken note of it.
“I would have been very happy to see you prove me wrong by doing the right thing. But what did you do, you confirmed our worst fears by taking money which did not belong to you. My dear brother, Tony, I wish that you would have a rethink and return the money.
It is blood money and would do you no good. You make us wonder if the reason you were part of Christy’s Burial Committee was to help give a befitting burial rites or to rip it off. You have an opportunity to prove your innocence.
“I understand that the first thing you said at the first committee meeting was that there must be no financial impropriety and now, you have eaten what you vomited. If indeed you are being owed, why not let the committee decide. What are you afraid of. It is not too late, you can still do the right thing. God bless you as you do so.”
PATRICK DOYLE - Friday October 14 was not a very good day for me. I woke up and my attention was drawn to a very sordid article in a national newspaper as well as calls from colleagues all over the world directing me to various sites on the internet carrying the same sordid tale in which the well known singer, Onyeka Onwenu, had poured invectives on Chief Tony Okoroji, Chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) under whom Onyeka has served in different capacities for several years. I felt very bad because I know the facts in the matter which had been so badly twisted in the newspaper and internet stories to damage the name of a good man.
Tony Okoroji is my friend. I have cherished his friendship for a long time because he is an uncommon Nigerian. In a nation filled with all kinds of charlatans, Tony Okoroji is a genuine article. Always willing to donate his prodigious intellect and unrivalled organizational skills to any cause in which he has faith. His commitment to his friends is legendary.
Last year when I turned 50, Okoroji mobilized the entire entertainment industry to honour me with the biggest celebration of my life. A few days to the event, Chief Okoroji had to travel out of the country on an urgent assignment. From where he was, he never stopped calling everyone connected to the event to ensure that every detail of the celebration was in place. He had to fly a rather crazy route to arrive Lagos 2 hours to the show, drove straight to the Household of God venue and took charge. The result was a most memorable event executed by a master with style. Coincidentally, one of the several ‘A’ list artistes assembled by Chief Okoroji to honour me was Onyeka Onwenu.
Six years ago, I was present when Tony Okoroji, during a visit to Onyeka’s GRA Ikeja office, reminded her that she had spent 25 years on stage and that the event ought to be celebrated. For several weeks after, Okoroji did little else but mobilize Nigeria’s high and mighty to a weeklong mega celebration of Onyeka Onwenu’s career. I produced the documentary on Onyeka for that event and those who came to Planet One for All for Onyeka cannot forget the exquisite multimedia theme show designed and produced by Tony Okoroji with my assistance. For two weeks before the show, Okoroji burnt the midnight oil in my Maryland studio as he worked every night to produce the montage and inserts that made the show unique. Dinner at the event cost millions of naira. Okoroji paid the bill and for much of the cost of the Onyeka Onwenu weeklong celebration. No tickets were charged. Tony Okoroji was simply happy to honour someone he considered a talent and a friend.
When Chief Okoroji told me that the late Christy Essien’s husband, Edwin Igbokwe had asked him to serve on her burial committee, I told him not to accept. I know Tony and I know that he is a perfectionist. He does not like half measures. If he said yes, he would abandon everything else, throw himself at the burial and spare nothing to ensure that it was a roaring success. In a nation with many lazy people who would do nothing except for money, the Okoroji incredible work ethic confounds a lot of people. Those who do not know him well cannot comprehend how a man can give so much for nothing. Therefore, they assume that he must be on the take and that if they shake him up properly, rotten fruits would start falling.
One Sunny Neme who used to report for a major national newspaper must have acted with that assumption when with no facts he caused the paper to publish some injurious stories against Tony. When Tony Okoroji took his paper to court and got an award of 40 million naira in damages, a Tsunami occurred at the newspaper washing away Sunny Neme and a host of others. Let me say here that I warned Sunny Neme but he would not listen. Femi Lasode made the same mistake and bailiffs from the High Court in Ikeja visited his VGC home one early morning, carted away his glittering white jeep and everything else of value in his home. Lasode could not pay the damages for libeling Okoroji and he has practically been a recluse ever since. Charly Boy is smatter. Despite his devil-may-care outward appearance, when he saw the hand writing on the wall, he called me and begged me over and over to help him plead with Okoroji not to turn him to a Lasode. Oputa and I went to Tony and Tony warned him and forgave. There are many more of such stories. Tony Okoroji has little interest in building estates or buying flashy cars but he does not joke with his family name which he says is a legacy from his father which he must leave for his children.
I am familiar with Okoroji’s home. Despite his many years of holding several important positions, he lives a very simple lifestyle. Tony Okoroji who has delivered important papers around the world, served on Federal Government boards, been the longest serving President of PMAN, been Chairman of PMRS and now Chairman of COSON which as he did with PMAN, has been turned into a household name in a few months, drives only one car, a fairly used Toyota. When his daughter got married last year, Okoroji who has organized some of the most celebrated events in the history of Nigeria invited less than ten friends to a marriage registry in a Lagos suburb and hosted them to launch in his living room.
