Aftermath Of Demolition: Artists’ Village To Wear New Look
SINCE January 23, 2016 when raging bulldozers guided by a troop of well-armed and combat-ready policemen tore down all structures in the compound known as the Artists’ Village and tucked within the National Theatre complex, Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has paid unscheduled visits twice.
Those visits have left something to cheer on the lips of owners of properties such as audio-visual studios, dance studios, drama rehearsal rooms, visual arts studios, craft-making and textile workshops destroyed during the demolition exercise.
Coordinator, NCAC Artists’ Village, Aremo Tope Babayemi said the Minister’s gesture has doused the tension between the artists and the National Theatre management whose General Manager, Mallam Kabir Yussuf was believed to have ordered the demolition.
“With the visits, the minister has demonstrated such a responsive leadership that we have not seen before. He has come to us three times within a month to specifically speak with the artists,” Babayemi said noting that the comprehensive report of the demolition demanded for by the minister will soon be ready for onward transmission to Abuja.
Again, Alhaji Mohammed, last Monday, promised that everything would be done to provide a conducive environment for artists to thrive.
The Artists’ Village is here to stay,’’ the Minister told the hordes of artists who welcomed him to the village, which has been in the news in recent times after it was affected by the demolition of shanties within the National Theatre complex.
We’ll do everything to encourage the Arts. Within our little resources, we’ll make sure that arts thrive,’’ he said, while assuring that this will be a new era of better rapport between Artists and the Ministry of Information and Culture, as well as with the management of the National Theatre.
Alhaji Mohammed, who toured the village to see the damage done to the work of some of the Artists during the demolition exercise, promised to assist those affected as soon as he received their report detailing the losses they incurred during the demolition, and after studying the report he personally commissioned into the incident.
He said the village, which houses Arts and Dance Studios, among others, was under-developed and that the government will do more to develop and promote the village.
We will build more on what we met here. Out of the ruins of this village will emerge a befitting Artists Village that will comprise standard studios, dance theatres and stands where artists can exhibit and even sell their works.
Arts and Culture have placed Nigeria on the world map, perhaps second only to sports. Nigeria’s work of arts are being celebrated globally. It is the responsibility of the government to promote them,’’ the Minister said.
He urged the Artists to take advantage of the 500-billion-Naira Intervention Fund which the government has set aside in the 2016 budget, with a view to accessing the funds they need to expand the scope of their work.
Alhaji Mohammed also met with Mr. Smart Owie, the artist who was allegedly shot in the leg during the demolition exercise, and secured the assurances of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police to ensure that he is provided with the necessary police report to facilitate his treatment.
The Minister urged the artists to eschew bitterness and refrain from aggravating the situation, while the government awaits their report on the situation.
Perhaps embarrassed by the negative publicity that the incident was generating especially on social media, the Minister rushed to the scene on January 23, where he met the still protesting artists. He was dismayed at the extent of destruction, and said there was no need for such excessive use of force, which led to shooting by policemen.
In fact, as soon as the artistes heard that the Minister had come to “see things for himself” they gathered themselves and staged a protest that attracted the Minister. However, the Minister appealed for calm while also urging the artistes not to do anything that would undermine peace in the area. Also, the Minister directed that a comprehensive report of damages of individual artistes be compiled and forward to his office. But he assured that the area would be transformed to make the National Arts Theatre and other creative establishments around it a hub of arts that could boost its potential as a tourists’ delight.
The Minister had said “I urge you to remain calm. The last time I came here I said I do not want to see any shanties around here, because such do not add value to this place as an entertainment hub. We are doing our best to transform this area and harness its tourism potential. Please, remain calm and maintain the peace and be sure the government will do everything to support you here.’’
The General Manager who appeared startled told the minister that the demolition was done to restore sanity in the area. He however maintained that all the occupants of the illegal structures in the area were properly notified of the demolition exercise and that enough time was given to remove their valuables. “They were given enough time. We gave them enough time to remove their valuables. Besides, nobody was shot as even the office can confirm this,’’ Mallam Kabir Yussuf had said.
But there and then, former General Manager of the MUSON Centre and a respected show promoter and programmer Aremo Tope Babayemi who runs a studio at the demolished Artists’ Village countered the GM’s submission and told the Minister that the artistes in the village and other tenants were surprised by the demolitions as there was no prior notice.
He said some of the structures that were demolished were not illegal. “We got appropriate permit to build those structures that were demolished. It will interest the Minister to know that this Artists’ Village is the largest concentration of artistes and artists of different specializations in Africa. This is the only village in which artistes, sculptors and other creative professionals can be seen in one place in Africa.
So, this is a hub. We drive the local economy here and we are recognized internationally. But the General Manager (Kabir Yusuf) who has been harassing us here came as early as 6.am (on Saturday, January 23, 2016) to demolish our structures — most of which have documents and our instruments and arts works. They pulled down our structures and even shot one of us by name Smart Ovie. This is why we are protesting. They want to kill this place. We are appealing to you the Minister, to protect us. We are part of your change agenda. We need your protection.”
So far, the minister appeared to be listening to the prayers of the artists as pleaded by Babayemi. And with the last Monday’s visit, it may not be too long before those reassuring words of the minister become a reality.
Origin of the Artists’ Village:
Since the 1992 directive by the federal government that all federal agencies should move to the new capital, Abuja, the Artists’ Village had served as the Lagos office of the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC). Like the National Theatre, the NCAC is a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. Though located in the Theatre complex, the General Manager of the National Theatre statutorily has no jurisdiction over the compound. Rather, the premises is administered by the DG of the NCAC, through his Lagos liaison officers. The officials, who interface with the tenanted artists claimed they were not informed or aware of the January 23 demolition exercise.
They told journalists that the exercise took them by surprise too, especially staged in such early hours of the morning on a weekend, when none of them was expected to be on duty. To them, it was a premeditated onslaught against the artists by the National Theatre management, perhaps coming from old animosity when the artists resisted an attempt to evict them in the heat of a proposed sale of the entire theatre complex to some businessmen from Dubai.
Though now resident in Abuja, the NCAC maintains a heavy presence at the facility, with structures that comprised staff offices, a 70-seater auditorium, an exhibition hall, a gallery and a studio. Following the 1992 Presidential directive the facility (sometimes called annex) was converted to a liaison office while a better part of it was leased to artistes. The artists pay rents to the NCAC through its Lagos officials.