Tony Okuyeme After several years of struggle under the grip of bureaucratic bottleneck, leading to its near comatose state, a new lease of life is under way for the nation’s cultural monument, the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, as the Federal government on Sunday handed over the facility and the 134 hectares of fallow land within the premises to the Central Bank of Nigeria/Bankers Committee in Lagos on Sunday, July 12th 2020, for restoration and upgrade.
An architectural masterpiece, the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, is a cultural landmark located at Iganmu, in the heart of Lagos.
Its construction was completed in 1976 in preparation for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, tagged FESTAC ‘77, an held in Lagos, Nigeria, from 15 January to 12 February 1977.
After the hosting of the epochs event, the edifice had played host to several arts and cultural events including festivals, musicals, awards, live theatre performances, art exhibitions, especially up to the early 90s.
It was then the hub of arts cultural activities in Lagos, the nation’s former capital.
However, by mid-nineties, its fortunes began a slow but steady decline following years of deterioration occasioned by non-maintenance and mismanagement. Several efforts were made to revive and restore the edifice. In 2010, President Olusegun Obasanjo announced plans to privatise the National Arts Theatre.
This sparked controversy amongst stakeholders in the arts and culture sector, who expressed concerns that it was a ploy to sell the monument.
On 30 December 2014, it was reported that the National Arts Theatre has been sold to a Dubai-based conglomerate for the sum of $40million, and that the building will be converted to a duty-free shopping mall, which drew the ire of stakeholders.
The intervention of the current administration through the CBN and Bankers Committee is therefore seen as a major effort towards the restoration and upgrade of the complex.
At the handover, which also had in attendance, Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, Minister of Youths and Sports, Mr. Sunday Dare, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who is also the chairman, Bankers Committee, and others, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in his remark, commended everyone involved in making the day a reality.
He assured that this iconic National Theatre “remains a national heritage and will not beceded to any person or group, as some have chosen to frame what we are doing here today.
What we are here to do is to hand over the National Theatre for restoration and upgrade and the fallow land within the premises to the Central Bank and the Bankers’ Committee for development.
The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture holds the keys to the National Theatre on behalf of all Nigerians.” According to him, the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre Project, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), has two phases.
“Phase 1 is to restore and upgrade the National Theatre to its glory days at a cost of N7 billion, while Phase II will be the development of the fallow land within the premises of the edifice, at a cost of 18 billion Naira. Altogether, the project is estimated to cost 25 billion Naira.
“Another good news is that this project will not lead to a single job loss. Instead, it will create more. Some 6,000 jobs will be created during the construction phase, while the completed project could generate up to an additional 600 permanent and 2000 to 3000 call-on/call-off jobs.
This is as good as it gets!” The Minister further stated the project, which has been approved by Mr. President, is a win-win for everyone involved.
“For over 40 years, no major renovation work has been done on the National Theatre, while the adjoining land has been lying fallow. Many attempts to restore the National Theatre have failed.
And the Government has no money to restore the complex. “As you know, this is the hub of the Creative Industry in Nigeria.
The National Theatre was established to encourage the advancement of the performing arts throughout the country; to create opportunities for performing artists of the country as well as to aid the promotion of social development and the improvement of the quality of life. In its present state, it is not living to its billing.
But that has not always been the case. Many here will remember that in its heydays, the National Theatre hosted all Nigerian State Government functions and performances, including popular musical extravaganzas such as the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Roy Ayers, Skyy, Shalamar, Whispers, Third world and Dynasty, as well as major stage events.”
Mohammed said Phase I of this project will restore the National Theatre to its glory days and make it the go-to place for blockbuster shows again.
Highlights of the first phase include: upgrade of the theatres (the main halls and cinema halls, conference and banquet halls, press hall and the bar); installation of new seats, upgrade of the sanitary facilities,installation of lifts, acoustics and specialist lightings; and the air conditioning, lighting, other power and plumbing will also be replaced/upgraded to international standards.
Phase 2 of the project will involve the creation and implementation of a detailed master plan for the site adjoining the National Theatre. The highlights include: – Development of purpose-built clusters to provide world class facilities for Nigeria’s Creative Industry.
The new centre will comprise hubs for: Fashion, Music, Film and Information and Technology (IT) hub.
These creative clusters will be supported by other facilities, including multi-storey parking to accommodate an additional 1,000 cars, a Visitors’ Welcome Centre which will house commercial and retail facilities, as well as administration and management offices, among others.
Both phases will be connected by carefully curated soft and hard landscape areas as well as waterways, providing an excellent semi and outdoors spaces for community use and entertainment, including an amphitheatre. Installation of new infrastructure (roads and services mains) and upgrade of the existing ones.
“Contrary to what naysayers are spinning. no one is hijacking the National Theatre. It remains our national heritage.
This Public-Private Partnership is a win-win for all. It restores this iconic edifice to its glory days and develops the land that has been lying fallow for over four decades, creating massive jobs for our teeming youths and providing ago-to spot for our teeming population.
“I therefore enjoin all of us to give our maximum support to this project so we can bequeath a befitting national heritage to the coming generations,” Mohammed said. In his address, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu commended President Muhammadu Buhari’s support in the restoration and upgrade of the cultural monument.
He stressed the need for the project to be delivered at a set date. “Maximum of 22 months, we will bring Mr President here for a tour of the facility,” said Governor Sanwo-Olu.
Also, in his remark the CBN Governor, Mr. Emefiele, said that the country has the potential to earn over $20 billion annually from the creative industry, adding that the development is a key part of the Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI), which was unveiled at the annual retreat of the Bankers’ Committee held in December 2018.
He said that the National Theatre is expected to serve as the initial pilot for the Nigeria Creative Industries Centre, adding that when the renovation of the facility is completed in the next 18 months, it would have been transformed into Nigeria’s Creative Industrial Centre that will be comparable to other world class entertainment and convention centres in any part of the world.
“The Creative Centre, which comprises music, movies, fashion and ICT can be a key source of growth for our economy, creating up to one million jobs for our teaming youths. It will also aid our objective of reducing ourdependenceonrevenuesfrom crude oil. India for example, in 2018, generated over $240 billion from exports of IT, movies, music and fashion-related goods and services.
This amount is over five times our annual earnings from the sale of crude oil. With our human capital resources and an enabling environment that will help harness the creative talents of our youths, Nigeria has the potential to earn over $20 billion annually from the creative industry,” Emefiele said.
According to him, their goal for the National Theatre, is to create an environment where start-ups and existing businesses are rewarded for their creativity.