Pretty Okafor, President, Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigerian (PMAN), says he is on the verge of unlocking a gold mine of wealth for Nigerian musicians; and indeed anyone in the creative industry, through a scheme that ensures automatic payment when their work is used. He spoke with Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Yinka Olatunbosun
Most people think he goes by his stage name everywhere. Unknown to them, Pretty is actually his real name. It was not easy to find an English equivalent of the Igbo version, Mmachukwu (the beauty of God). Beauty would have sufficed, but his mother thought it would point to a woman. She opted for Pretty, which she considered modest and not capable of raising wrong insinuations. Pretty Okafor and his music partner, Junior who were known as Junior and Pretty would go on to make modest achievements on the Nigerian entertainment scene, becoming one of the pioneer rap artistes in Nigeria with the era-shaping album, ‘Monica’. They set the pace in comical rap artistry but the laughter seemed to have ended for their numerous fans when Junior passed on. Although, Junior’s demise set Pretty back emotionally, a great deal, he pulled himself back from the brink to pursue a full and engaging life.
Growing up with Junior, his untimely exit left a vacuum that is yet to be filled. Pretty became uncomfortable with the people they were working with and the society at large. He couldn’t bring himself to drop an album.
Being an introvert, every time he tried to sing in a studio, he felt something was not right. Somehow, he knew he had to go out to meet people. He could not remain a recluse forever. He has since resolved to go back to the studio and do a lot of remixes of the older songs and bar code them. He plans to get some younger artistes to jump on some songs, in order to breathe fresh air into them.
Meanwhile, Pretty went on to a very exhilarating period in the corporate event promotion world. Following his partner’s death, he resigned his appointment from the company where he was the operations manager. He was not married at the time, but he felt he had to take care of his late friend’s wife and three children. He set up shop and launched himself into business. Today, he runs three successful companies under the name, Pretty Boy Entertainment, including one of the biggest sound system procurement and leasing companies, an events company and a logistics company. From producing shows and concerts, his colleagues sort him out and persuaded him to assume leadership of the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMAN).
That may seem ironical as he hadn’t physically performed on stage since Junior died. His performance only took a geographical turn-backstage, making behind- the- scenes impacts.
Since he came on board as PMAN President, Pretty pursued a single agendum. To him, nothing else matters if a musician is not able to create sustainable wealth from his works. In the past few years, he has devoted himself to a campaign to create structures that will transform the living condition of Nigerian artistes. From a study that he commissioned a consortium of Nigerian companies, it was discovered that Nigerian music is number one in Africa and number three in the world. Nigerian entertainment industry is worth about N9 billion.
That mouth-watering revelation was received when we met Pretty, tucked in a corner of a fast food outlet along the well-lit aisle inside the Ikeja City Mall.
“I travelled to Barbados as well as Trinidad and Tobago and I found out that they buy Nigerian music a lot. Their government collects taxes on the Nigerian music that the citizens buy. But in Nigeria, our government does not collect tax or royalty because they don’t know how to go about it.”
A widely travelled person, Pretty has witnessed first-hand, how the economy of certain countries abroad are sustained through the entertainment industry. Today, many free download sites are forced to shut down or redirect their culprits to another site where viruses accompany illegal downloads. In the end, it is more economical to purchase the creative works than to steal them.
It set him thinking this can be replicated in Nigeria. As soon as the opportunity came through his elevation as President of PMAN, he began to engage relevant corporate bodies with several convincing presentations loaded with facts and figures. It took repeated knocking on their doors. And Pretty preaches it as a gospel. Thankfully, a lot of them have started paying attention to the industry. “The statistics and the research we did are accurate.
We can actually raise between N1516 billion every year. There will be a lot of tax coming to the federal and state governments. The banks got excited; the corporate organizations got excited and the research organizations too got involved and they realized that there hasn’t been any monitoring scheme in place. I will give you an example. In 2015, I said it on Channels Television that Nigeria has already gone into recession. It was in the last quarter of 2016 that government admitted that we are in recession. The only way that the country can get out of recession is when we put in place and operate a credible structure that promotes and sustains a creative economy. I am referring to all the royalties earned from intellectual property.”
Though we were tucked into a corner with Pretty, that was not the reason we were not overwhelmed by excited fans. Pretty may be the arrowhead of the musicians’ body in Nigeria, but his face is likely to be lost in a crowd. To be sure, he enjoys the obscurity. Often, he uses himself as an example in his homily as he goes around the country, canvassing support from musicians for the wealth creation cum welfare scheme that would not only take them out of the woods, but ensure they live a modest live till they pass. “The active live of a musician when he is famous and much sort after is about four years. After that, society is hungry and ready for the next star who will create a new round of excitement.
