Move over its dismal prosperity ratings. Nigeria has over 100 million mobile phone lines, making it Africa’s largest telecoms market. And Nigerians will betray no qualms shelling out more billions to their network providers just to flaunt the tunes of their favourite idols in fleeting seconds. How much of this get to the copyright owners, however, continue to remain a controversy
And the phone rang. The voice that wafts through the earpiece belongs to a famous global evangelist and spiritual leader in Nigeria. His name is Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye.
“From today, the separation between you and failure is total. All the emptiness in your life, God will fill with his fullness. He will give you a brand new name. Everything you need to make you what God wants you to be, he will give to you,’ the man of God prophesies through the phone before the recipient eventually gets to answer his call.
For the over 10 million Nigerians who are adherents of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, that prophetic utterances by ‘Daddy G.O’ sounds too tempting to be shunned. And they will do anything, including paying a monthly charge of N100 to their network operators, to enable them share the good news with their callers via a caller tune.
That is some N1 billion gone to the Airtel Network just at the click of a button. And within a year, the networks would have made a whopping N12 billion from the RCCG alone. But if the users are scattered across the MTN; GLO or Etisalat networks, they are charged only N50 monthly. Exactly N500 million up for grabs among the network providers within a month and N6 billion at the end of the year.
Do not be troubled if the recipient does not pick his call the first time. At least, the anointed voice of Pastor Adeboye is ever waiting on the other end to charge you with another message of hope. At another N100 cost to the user of the caller tune though.
“That angel you have been waiting for will manifest himself. You will see the glory of God. The Almighty God himself will show you where your blessing is hiding in Jesus name.”
But if the leadership problems bedeviling Nigeria bother you more than personal prosperity, wait until you hear the meek shepherd put your mind at rest on the future of a slumbering giant called Nigeria.
“Nigeria, evil men will never rule you again…”
Such is the infinite wealth of the Nigeria’s mobile telephony industry –an innovation that makes everything from mobile music, mobile evangelism to ringtone and caller-tune subscriptions possible.
A Giant Leap
MTN Nigeria retains the highest subscriber base of 38.7 million, about 27 percent of the MTN Group’s global subscriber base of 141.9 million at the end of 2010. Thus making it the largest operations of the MTN brand the world over. And of its N2.57 trillion group total revenue for the same year, MTN Nigeria creamed off a whopping N749 billion, which equally represents 29 percent and the biggest of the Group’s total revenues in 2010.
The arithmetic can only get more impressive and staggering by the day. If expert predictions come to pass, the streets of Nigeria should be swarming with a massive 212 million people by 2020 and 260 million in the next fifty years. About the same time that her crude oil deposit is also expected to thin out. That is a possibility huge enough to galvanise the telecommunication industry in Nigeria – with its combined annual net profit already spiraling at over a staggering one trillion naira-to naturally overtake the oil sector as the nation’s newest cash-cow and the most lucrative.
“Y’ello! Let’s celebrate Xmas with carols on MTN caller tunez! Send 32 to 4100 for ‘Jingle Bells’ or 34 for ‘Merry Christmas and A Happy New year’ N50/tune.”
For the better part of December 2012, about 40 million Nigerians who are subscribers on the MTN network had their phones bombarded with a barrage of unsolicited messages urging them to buy a caller tune in the spirit of Christmas and new year. So is the combine 70 millions subscribers on the GLO,Airtel and Etiselat networks. And they did fall for the magic bullet attack. Some overwhelmed subscribers like Funmilayo Adenuga and Samuel Adewale would even pay more to the networks to have an unknown voice recite choice verses of the Holy Bible to their callers each time their phones ring.
“Psalm 23 and Amazing Grace are my all time favourite,’ says Funmilayo, ‘that is apart from two other messages from Daddy Adeboye which I subscribe to every month. In all, I pay N200 to the MTN each month.”
Muhammed Mudasiru can only wax nostalgic. Not a Christian though, he confessed to this magazine how he had lost count of the money he forfeited to the Airtel network while the Ramadan lasted.
“I suppose it must be an absolute kill for the operators during those important seasons,’ he said.
“Just like the Christians do during xmas and easter, almost all the followers of Allah paid to the networks to get Hadis and select verses of the Quran as caller tunes on a daily basis.”
