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Two years after CBN/bankers deal, National Theatre grapples with name change, others

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Omiko Awa
24 April 2022   |   2:53 am
Forty-five years after it hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), the National Theatre still remains an issue in the country

Forty-five years after it hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), the National Theatre still remains an issue in the country’s cultural development. However, of late, it has been for the wrong reasons.

Last Wednesday, April 20, 2022, the Nigerian media was awash with news of its renaming. A section of the media had reported that the complex would be named Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre, after completion.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was alleged to have disclosed this in Madrid, Spain while signing an agreement on Nigeria’s hosting of the first Global Conference on Cultural Tourism and Creative Industry.

“Nigeria will be hosting the event at the National Theatre in Lagos, which is currently being renovated at a cost of 100 million Dollar under a partnership between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Bankers’ Committee/Central Bank of Nigeria,” the minister is quoted to have said.

“It is the first of such renovation of the iconic edifice in over four decades.

“In addition to the renovation, new hubs are being constructed, within the premises of the National Theatre, for fashion, Information, technology, film and music.

“With that, the National Theatre is now known as the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre.

“In addition, the Lagos surface rail system to serve the National Theatre will be commissioned ahead of the Global Conference,’’ he said

Mohammed said the signing of the bilateral agreement signified Nigeria’s commitment to host the event.

Reacting to the speculation, the General Manager, National Theatre, Professor Sunday Ododo, had said the name National Arts Theatre is a product of law and that law has not been repealed.

An opinion was also raised by the former Chairman of NANTAP, Abuja chapter, who is the Creative Director, of Arojah Royal Theatre, Jerry Adesewo.

Prof. Ododo told the Voice of Nigeria that: “There is nowhere the Nigerian Information, Tourism and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, said the name of the National Theatre would be changed.

“What the Minister meant to say was very simple. Within the premises of the National Theatre, four hubs would be created. These are music, IT, fashion and movies. These four hubs are what would be named Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre.

“What that means is that it is still a centre within the National Theatre. National Theatre remains National Theatre of Nigeria.”

Observers of events in the sector, however, believe that even when contemplated by floaters of the CBN/Bankers Deal, there should be a proposal to that effect, which should be taken to the National Assembly for interrogation.

They pointed to the announcement by former President Goodluck Jonathan to the change of the University of Lagos’ name to Moshood Abiola University, which was kicked out, mostly, by the alumni association and the UNILAG management, because it did not go through the required process.

In a statement tagged: Re: Renaming National Theatre, President, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Israel Eboh fta, said since this was reported, “stakeholders have expressed their surprise, wonderment and frustration at this “renaming” of a national edifice.

“As a responsible association, despite the many calls to comment, it was incumbent on us to consult and verify the truth in the renaming story.

“From our consultations across multiple sources, the following facts have emerged; The National Theatre remains, National Theatre. The report is either a misrepresentation of facts or misquotes of the minister. The Lagos Creative City is the other four hubs of music, fashion, film and ICT that are to be built on the fallow ground around the National Theatre Complex by the CBN/Bankers Committee and the Lagos State government.”

For the media consultant, culture communicator and former Deputy Editor of The Guardian, Ben Tomoloju, “By the force of history, functionality and general aesthetic appeal, the National Arts Theatre – a product of FESTAC 77 – has assumed the status of a global brand. And it is top notch with that name. But this supposedly new name is bland, prosy and making a forced conjuration of artistic connection. Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre? Are they suggesting that the creative arts aren’t media for entertainment, or that entertainment is not in itself the product of a creative process?”

He believes that such a facile approach will take the spark out of the object and thoroughly diminish its brand appeal.

Dr Ola-Kris Akinola, a theatre lecturer at the University of Limpopo, South Africa, wonders whether such a change will lead to a National Theatre rebirth.

He said, “I love change, even change of names. It could signal a new beginning. A rebirth, if you like. A reorientation.”

According to him, “this ought to be our concern.”

He said: “The thought of changing the name of our National Theatre itself should increase our curiosity on all other national issues. What would the new name be? Would the structure of the way things are run change, too? Will mentality change, too? Will the style of administration also change?

“However, refurbishing or reclaiming the character of a person, in this case, of an organisation such as the Nigeria National Theatre goes beyond a mere change in label.

“Surely, this could be a psychological booster to the renewal of our cultural ancestry as a theatre practicing and patrons in Nigeria.

“But then, like the perennial clamour for the change of the Nigerian State (to whatever), or the dismemberment of the State into regions along ethnic lines, would there be a commensurate change in character?”

A theatre practitioner, Segun Adefila believes that the National Theatre is a testament to nationhood. Thus, it should be allowed to remain so.

Stanley Chukwuemeka Okereafor fta, a University of Ibadan-trained theatre artist and media communicator, said an attempt to change the name would take away from the people’s cultural orientation “if a national monument would be named to a state. Nigeria is bigger than a state, or an individual.
The National Theatre is a national identity.”

While welcoming the fact that the government has denied the statement credited to it, said such a change is not about “making a difference to the complex but making a difference to the national psyche.”

He asked, “if owned by Lagos State, how accessible can it be to other stakeholders outside of Lagos State?”

A lecturer at the Department of Theatre Arts, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti and chairman, Ekiti State chapter of the Association of Nigeria Authors (ANA), Dr Sola Balogun, says that the National Theatre of Nigeria is a national monument and a repository of the country’s artistic and cultural heritage.

He warned those contemplating a change of the name, whether now or in the future, that the facility “is not just a centre for creativity or entertainment, rather it is an edifice, where the best of our arts and culture products and values are showcased.”

Balogun said reducing its status to a state-owned entertainment centre means it would lose its national identity status “hence it would just exist as a relaxation joint or a place for people to hang out. Have we ever heard of the UK changing the name of the National Theatre of Great Britain? The Federal government and Lagos State government can team up to build a joint entertainment centre but they should leave National Theatre as it is in both status and nomenclature. The National Theatre can still serve as a central centre for creativity and accommodation entertainment events, but its name should remain National Theatre to retain its national status as the country’s apex cultural symbol and monument of unity.”

The theatre teacher said aside from hosting entire Africa to FESTAC in 1977, “it remains the cultural symbol of Nigeria and a monument, which signifies her identity as a heterogeneous, yet united nation.”

He said changing the name would be demeaning to its status as a national monument. “It is also an indication that government neither understands nor appreciates the significance of the Theatre complex to a country like Nigeria.”

Professor of Theatre, Film and Cultural Studies, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Tunji Azeez, said: “The news of the change of National Theatre to something else didn’t go well with me because, definitely, every nation that is serious about the place of arts and culture in its national life and relationship with the world should understand that an edifice such as the National Theatre has a symbolic and even spiritual purpose; it’s a place where the cultural, moral, as well as the economic and political stakeholders of the country meet to share their experiences and chart paths towards the future. So, I wondered if the Minister knew what he was doing. However, before commenting on any issue in this age where truth is constantly struggling with half-truths and outright lie, I had to tarry and investigate the news and I was happy to learn that the Minister was misquoted. So, from the information gathered from the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), the National Theatre remains the National Theatre and, as announced last year or thereabouts, it will now house other creative hubs on the fallow lands around it to be developed by the Bankers Committee. So, there’s no need for us to fret.”