Death of a Musical Partnership: See Full Story of Late Haruna Ishola and Nurudeen Alowonle

I first came across Haruna Ishola in the shop of Uncle Lasco, the tailor.
Lasco was our neighbourhood tailor. He was Lagos trained, and in those days, that was like having a Royal Charter. Lasco was also a good man. He allowed us to use his charcoal iron to press our khaki school uniforms. His shop was thus a sort of mecca for all of us.
See Full Story of  Late Haruna Ishola and Nurudeen Alowonle

You are wondering what Haruna Ishola was doing with Lasco, the tailor? No, Baba Gani Agba was not Lasco’s customer. I’m not even sure they ever met. Or may be they met when Lasco was being trained in Lagos. Onigegewura didn’t know and he didn’t ask.

Lasco had a poster of Haruna Ishola in his shop. It was a big poster. It featured the legendary musician with his trademark gap-toothed smile. Alhadji Haruna Ishola, MON was the caption. I asked Lasco what MON stood for. He scratched his head for some seconds before telling me it was an abbreviation for Monday. I wondered what Haruna Ishola  had to do with Monday.

Later that day, I asked Anti Wura, Buroda Alani’s third wife, the meaning of MON. If you are a regular reader of Onigegewura, you would know that Anti Wura had answer to every question. Anti Wura told me that it was not an abbreviation for Monday. According to her, it was a chieftaincy title that was given to the doyen of Apala Music by the government after he won a court case against his former business partner, Nurudeen Alowonle.

Of course you know Anti Wura was my social media. She went on to regale me with the story of the epic battle between the business partners. As usual, and as she did in the case of King Sunny Ade and the story of Ayinla Omowura, Anti Wura added spices and other condiments to the story.

Today, Onigegewura brings you the true story of the epic battle between Haruna Ishola Bello Adebayo and Nurudeen Omotayo Alowonle. It is a story of friendship and partnership. And it  is the story of the death of a musical cum business partnership.

Let me start from the beginning and tell you how and why a flourishing business partnership ended up in the court of law.

See Full Story of  Late Haruna Ishola and Nurudeen AlowonleHaruna Ishola was the undisputable king of Apala Music. Notwithstanding the stiff competition from his archrival, Kasumu Adio, Baba Gani Agba enjoyed a position of pre-eminence in Yoruba social circle. His influence and popularity was however not limited to the southwest Nigeria.  He straddled the west coast of Africa like a colossus.

In the neighbouring Republic of Benin, the trio of Suradjou Alabi, Yusouf Oloyede and Anafi Alao dominated Apala music. Haruna was however the toast of our French-speaking brethren. His hit track Egbe Majority Cotonou was a praise song dedicated to his fans in the country formerly called Dahomey until 1975.You remember the track? Ti mo ba se faaji titi, ma ranti Egbe Majority ni Kutonu...Ni Porto Novo mo n ranti yin, Alhaji Shefu Arikose...

Haruna Ishola was also one of the pioneer musicians to tour Europe. Before his epic journey, apala music used to be derided as a local music. I am certain that you have heard that ko si aye apala ni ilu oyinbo [Apala music has no place in the white man’s country]. Well, that was before Haruna Ishola. He succeeded in taking Apala music to London. He went to Germany. He visited Sweden. He returned to Nigeria via Rome.

Of course you remember On my way to London ko s’ewu rara! That was the album he released on his return from his London tour. It was a momentous occasion. Haruna Ishola had broken the jinx. There was a place for Apala in the white man’s country, after all. Committee of Gentlemen of Ijebu Igbo hosted a lavish party to welcome him back from Europe.

Haruna had certainly come a long way from the young musician who released his first album in 1948 to mark the coronation of  Orimolusi Adeboye, the Oba of Ijebu-Igbo. The album was however not a commercial success. It was his second album in 1955 that catapulted him into limelight. Strangely, the second album was also in honour of Orimolusi who had just joined his ancestors.