An absolute kill indeed. Except that the trio of Muhammed, Funmilayo and Samuel will never be able to meet those unknown voices that recite their favourite verses of the holy books to their callers. And they will never be able to fathom too who get paid by the networks for using the pages of the Holy Bible and Holy Quran as caller tunes.
Perhaps that is the least of their worries. Most subscribers have a long list of petitions against the networks, National Standard learnt. After caving in to the operators’ here-in-your-face blitz of sms promos, the phone users subscribe to the caller tunes, with a monthly deduction. And that single subscription kind of wedded them to the tune. No opting out. Some of the subscribers told this magazine that even when they unsubscribed, with code ‘DEL’, the MTN, for instance, kept slicing N50 off their credit balance.
The Golden Goose
Religion is not the only opium that drives a massive following on the networks. So is the crowd of local and foreign artistes whose hit tracks have now become a money spinner for the telecomm sector in Nigeria.
Iyanya has a testimony. His hit track, Kukere, broke the record in 2012 for highest download for a single caller ringback tune. A massive three million subscribers across Nigeria pay to the networks to enjoy Kukere in just a few months of its release. A huge fit by any standard.
And for enriching the networks, Iyanya was also said to have received a fat cheque from MTECH, one of the networks’ contents providers.
Different Folks; Diverse Tunes
Beautiful Nubia is not so lucky. Although the Root Renaissance crooner has cried himself hoarse now over his copyright infringement by the networks and according to his Business Manager, he is ‘not willing to comment on the issue any more’.
But not long ago, the Canada-based Beautifu Nubia had challenged the operatos to a duel for infringing upon his intellectual property.
Femi Slvester-Mayomi, popularly known as Father U-Turn, was also duped. “For three years now, we have noticed that our songs are being offered to phone users by MTN, Starcomms, and Globacom, as caller tunes and ringtones,” Beautiful Nubia moaned. The musician has every reason to go ballistic after all.
“Imagine that for three years, these companies would have made a lot of money from my songs without contacting me. This is really unfair,” a sad Nubia griped.
Father U-Turn did not have to wait for three years like Nubia. He simply subscribed to his own track after stumbling on a handbill advertising one of his songs titled Yetunde, as a caller tune downloadable on the MTN website.
“That is the painful part of this matter. I used the caller tune between January and July. It means that for six months I was paying money to MTN to use my own song, the product of my sweat, as a caller tune. This is a very serious matter…”
A Wild Goose Chase
Like the caller tunes subscribers, the disgruntled artistes must have been under some delusion to think the pirates who creamed off their sweat could be nabbed easily. For Beautiful Nubia, the GSM companies simply told him to redirect his enquiry to a certain outfit known as 3WC which issued the rights to the songs, the efforts only yielded Nubia more shocker.
“They stole my songs and sold them to MTN for, you can be sure, a large sum of money. In turn, MTN offered the songs to the public for use at a price. All this was going on without my knowledge. Yet I am the owner of the copyright. Funny, isn’t it?” he said.
Father U-Turn claimed that twice he had written to MTN, through his lawyer, to protest the infringement. he got no respite too.
Like an artful dodger, the networks also ensure that their booming caller tunes business also evade the radar of the Copyright Society Of Nigeria, COSON-the nation’s only licensed body for the protection of intellectual property owners.
“There have been several issues in the last one year. Telecom operators have not handled the issues of caller tunes and ring back tones very well,’ Chinedu Chukwuji, COSON’s General Manager, told this magazine.
“The industry is not even comfortable with the revenue share,’ he gripes.
Better Life Ahead
According to the Average Revenue per User figure of N1000 per month for the Nigerian telecoms industry, mobile telephone subscribers in Nigeria spent N593 billion on calls between January and June, 2012.
Across the rest of the continent the statistics is no less impressive. Between 2000 and 2010, Kenyan mobile phone firm Safaricom recorded a 500 percent rise in its subscriber base. In 2010 alone the number of mobile phone users in Rwanda grew by 50percent, according to figures from the country’s regulatory agency. And it is estimated that by 2016, there will be a massive one billion mobile phones on the continent.
The simple interpretation is that more mobile phone users will subscribe to diverse caller tunes on the various networks to show off their style and beliefs. That means more money for the telecomm operators in Africa. But for the copyright owners of the intellectual property on sale, they might need more than sheer artistry to reap their royalties indeed from the shylock networks.