This is what I have been telling my colleagues. Remember that PMAN had been moribund for over 15 years before we became executives. I had to do a lot of work, a lot of mass mobilization, campaign and communication to redirect the association, corporate bodies and individual musicians. You are working with artistes who are spread across the country in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, there is a lot of funding needed to reach five million members. We have talked about how to use the biometrics card to get loan. Not up to one thousand artistes have the biometrics card because we are yet to launch it. It was released last year, in the first quarter. All PMAN executives have the card. We had it before the last PMAN elections. It was because of this work that I was voted to remain as PMAN president. I wasn’t going to come back. I wanted to face my business.
I own a marketing communications firm, events technology firm and an event leasing firm. I am doing a whole lot in entertainment. We are working with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Interbank Settlement
System, Heritage Bank, Union Bank, Airtel and Hogg Robinson. If any artiste is critically ill, he can be airborne within 12 hours to any part of the world. The family of the ailing artist also gets N5million
from Hogg Robinson. We started this in 2014. We don’t have to go begging for anyone to contribute for an artiste who is ill.”
“Luckily for us, the younger generation of artistes have bought into the concept and it has become a lifestyle. We made the structure look like the normal day-to-day activity. It is something that can be done using a smart-phone. It is nothing extraordinary. You can do the registration using your smart-phone. You can go to the bank to make your payment and you can also pay through your phone. You will automatically get all your benefits. Around the world, we have the same structure running. It includes a pension plan, welfare, life insurance, bar coding and encoding of IP. As persons in the creative industry, we are known as the informal sector by the banks.
Because of this, we don’t have access to funding. But the card we have introduced is connected to your BVN, that is all your accounts, it is your collateral to have access to bank funding. A lot of people say this is Nigeria, it is never going to work. I don’t believe that. It is working. Some artistes have been getting their royalty. What we have done is to globalize the creative industry in Nigeria. If you go to South Africa, all their CDs are bar coded. But you can never see any CD that is bar coded in Nigeria.”
Much of what he is doing as President of PMAN comes from his ability to stay the course in the music industry. “I am active. I have been a producer of concerts. I have been producing road shows. I have not been on stage since Junior died 12 years ago. I have been interested in the welfare of artistes long before I stopped performing. When Junior was alive, we talked about getting our career back on track.
When we released ‘Monica’, our first album, we didn’t get our royalties from Premier Music. That was when Junior and I would go on the streets and chase pirates. We would take our works from them. We would go to Alaba Market. We were frustrating them. We made money from concerts and events management. We performed in South Africa and UK with the help of Red14. They were the ones managing the Benson and Hedges Golden Tones Concert.”
Pretty is not at all perturbed by the naivety of artistes who voluntarily release their music for free download. “Once your songs are automatically bar coded and encoded, it goes viral. There’s a key on it so every time it is downloaded, you will get paid. Some pirates don’t want the structure that can reorganize the industry to work.”
Such retrogressive attitudes are not to be found only among pirates only. Unfortunately, some of his colleagues are hell bent on throwing cogs in the wheel of progress. This explains why PMAN is permanently at war with itself. “I think as musicians, we are stubborn in nature; coupled with poverty, because no PMAN member had received royalties in the past 35 years of PMAN’s existence. They don’t have any other means of survival. PMAN was like a means to an end. Whatever they got were not proper royalties. That is not what can make an artiste become a billionaire. We are talking about getting money from sale of creative works; the number of times the album is sold and the copies sold worldwide. The older ones don’t understand what we are trying to do.
You can put a call to Charly Boy and Daniel Wilson, they will understand because they are enlightened. But the much older ones don’t understand. They want a union that can move from table-to-table, begging for them. That is not the kind of association I want to run. I want to run the kind of standard where musicians can afford a house on Banana Island.”
Pretty does not share the view that the exit of international recording companies from Nigeria in the 90s is the reason for mainstream piracy. “They left because they couldn’t make return on investment and the structure had become so porous. They left because Nigerians started buying on the streets instead of buying from the shops. Pirates chased them away since they couldn’t recoup the money invested in the musicians. They were not making sales anymore. This same structure that we are talking about is the only thing that can bring them back. You can track and collate sales with this new system of bar coding. We are one of the biggest entertainment industry in the world because our brand of music is played around the world.”
One gridlock that Pretty has to deal with is the general apathy of artistes to this new structure. Groomed under the regime of piracy, many artistes still believe that the system will fail. For Pretty, it is never-say- never for a system that will save artistes from being eternally oblivious to their album sales and end the shame of perpetual begging for huge medical expenses from the general public. When you read about well-accomplished musicians in other climes, their album sales and ratings are essential part of their history. In Nigeria, not even the top flying artistes have proper documentation of their album sales. But with this technologically-enabled tracking system, it is goodbye to the era of poor musicians and family.
With Pretty’s wealth creation and welfare campaign, even a dead artiste is assured his due.
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