Apala first appeared around 1940 under the names ‘Area’ and ‘Oshugbo’. According to some documented accounts which Onigegewura came across, Haruna Ishola was the one who changed the name of the music from Oshugbo to Apala when he formed his band in 1947 at the age of 28.

He was not only a musician. He had become a reference point as a social commentator and a recorder of historical events. If Haruna didn’t sing about an occurrence, it was not a landmark event.

He sang when Ooni Adesoji Aderemi became the first African Governor [Ijoba Westan Naijiriya won n pon oba le, Ooni je gomina]. He released an album when Oba Sikiru Adetona Ogbagba II ascended the throne of his fathers [Ogbagba a gbo ote wo le, lagbade fun..]. He waxed an album when Chief Obafemi Awolowo buried his mother, Mary Awolowo, in Ikenne in 1971 [Won ti n sin oku eyi ti mo ti n ri, t'oku Mama Obafemi, akoko lo je]. His album Oroki Social Club reportedly sold more than five million copies. 

Onigegewura had told you in the story of King Sunny Ade that the remunerations of Nigerian musicians of 1960s and 1970s were not commensurate with their productivity and creativity. Label owners, record dealers and music producers dictated the terms. It must have been as a result of this reason that Baba Gani Agba decided to become a label owner.

Nurudeen Alowonle
In 1964, Haruna Ishola invited a popular businessman to become his partner. Nurudeen Omotayo Alowonle was an astute investor and a known name in the music industry. He was so popular that his name, Alowonle, became the nickname of any child named Nurudeen. The next time you hear your cousin Nurudeen being referred to as Alowonle, you now know the reason. They also invited F. S Balogun and another gentleman to be part of the business.

Haruna Ishola was not a legal practitioner but he knew that for the partnership to be legal, the terms of engagement must be documented. On May 28, 1964, they all entered into an agreement to become partners. The name they chose for the partnership was Express Record Dealers Association. According to the agreement, Express Record Dealers Association was formed for the purpose of producing records with the distinguishing label mark Alowonle Sounds Studio. Nurudeen Alowonle was appointed the Managing Director of the firm. They all signed the agreements. Everybody was happy.

Haruna Ishola was indeed very happy. The son of herbalist and part-time musician had graduated from being a musician to becoming a label owner and a record dealer. He had joined the league of legendary record owners like Emmanuel Badejo Okusanya of Ijebu Imodi and Yakubu Bolarinwa Abioro of Ipokia. 

It was as if the business partners had the Midas touch. Express Record Dealers Association with its trade name Alowonle Sounds Studio became an overnight success. There was no doubt that the partnership was going to become a success story.

Then people started hearing some strange things about the partnership. It was being rumoured that the partners were quarrelling. Anti Wura told me that  the partners began to talk to their lawyers about how the partnership agreement could be terminated. There was no Instagram at the time. There was no Twitter. Yet, Anti Wura always managed to get information about what was happening in far away Lagos. Anti Wura definitely came before her time. She would have given our contemporary bloggers a run for their money.

It was however not a rumour. By 1966, cracks had begun to appear on the walls of the partnership. Owo lo n ba oju ore je is one of Iya Agba’s favourite sayings. Money is the bane of friendship. It was said that Express Records Dealers Association was selling records and making money, but it did not appear as if the partnership was making money.

Haruna Ishola and other partners called an extraordinary emergency meeting of the partnership. The meeting had only one item as its agenda. The partners requested the Managing Director to give an account of the recordings of music made by or on behalf of the partnership. The Managing Director was given two weeks to produce the account.

Two weeks, three weeks, four weeks later, no account was produced. Another extraordinary emergency meeting of the business partners was called. Again, only one item featured prominently. Account of the recordings. It was apparent that Express Records was going to die expressly. On February 7, 1967, the partnership was dissolved.

