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‘Curious gaps in bankers’ National Theatre deal’


Aerial view of the National Theatre Complex .

• Role Of Bankers Not Properly Defined — Oni
• Deal Strong On Leisure Industry, Weak On Creative Enterprise — Ojewuyi
• BPE, ICRC Exemption In Handing Over Process Raises Suspicion
• It’s Win-win Deal For Stakeholders — Mohammed
• It’ll Unlock Potential, Stimulate Growth Of Creative Industry — Emefiele

For decades, the National Theatre has been in the news for the wrong reasons, paramount of which are rot and dilapidation. Last Sunday, July 12, 2020, the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Bankers Committee began what is considered the most detailed commitment to the facility since 2007 when discussions on concession of the culture edifice was initiated by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE).

The BPE had established the framework for concession and hosted an open bid for it, after a widely publicised call for expression of interest. It eventually announced Infrastructica as the preferred bidder with a bid of N35.8 billion for a 35-year concession of the National Theatre. It also declared Jadeas Trust, which offered N28.9 billion, as the reserved bidder.

Infrastructica was expected to rehabilitate, run the facilities and upgrade existing facilities, including the cinemas, halls, and develop 12,000sqm of available re-developable space. The company was also expected to develop games arcade, amusement park, theme parks and arts galleries.


The Guardian, however, gathered that there are so many curious gaps in the new deal with Bankers Committee, which government has to explain.

Beyond the fact that there were no officials of BPE and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), an agency of government that supervised another process of concessioning initiated in 2013 by the former Minister of Culture and Tourism, High Chief Edem Duke, stakeholders wonder why the Bankers Committee had “to go through the back door” to get approval for the development of the fallow land outside an agency like the BPE or the ICRC that were statutorily established to handle such a transaction.

Although those opposing the project agreed that private sector participation in the development and management of the National Theatre through concession remains the only viable alternative to restoring the theatre to its lost glory. They wondered why both the speech by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, did not say much about the financial and commercial aspect of the project, including an outline of the deal covering the fallow area, funding structures and details of the business ecosystem for sustainability.


The minister also did not give insight into the fate of the parastatals, professional bodies and regulatory institutions such as the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC), National Gallery of Arts (NGA), National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) that are currently located within the precinct of the National Theatre complex.

According to former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Duro Oni, it is a good idea for the CBN and other banks to come together to renovate the National Theatre. “But there are issues that surround it. The CBN is not a commercial bank. The Federal Government owns it 100 per cent. They have done interventions like that, even at the universities; they have built some centres of excellence and stuffs like that. But when they bring in the body that is called Bankers Committee, I mean, banks are set up as commercial enterprises; are they going to use shareholders’ funds? Is it a corporate social responsibility? Or, for them, is it an investment to which they expect returns?”

Oni said: “All of those things were not stated in the handing-over, and those are very valid questions that needed to be asked. There is no problem with the CBN. I know that the CBN has that capacity, but when they bring in the body of bankers, what is their own interest in the matter? Is it corporate social responsibility? Do they want to assist the arts or culture in development? Or is this an investment opportunity which they expect to make returns? If they want to make such returns, what would be their involvement and what part of it will become their own investment?”
Professor Segun Ojewuyi, Head of Directing, Department of Theatre, Affiliate Faculty— Africana Studies, Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said, “the concept of government partnering with the private sector is not alien, neither is it wrong. Of course, like any financial instrument and structure, it is flawed and there are loopholes and landmines in its execution. These loopholes are inherently in sync with the character of the Nigerian politician, government official and so-called business entrepreneurs.”


To Ojewuyi, “what has been outlined is nothing that describes what the Creative Industry means. What has been described as the outline for the National Theatre and its environs, is to turn the place into a hub for the ‘leisure industry’, the same agenda as the one leaked by High Chief Edem Duke in 2013.”

At the handover ceremony on Sunday, Alhaji Mohammed had said the National Theatre remained a national heritage and would not be ceded to any person or group.

The Minister had noted that the project, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), “is a win-win for all. It restores this iconic edifice to its glory and develops the land that has been lying fallow for over four decades, creating massive jobs for the teeming youths, and also providing a go-to-spot for our teeming population.”

In his remarks at the event, Emefiele said upon completion in another 18 months, this area would have transformed into Nigeria’s creative industrial centre, comparable to other world-class entertainment and convention centres.

