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Board chairman sacked while probing allegations against DG, says he was not queried before dismissal

Former chairman of Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission links travails to 'stepping on big toes'


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Former chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC),‎ Tonye Clinton Jaja, who was recently sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari, has said that he was not issued any query before he was unexpectedly removed from the office.

‎Jaja was sacked on October 15, 2020, 17 months after his appointment as chairman of the NCC Governing Board on May 28, 2019.

He was removed from office at a time he was championing the investigation of allegations of corruption against the director-general of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, John Asein.

The allegations, detailed in an earlier report by The ICIR, were being investigated by the Code of Conduct Bureau before Jaja’s sack, and there are indications that the investigation has been discontinued, based on ‘orders from above’— going by findings made by our correspondent. ‎

The allegations against Asein, which are contained in several petitions from stakeholders in the copyright sector, border on corruption, conflict of interest and abuse of power.

Asein denied the ‎allegations when contacted by The ICIR as part of investigations for the earlier report.

In his capacity as chairman of the Governing Board of the NCC, Jaja issued queries to Asein over the allegations contained in the petitions filed against him (Asein). Investigations by The ICIR revealed that the DG refused to respond to the board chairman’s queries.

‎Jaja also forwarded a memorandum to the CCB as part of the investigations into the allegations against the NCC DG, and followed it up with a letter to Buhari asking for Asein’s suspension pending the conclusion of investigations into the issues.

However, some members of the NCC board disowned Jaja’s letter to the president, claiming that he did not carry the board along in recommending Asein’s suspension. The board members also accused Jaja of orchestrating phantom petitions against Asein, and alleged that he was seeking vengeance in respect of allegations of plagiarism levelled against him by Asein.

Asein has also accused Jaja of perjury.

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Jaja’s sack came shortly after five members of the NCC Governing Board disowned the letter he wrote to Buhari to ask for the DG’s suspension.

‎‎His sack was announced in a letter with Ref. No. SGF/PS/NCC/668, dated October 15, 2020, and signed by Dayo Apara, solicitor-general of the federation and permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The sack letter read, “I have been directed to notify you of your removal as the Chairman, Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Mohammed Buhari, GCFR, as conveyed vide letter Ref: 59312/V/230 of 28th September, 2020. Your removal is with immediate effect and you are, therefore, expected to handover all the properties of the Commission in your possession to the Director General. While wishing you success in your future endeavours, please accept the assurances of the warm regards and best wishes of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.”‎

The letter did not provide the reason for Jaja’s sack, but findings by The ICIR revealed that his dismissal was connected with his push for the investigation of the allegations against Asein.

Jaja had refused to comment on the issues surrounding his sack in the course of the earlier report done by The ICIR on the matter, but in WhatsApp messages sent to our correspondent afterwards, he disclosed that he was not issued any query before he was surprisingly removed as chairman of the NCC Governing Board.

He suggested that the attorney-general ‎of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, did not provide him with the type of opportunities he made available to Asein to defend himself in his capacity as chairman of the governing board, while dealing with the numerous petitions against the DG of the Copyright Commission.

‎Noting that he handled petitions against Asein with fairness by giving the DG an opportunity to respond to allegations, Jaja also stressed that, contrary to claims of some of the members, he always carried the governing board along in all his actions concerning the allegations against Asein.

In a WhatsApp message sent to our correspondent, Jaja said, “In my capacity as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission, I always followed due process. I always carried along Members of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission.

“I always gave Mr John Asein the opportunity to defend himself by responding to any petition(s) against him.

Related Story: How push for investigation of corruption allegations ‎against DG of Copyright Commission led to sack of board chairman by Buhari

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“However, I was never given such opportunity by the Supervising Minister, when on 19th October 2020, I was informed of my removal. There was no previous query against me, I was not invited to any meeting.”

Further investigations by The ICIR shows that about a month before Jaja was sacked, he had issued a query to Asein over a petition concerning his (Asein’s) engagement of one Joni Icheka as special assistant despite being the subject of an ongoing criminal prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged forgery and embezzlement of over N7 billion belonging to the Nigeria Police Equipment Fund.

In the query dated September 21, 2020, Jaja had asked Asein to disengage Icheka until the governing board concluded investigations into the allegation. Jaja also asked Asein to respond to the allegation contained in a petition brought by a law firm, White Doves Solicitors, which represented the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON).

COSON is engaged in a protracted legal dispute with the Nigerian Copyright Commission over issues relating to copyright administration in the country. ‎

In the petition dated September 15, 2020, White Doves Solicitors had said that Asein failed to notify the NCC Governing Board ‎that Icheka was being prosecuted by the EFCC alongside Kenny Martins for his alleged role in the forgery of documents used to defraud the Nigerian Police Force of over N7 billion from the Police Equipment Fund.

The law firm, in the petition, alleged that Asein “concealed the critical information” and “deceived” the governing board ‎to approve Icheka’s appointment as special assistant to the DG.

The petition further alleged that Icheka was “heavily involved in manipulating the system to ensure that the DG of the NCC, Mr John Asein, keeps avoiding justice in the multiple allegations of corruption, conflict of interest and abuse of power” against him. The DG’s deception of the Board to appoint Mr Icheka cannot be allowed to go unaddressed,” the petition observed.

Jaja, in another WhatsApp message to our correspondent, suggested that his sack was not unconnected with ‘stepping on big toes’ when he asked Asein to discontinue alleged ‘illegal’ ‎moves to renew the licence of the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) without the knowledge of the Governing Board of the Copyright Commission.

The development followed another petition by the same law firm, White Doves Solicitors, dated September 15, 2020, and titled “Petition against an attempt by the DG of the Nigerian Copyright Commission to issue a backdoor renewal of approval ‎to MCSN, a company which is presently listed as ‘inactive’ by the Corporate Affairs Commission.”

The petitioned urged the chairman and members of the NCC ‎Governing Board to halt the alleged surreptitious moves to renew the licence and also investigate the issue so that “innocent copyright owners and users in Nigeria are not continuously short-changed.”

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Commenting on issues concerning the petition, Jaja said in the Whatsapp message, “This is another petition against Mr John Asein, the Director General of the Nigerian Copyright Commission. I received this petition in my capacity as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Nigerian Copyright Commission.

“In accordance with the Rules and Regulations, I wrote to the members of the Board, including Mr John Asein himself asking him to respond to the allegations against him. He refused.

“I asked him to discontinue the renewal of licence until due process is followed by seeking the approval of the Governing Board of the NCC. This is where I stepped on big toes because the rumour is that a certain high ranking minister has vested interest in this particular organisation.”‎

The ICIR contacted the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice over the issues raised in this report, particularly Jaja’s claim that he was not issued any query before he was sacked.

Umar Gwandu, special assistant on media and public relations to the AGF and minister of justice, after listening to our correspondent, asked that questions should be sent to him through WhatsApp.

Gwandu confirmed that he has received the WhatsApp message, but he did not respond to the issues as of the time of filing this report.

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