Many must consider Onyeka an intelligent woman. Onyeka was twice Vice President to Okoroji while he was PMAN President. She was on Okoroji’s Board while he was Chairman of PMRS. She presently serves on the Board of COSON of which Tony is the Chairman. She knows the man. Tony Okoroji is not a lawyer but very few people in Nigeria know the Nigerian law of libel better than he does the same way he is probably Nigeria’s foremost authority on the Nigerian copyright law of which he is one of the authors. I have spoken to Tony who is pained by what he considers Onyeka’s betrayal. He has already briefed lawyers to clear his name. Knowing what I know, it is difficult to understand why Onyeka who is six years older than Okoroji could have decided to make herself a Lasode.
Onyeka has tried Tony before. I recall that in 1991, Onyeka aligned herself with a number of others to take Okoroji to court. In the celebrated case in which Christy Essien Igbokwe was Onyeka’s ally, they sought to commit Okoroji to prison for contempt. At the time, the body of Tony’s mother was lying in an Owerri mortuary. That did not stop Onyeka & Co from going for his jugular. The story around town then was that there was a plan to make sure that Okoroji would be in prison while his mother was buried. Judgment day came and the court in Ikeja presided over by the present Lagos State Chief Judge, Inumidun Akande, was filled to capacity. Lo and behold, the tables were turned: Onyeka Onwenu & Co not only lost the case so badly but almost faced perjury charges. It took Sir Victor Uwaifo and the same Tony Okoroji to plead with the judge for the conspirators not to be prosecuted. Okoroji has been dragged to the Police, EFCC, ICPC, SSS and each time, he has prevailed and not once has he been held for anything. In every case, it was clear that malice and hatred were at play.
Anyone would expect Tony Okoroji to hold a big grudge against those who have persecuted him over these years. Not Okoroji. There is probably no Nigerian who has continued to fight for the rights and sacrifice for the good of every Nigerian artiste than Tony Okoroji. It was the same man that mobilized Nigerians to give Christy Essien the kind of burial never before given to any Nigerian. It was Tony Okoroji that conceived All for Onyeka, funded it, organized it and gave Onyeka Onwenu the greatest honour she has received as a Nigerian artiste.
Tony Okoroji elicits a lot of passion, much of it positive and some of it negative but it is the passion that drives his massive self belief and responsible for the army of young people that follow him. He is a master mobilizer and a creative machine who will take a small idea, breathe life into it and everyone is left in awe. His pace and endurance can leave you gasping for breath. He is very well known to work 24 hours a day for days on end. Words without action mean nothing to him. His incredible work ethic and brilliance sometimes make it difficult for him to understand those who cannot work as hard as he works or think as fast as he does. His work ethic and brilliance generate a lot of admiration but they also produce frustration, envy and even hatred, especially among those who consider themselves always left behind.
I recall very vividly, when smack in the middle of the preparations for the Christy burial, Tony told me that he had informed Edwin Igbokwe of his resignation from the burial committee on account of some bad vibes he was getting from Onyeka Onwenu. This was at a hotel room somewhere in Ikeja which Tony had converted into the Christy Essien Igbokwe Burial command post.
I was naturally relieved at the news because Tony and I were to have gone to South Africa along with Mahmood Ali-Balogun for a business meeting. Suddenly, Mr. Austin Izagbo, Chairman of the Christy Essien–Igbokwe Burial Committee bagged into the room to plead passionately with Tony to rescind his decision to quit. He made it clear that without Chief Okoroji whom he said was “driving” the entire events, the huge plans for the burial would fall apart. Austin Izagbo even solicited my support to help prevail on Tony, something I was very reluctant to do. I however made a token gesture and left, only to hear later that Tony eventually gave in to Austin Izagbo’s pleas, after Izagbo had assured him that he would hold Onyeka in check. Izagbo happens to come from the same home town as Tony’s wife, Queen.
Suffice to say that the trip to South Africa was done without Tony. Upon my return from South Africa, Tony even succeeded in getting me to participate in the events of the burial. He convinced me to be an unpaid repertoire at the symposium organized in honour of Christy Essien Igbokwe at the National Theatre and to help with the Red Carpet Tribute Night at Niteshift Coliseum.
I know that after the burial, Austin Izagbo pleaded with Tony to go to Calabar to ensure that a 3 million naira pledge made to the burial committee by the Cross River State Government was redeemed. I know that Chief Okoroji who was the only one in the committee with some active contact in Calabar went only because Izagbo had told him of the need to pay those who were owed money by the committee.
I was shocked to read the Onyeka public diatribe against Chief Okoroji whom many consider to be her friend. I am still not sure what is driving her tirade which dabbled into too many unrelated issues. It certainly cannot be the sum of 3 million naira which I know for a fact was paid into the accounts of the burial committee. I am therefore left with some questions: Did Onyeka speak with Okoroji before circulating her inflammatory mail on the net? Did Onyeka get Izagbo’s authority to circulate the vile mail? Did she think about the effect of her action on the integrity of the entire burial committee? Is the internet the Nigerian Police or the EFCC which ought to handle issues of fraud?
I know how much Tony Okoroji sacrificed to celebrate Christy Essien-Igbokwe even in death. I know that he put his money and abandoned his family for weeks to make her burial a historic success. I am angry at how he is being paid back. Haba Onyeka! Why….nooooow?
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