Muted reactions trail National Theatre’s handover to CBN

by Araayo Akande

Muted reactions have trailed the Federal Government’s final handover of the National Theatre, Lagos, to the Central Bank of Nigeria/Bankers Committee for renovation and redevelopment.

The parties signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Theatre’s renovation and creation of the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre comprising film, music, IT and fashion hubs on its expansive fallow land last Sunday.

Curiously, however, stakeholders’ reactions to the development have been muted. 

Speaking on this, theatre director and Chair, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Makinde Adeniran, said it is a trust issue. The uncertainty surrounding the arrangement.

“It’s a good development, a dream we pray to come to reality. I think it’s the right business decision: give me your land, and I’ll renovate your Theatre for you.  But beyond that, the creative hubs will create employment for teeming Theatre Arts graduate. They spend four years studying the course and then divert into other fields because there are no jobs.  The hubs will create jobs for them and others in ancillary industries. The deal is a good one, and we pray it comes to reality. They should start work, and it should be at a speedy pace. 

“Insecurity and the poverty in the country, which makes people focus more on survival, may have been responsible for what you think is the lukewarm reaction to the news. Then the fear of slow pace of execution and policy somersault when a new government comes in and cancels the deal. It’s a plan we want to come to reality speedily.”

Filmmaker and media entrepreneur, Fidelis Duker, expressed mixed feelings over the development. “Yes, the Bankers Committee led by the CBN has taken over the facility, but stakeholders are still pessimistic because there is a trust issue with anything involving the government. Moreover, the details are murky. They have not spelt out how the facility will operate, considering the private sector is involved. Stakeholders were also not fully involved in the negotiations.  One would have expected that they would invite them for a briefing on their intentions.”

On the creative hubs, Duker said: “If actualised and accessible to the average practitioner in each of the sectors, the hubs will go a long way in developing the industry and also boosting the local economy. It’s a welcome development, but we must learn from Tinapa, where the facility was not accessible to the stakeholders and practitioners. This led to its collapse after the investment of huge resources.”

Artist and former chair, NANTAP Lagos, Mufu Onifade, is upbeat about the development.  He said, “I think the statement of the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is reassuring. The CBN and Committee of Bankers will renovate the National Theatre’s structure. After that, they will return it to the government. From time, the stakeholders’ grouse had been hinged on the government’s proposed sale or concession of the structure. As stakeholders, we feel comfortable that the facility would be renovated and returned to us. 

“Concerning the surroundings, which the Committee of Bankers wishes to develop, we don’t have any issue with that because the original master plan of the Theatre surroundings included a 5-star hotel. General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military government would have built it way back in 1976 but declined because the Durbar Hotel in Festac was around the corner. So, if the Committee of Bankers is now willing to build the hotel on a location that does not affect the National Theatre structure negatively, then we are good to go.”

Speaking at Sunday’s agreement signing ceremony, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, disclosed that Cappa & D’Alberto Limited is the main contractor that would undertake the first phase of the renovation, which would last 15 months.  Nairda Limited is the electrical sub-contractor, and VACC Limited, mechanical sub-contractor.  A facility manager would manage the building complex.

He added that the Bankers’ Committee would also fund a prototype cluster called  the ‘Signature Cluster.’

“This facility will be a convenor – providing space, support network, business development and community engagement for the creative, cultural and technology sectors. The Signature Cluster will consist of a building each for music, film, fashion and information technology verticals. In addition to these, we will build a welcome/visitor’s centre, police and fire stations and structured parking for up to 500 vehicles,” he said.

The contract for the clusters, Emefiele added, would be awarded in the next four weeks.

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