But that was not the end of the story…

Following the dissolution of the partnership, the former partners had assumed that that was the end of the Express Record Dealers Association and Alowonle Sounds Studio. Haruna Ishola was therefore surprised one day when he came across some new albums recently produced in the name of Alowonle Sounds Studio. He bought some copies and began to make discrete investigation. He wondered who could be so courageous to be using the trade name of the defunct partnership to market the records.

Before nightfall he had found the answer he was seeking. It was Nurudeen Alowonle, the former Managing Director of Express Records. Haruna Ishola called his lawyer. He had only one question for the legal luminary. Whether a former partner of a dissolved partnership had a legal right to continue to use the trade name of the partnership. The lawyer consulted his law books on Intellectual Properties, Partnership, Trade Marks and Industrial Properties. He answered the question with a NO!

Haruna Ishola was happy. He already knew that the answer was going to be a NO. He asked his lawyer to proceed to court. He told the lawyer of the issue of account that had not been resolved. He decided to use one stone to kill two birds.

Nurudeen Alowonle received the court processes without fear. He looked at the reliefs being claimed by his former business partners. They were asking the court to compel him to give an account of all the profits that had accrued to Express Records between 1964 and 1967. They also wanted him to pay to them their own shares of the profits. That was not all. They wanted the court to compel him to also pay them their share of profits made after 1967 with the name of the partnership.

It was however their last prayer that made Alowonle to jump up. Haruna Ishola and co. asked the court for an order of injunction to restrain him from trading under the name and style of Express Record Dealers Association and from producing records under the distinguishing label of Alowonle Sounds Studio. He called his lawyer. He also had one question: Whether he could be restrained from trading using his own name, Alowonle Sounds Studio? His lawyer consulted his law books from all the Commonwealth jurisdictions. He answered the question with a NO!

Nurudeen Alowonle was happy. He already knew that the answer was going to be a NO. He asked his lawyer to join issues with the plaintiffs. When you join issues in the court of law, it means that you are disputing the claims of the other parties. It is similar to what Iya Agba meant whenever she said that she was going to wear the same pair of trousers with someone. So, Haruna Ishola and Nurudeen Alowonle joined issues.

Let’s go to court.

The case was assigned to Honourable Justice Sowemimo. By now, you must have become familiar with Justice Sowemimo and other revered Justices of the First Republic. If you don’t know His Lordship, please raise up your hand. Hint? Treasonable felony trial. Ha! You remember?
Hon. Justice Sowemimo

Justice Sowemimo listened to the parties as they called evidence in support of their cases. Haruna Ishola and his friends were shocked when Nurudeen Alowonle told the court that he was the sole registered owner of the Alowonle business name. Alowonle was not just saying it by words of mouth. He called a witness. It was not an ordinary witness. The witness he called was an official in the office of the Registrar of Business Names.

To the shock of Haruna Ishola who went to London, Germany and Sweden and who came back to Nigeria via Rome, the official produced documents in support of the claims of Alowonle. According to the representative of the Registrar, Alowonle Sound Studio was registered on June 28, 1967 and ceased to function on November 7, 1967. It was registered by Nurudeen Alowonle.

That was not all. On November 22, 1967, the name was registered by Nurudeen Alowonle, Zaid Olatunji Alowonle and Saola Abiodun Yesufu. There was no mention of Haruna Ishola Bello anywhere in the register.

The plaintiffs, Haruna Ishola and his friends called for the documents of registration. They checked the documents. They turned over the documents; perhaps their names were on the back. They could not find their names. Dejected, they returned the documents to the court registrar. There was no need for any objection. The court admitted the documents as Exhibits.

In a reserved judgment, His Lordship Sowemimo agreed with Haruna Ishola that his case was meritorious. The court ordered Nurudeen Alowonle to file a full statement of account of all his transactions when he was solely managing the partnership.

His Lordship restrained Nurudeen Alowonle from ‘placing orders as set out in Item 5 of the writ of summons.’ Effectively, Nurudeen Alowonle was prohibited from trading using his trade name.

