FACING THE MUSIC: Eric, then 13 years old, was arrested with his brother and spent the night at Kileleshwa Police Station, where he was held in an adult cell.Pic Photo Courtesy
David vs. Goliath battle as student takes on Equity Bank over Sh10m song
Seven years ago, a 16-year-old high school student took the lift at Equity Centre to the sixth floor. As Eric Obiero Nyadida marveled at the great architectural work in the building, the environment suddenly felt calmer and serene with air-conditioned corridors and offices, a deserved break from the chaos and dust outside on streets and his estate in Komarock estate, Nairobi.
In the 6th floor office of Edward Muchai, Equity Bank’s communication manager, young Obiero handed his host a CD, shorthand for compact disk. The content on that CD has turned into a nightmare for Obiero and now is the subject of a court case where he has sued Equity Bank for breach of intellectual property in a suit that threatens to taint the bank.
A student at Nyabondo High School, Obiero was then a budding musician and his manager, John Kennedy, got him an opportunity to create an original piece of music that could be used by the Equity Bank Group Foundation to promote its Wings to Fly scholarship programme. Obiero composed and recorded a piece of music titled Wings to Fly at Homeboyz music studios, which he registered with Music Copyright Society of Kenya on 14th May 2013.
“….after listening to it on his computer he (Muchai) told me that I would have to write a proposal that would be presented to Equity Bank Chief Executive Officer (Dr James Mwangi) for consideration,” says Obiero.
A week later, Obiero’s manager helped him package the proposal and delivered it to Dr Mwangi in his office. “After reading the proposal the Chief Executive Dr John Mwangi professed to me that he liked it and wanted to implement the same and he directed me to go see a Mr Kibiru….”
Moments after meeting Dr Mwangi on the 8th floor of Equity Centre, Obiero was handed a “Buying of Copyrights” document by a representative of the CEO (Kabiru) who stated that they were buying the rights of my song for Ksh10 million,” according to his affidavit presented in a constitutional petition filed at the High Court in Nairobi on 8th February 2019.
Since then it’s been push and pull, he says, as the top management of Kenya’s biggest bank in terms of customer numbers engaged in cat-and-mouse games over his music. The young man says he has never received the money, which touched of a string of events involving blackmail, arm-twisting and, at some point, being arrested and charged with forgery.
The mysterious contract
“Mr Edward Muchai explained the contents of the document to me and asked me to sign it, which I duly did. But Muchai did not sign the document and he kept it and did not give me a copy,” says Obiero, now aged 22 and a journalism student at Daystar University.”
From here, Oberio’s experience at the hands of Equity Bank rolls out like a script from The Pelican Brief novel. We let him tell the story as captured in the affidavit.
“Mr Muchai sent me back to the offices of Mr Kibiru who took my parents telephone numbers and asked me if I would be interested in performing at their Wings to Fly Seminar. Later that day Mr Kibiru called my mother and asked her if I would be interested in being awarded a scholarship but my mother politely declined.
It was not until towards the end of the year that I was informed by my manager that he had been told by Equity Bank that my song was still being modified and that the payment of Kshs10,000,000 would be made to me at the end of the financial year, so I should expect it around June or July 2014.
By August 2014 I still had not been paid and decided to go to the bank’s offices and was taken to a boardroom meeting where Mr Kibiru, Mr Muchai, and a Ms Gichoki were present. They claimed that since my image was not that of a musician and my fan base and work unknown the amount to be paid to me was to be reduced to Kshs 2,500,000.
I did not accept their revised offer. They told me to return the next day with one of my parents to countersign the contract since I was a minor.
In the evening I received a call from a Ms Mary Njoki from Equity Bank’s finance department who asked me to check my email for a document that she had sent and I was asked not to come for the meeting as agreed for the contract would be sent to me in two weeks.
Later Mr Kibiru called my mother and asked her to send him bank details where the money was to be paid. He later sent his email address via text for my mum to send the details.
After the two-week period I still had not been paid. My elder brother took it upon himself to seek a resolution and was invited to a meeting at Equity Bank on the 30thSeptember 2014 at which the managers admitted knowing me but denied any knowledge of a contract between the bank and myself.
Framed up for fraud?
In view of the denials my brother wrote a letter to the CEO Dr James Mwangi in which he stated that I had not been paid for the musical piece which was now being used in their advertising campaign without any legal right from myself or any consideration paid to me.
The bank wrote another letter to my mother alleging that no contract existed between it and myself and further that the documents that we were alleging were forgeries created by myself to defraud the bank.
We were requested to record a statement with the bank’s security officers, who instead called police officers from National Police Service Banking Fraud Investigative Unit who arrested us. We spent the night at Kileleshwa Police Station.
The next day were taken to Milimani Law Courts and charged (Criminal Case No. 691 of 2015 Republic –v- Geofrey Nyadida Odongo and Eric Obiero Nyadida) with forgery. Criminal proceedings commenced on the 17th April 2015 and concluded on 3rd October 2017 where the magistrate acquitted us.
My advocates then wrote a Cease and Desist Notice to leading media houses warning them the music to Equity Bank Group and its Foundation’s advert for the Wings to Fly belonged to me. The media houses stopped airing or broadcasting the advert.
However, Equity continues to use the advert on their Facebook social media platform.
I believe Equity Bank arrested me to intimidate me from pursuing my claim as they continue to commercially benefit from my work having paid me no consideration for use of the same.”
Obiero, who now owns Rico Banks production house, is flying high in spite of the dispute and court cases. He says he continues to pursue his music talent and has so far recorded three songs. He is also working on a new film by the name Fragile. Clearly, Equity Bank did not clip his “wings to fly.”