He said the centre would unlock potential and stimulate growth of creative industry. He said: “Our goal for the National Theatre is to create an environment where start-ups and existing businesses are rewarded for their creativity. The National Theatre when fully renovated will be able to support skills acquisition and job creation for over one million Nigerians over the next five years.”

Jerry Adesewo, the artistic director of Arojah Theatre, said, “revamping it without giving it away would have been a better option. Theatres, especially national theatres around the world, are run as social enterprise and not a pure business enterprise as the federal government is now trying to do with this discreetly done handing over to the profit oriented private sectors.”


The theatre director queried the idea of PPP, saying, in Nigeria, it is not the same as other parts of the world. “A PPP that followed due diligence and carry the stakeholders along. I am not sure that was done in this case. This is the way things are done in Nigeria; so, there is a risk, and I hope that is not the case of handing over the National Theatre to people who have the funds, but not what it takes to breathe life into the place,” he said.
For the Founder/Artistic Director, Royal Star Entertainment Production, Alagba Femi Tade, handing the National Theatre to the CBN/Bankers Committee is not the problem, but for government to evolve ways that production troupes would be able to access the facility.

According to Tade, it is one thing to knock the national monument into shape and another thing to systematically handle all other issues that pertain to management and artistes’ engagements.
Dr. Sola Balogun of Department of Theatre Arts, Federal University Oye-Ekiti, said: “It is far better for the National Theatre complex to be handed over to those who can turn it around, make it attractive to Nigerians and tourists. This is because for well over three decades, the complex has only housed civil servants without adequate maintenance. Worse still, the complex was already becoming a national disaster for want of artistic events and income generating activities.”

Although he does not believe that the PPP arrangement is clearly the best, he, however, said it could still produce a good result if those to implement the policy do not compromise the goals set by the government-private sector initiative for the two phases of the project. “The second phase, which centres on the fallow land around the theatre complex must be made to attract businesses that are based on the arts, culture and tourism,” Balogun urged.


Ben Chidiaka, a theatre director, said government needs to put guidelines in place that will ensure that culture and arts have preference when it comes to certain areas. “But as par profit? I think it is about time the National Theatre was taken out of the hands of people who obviously do not have the interest of the arts or the country.”
Isioma Williams, founder/artistic director, DrumsView Concept and also creator/director of Sights and Sounds de L’Afrique, advised government to ensure that “whatever partnership that is being put in place should consider the arts not just as business, but first of all as for humanity,” adding, “artistes and youths development should come before business.”

He said: “A proper committee or structure should be put in place to manage the space, artistes and their works/projects. This will ensure that artistes have good access to resources to produce their works and as well make them available to a wider audience. A proper business model should be in place, which gives room for artist (including freelance and private art organisations) to create, collaborate with each other and also with their foreign counterparts.”

Ladepo Duro-Ladipo, a Lagos-based commercial theatre producer, said all stakeholders in the sector should support the project to bring back the National Theatre to its past glory.

“Those of us that have collaborated with the management of the National Theatre for stage productions are quite aware of challenges faced in terms of poor infrastructure and maintenance, which have terribly hindered patronage and equally denied the national cultural edifice from being the preferred hub of entertainment and venue of top flight events in Lagos.”


Meanwhile, the Federal High Court in Lagos, on Friday, July 17, 2020, ordered the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the Governor of Central Bank and five others to appear before it on July 24 to explain why the National Theatre Iganmu was handed over on July 12 to some developers while the structure is subject of a pending lawsuit marked FHC/L/CS/2392/2019.

CONSTRUCTED in 1976 for the preservation, presentation and promotion of arts and culture in the country, the facility, for some years now, has been a major concern for the art community and professionals that operate at the fringe of the art and culture sector.

The facility, which, in 1977, served as venue of the events of the second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, otherwise known as the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC’77), was the pride of the nation, having been designed after the Bulgarian Sports Centre in the Port City of Varna, Bulgaria, and sits on an expansive land that is about 23,000 square metres.

For over three decades, there was no proper routine maintenance of the building by the Bulgarian architects that constructed it or any local agency. The various occupants left the building to gradually deteriorate to the extent that the roof of the main auditorium cracked and rainwater began to drip into the hall. This began to destroy the stage, collapsible seats, the lighting and amplification system, the floor, and priceless art works.

The crack in no time spread to the other wings and it became dangerous for events to hold in the facility. And to prevent anyone from being electrocuted, electricity power supply was cut off, leaving the building to be unmanageable hot to the extent that even staff that ought to be on their seats during work hours began to loiter, while some moved to the ‘abeg igi region’ under the tree and at the close of work go home.


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