Haruna Ishola jumped for joy. He mentally began to compose new songs to celebrate his court victory. It was likely going to start with something like this: ‘On my way to Lagos High Court…ko s’ewu rara.

Alowonle could not believe his ears. The court had agreed that the name was registered by him. He had brought a credible and formidable witness to court. On what ground did the court now restrain him from using his registered name? He asked his lawyer. His lawyer checked the law books again. They decided to go upstairs to appeal the judgment.
I hope you remember that Onigegewura had told you that only Western State had a Court of Appeal then. I hope you also remember that Onigegewura had told you that Lagos was not part of Western State. You remember? Good.

The contention of Nurudeen Alowonle when the case got to Supreme Court was that the High Court of Lagos State [Your lawyer will tell you that you can only appeal against the decision of the Court and not decision of the Judge] was wrong to restrain him from using the trade name.

At the Supreme Court, the strangest thing happened. The panel which heard the case was made up of My Lords GBA Coker [Coker Commission of Inquiry], Ian Lewis and Sir Udo Udoma [father of Senator Udo Udoma, Hon Minister of Budget and Planning]. Their Lordships read through the records of proceeding carefully. They paid particular attention to the evidence of the representative of the Registrar of Business Names. They read the partnership agreement. They then discovered something.

Could it have been a typographical error? Their Lordships wondered. They observed that there was evidence before the learned trial judge that the trade name was registered by Nurudeen Alowonle and his associates who were not the plaintiffs in 1967. My Lords then began to wonder. Since Nurudeen Alowonle could not have registered the name whilst it remained registered in favour of the partnership which was formed in 1964, was the name ever registered by the partnership? That was what My Lords discovered!

The Supreme Court asked Haruna Ishola. Was the name registered by the partnership in 1964? He shook his head. The apex Court asked Nurudeen Alowonle. He said No. The Learned Justices looked at the Learned Counsel for the parties.  The learned Counsel looked at their respective clients. I hope you understand what was happening in court. You do? Well, in case you don’t, let me explain it.

Haruna Ishola and his friends whilst trading under the name and style of Express Record Dealers Association and Alowonle Sounds Studio in 1964 did not register the name as trade names! You now understand! It was Nurudeen Alowonle who went ahead alone to first register the name in June 1967 after the partnership was dissolved in February 1967! You are shaking your head.

The Supreme Court then found that “the plaintiffs [i.e. Haruna Ishola and his friends] had registered no trade mark and as such possess no registered trade mark, the use of which by other persons they could prevent by an order of injunction…It is obvious therefore that the parties, prior to the dissolution of the 7th February, 1967 carried on the partnership illegally and could not…seek the assistance of the court, to enforce claims which had arisen by virtue of illegal exercise.”

In other words, between 1964 and 1967, Haruna Ishola, Nurudeen Alowonle, F. S. Balogun and the fourth partner had no registered trademark or trade name. Alowonle could therefore not be restrained from using a name that was not registered by the partners!

The Supreme Court therefore held that the action filed by Baba Gani Agba was incompetent. The Court set aside the judgment of the High Court of Lagos State and struck out Haruna Ishola’s case. However in the light of the relationship between Ishola and Alowonle as well as the history of the case, the Court did not award cost against any of them.

That’s however not the end of Baba Gani’s business venture. In 1969, he partnered with the legendary I. K. Dairo to set up STAR Records. It was one of Nigeria’s first indigenous record companies. Between 1979 and 1980, he established Phonodisc, a thirty-two track recording studio.

Oh! The MON? It was neither a chieftaincy title nor an abbreviation for Monday as I was informed by Lasco and Anti Wura. Of course, it was the Member of the Order of the Niger awarded to Haruna Ishola Bello in 1981 by Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I hope you and your partners have registered your business name. If you have not, please remember Nurudeen Alowonle and Haruna Ishola Bello. 

CREDIT: Written By Onigegewura


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