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The Gani Fawehinmi Series (3): The Magnate vs The Musician by Ijeoma Ogwuegbu Uduma


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.
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 10 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 don’t ask me about percentages or fractions.
Read also The Gani Fawehinmi Series (2): The Magnate vs The Musician
Gani did not forget to raise the issue of how 20 kobo 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.

King Sunny Ade

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!
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.
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.’

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