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How theatre revamp will deepen artistic enterprise

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
28 February 2021   |   4:25 am
Since the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, led other members of the Bankers’ Committee to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Federal Government for the handover of the National Theatre...

National Theatre

Since the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, led other members of the Bankers’ Committee to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Federal Government for the handover of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, on February 14, 2021, there has been a renewed hope that government will look in the direction of Culture Creative Industries (CCIs) for a boost. The move is in line with the Federal Government’s vision of lifting 100 million out of poverty.

Watchers of event believe that at a time like this when the country is battling economic woes, poverty and unemployment, unfettered attention should be given to CCIs to unleash their potential.

The CBN Governor, in fact, has projected that the upgrade of the theatre will create a minimum of 10,000 direct and indirect jobs during the project’s construction phase. This is in addition to the 25,000 employees that will be engaged in different sections of the monument when the ‘Signature Cluster’ of the building is completed.

The Signature Cluster of the building, according to him, will consist of a building each for music, film, fashion and information technology verticals.

He had noted, “the revamp of the National Theatre to a world-class creative hub would position it to attract local hospitality and international tourism prospects, and thereby, boost the sector’s GDP contribution and a growing revenue from the arts, entertainment and recreation sector might also relax the government’s over-dependence on the oil and gas sector.

“The building’s renovation would attract investment in the already booming sector,” Emefiele revealed, adding that the country “can earn over $20 billion yearly from the creative industry and over one million jobs is expected to be created in five years.”

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the renovation would be in two phases. The first phase is the revamp of the deplorable state of the infrastructure, while the second phase will consist of the expansion of the theatre.

The CBN/Bankers Committee is expected to provide about N21.89 billion for the revamping. The committee is also expected to manage the facility for a few years before handing it over to the Federal Government.

Alhaji Mohammed further noted that the Central Bank would provide the fund for the renovation of the national monument and manage it for a few years before handing it over to the government.

The first phase of the renovation is expected to be completed in 15 months. The work in the first phase include, an upgrade of 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 air conditioning, lighting, other power-related and plumbing work to international standards.

The second phase of the project will involve the creation and implementation of a detailed master plan for the 134 hectares of adjoining land to the Theatre. The works include the development of purpose-built clusters to provide world-class facilities for Nigeria’s Creative Industry.

According to the CBN, the main project contractor is Cappa & D’Alberto Limited, while Nairda Limited and VACC Limited are the electrical and mechanical Sub-Contractors, respectively.

Why Stakeholders Are Not Comfortable
THOUGH many still wonder how the facility’s revamping will unlock the creative talents of hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths in the fields of music, movie production, fashion and information technology now that CCIs in the world over are currently plagued by a lot of challenges from COVID-19 pandemic, which have negated their growth and limited the potential and viability of the industry, government is optimistic that the handover will stimulate growth in the industry.

However, government’s decision to revamp and return the national treasure to its glory days has often generated different reactions from stakeholders.

After the handover in July 2020, stakeholders had raised some salient points about the deal, due, partly, to the unavailability of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) contract document. Though, they did not query the economic growth prospects of the government’s decision to renovate the national theatre, they noted that 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, were not in public domain.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo ‘s plan to privatise the facility in 2001 sparked controversy among the Nigerian arts community, which was shelved. The idea to privatise the place gained currency again in 2007, which led to a series of meetings, demonstrations, rallies and protests against the proposed sale/concessioning of the facility.

Led by the Coalition of Nigeria Artist (CONA), arguments were advanced on how such facilities in other climes have functioned.

According to CONA, “all over the world, human communities, including nations, states, cities and other communities set up official cultural centres to: signalise the community’s cultural arrival; embody its artistic values; showcase its artefacts; and incubate the progressive development of its creative expressions.

“Because of the importance of the foregoing roles of a national cultural centre, national cultural centres are never: Left in the hands of public bureaucracies without specialised training and hands-on experience in facility management and the business of art and entertainment venues; nor concessioned to private entities to govern and operate; operated with a view to making profit.”

CONA acknowledged the need for the resuscitation of the National Theatre for the fulfillment of its mandate as the Nigerian national cultural centre and the centre of arts and performances in the black world, as was conceived during the Festival of African Art and Culture (FESTAC) and proposed a study group of stakeholders and experts be commissioned to analyse the nature and structure of successful Public Private Participation in the operation and funding of National Cultural Centres world-wide and the appropriate legal and other frameworks for such a PPP established before inviting private participation under the framework.

A committee was set up in September 2012, during the tenure of High Chief Edem Duke as minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to look into the possibility of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the management of the facility.

The committee consisted of representatives of the Federal Ministry of Housing, Infrastructural Regulations Committee and Surveyor General.

The committee engaged VGL Consultants, a foreign consulting firm, to look into ways of turning around the surroundings of the theatre.

How It Will Deepen Artistic Imagination, Innovation
IN recent years, many artists in the country’s independent scene have been turning their backs on the National Theatre, because of what they consider as poor state of the facility.

They prefer staging their productions in environments away from the theatre, sometimes, extending their performance beyond the artistic space. Little wonder, every crossroad, derelict building, factory floor or wasteland is now a ‘natural biotope for creative expressions’.

With their muezzin, truck drivers and economic migrants, they present their audience with a ubiquitous theatre landscape stretching from the radio to Internet and other platforms.

With a revamped theatre, a lot of theatre outfits will come back to the facility to do their shows. Theatre companies and practitioners, whose artistic space has been the street for years, sometimes, decades, will push their way back into the very bastions of highbrow culture that try so hard to be close to life.

The National Theatre is an ‘institution’, which does not necessarily mean the building, but also provides curatorial and financial support to produce plays there.

No matter what the avant gardists call the stage and no matter how it is equipped, as a performance venue, National Theatre remains the starting point for artistic encounter, however invisible, ordinary or provocative it may be.

Alternative venues, which opened as interventionist’ theatre spaces, largely in response to the National Theatre’s continuing failing as Nigeria’s cultural hotspot will have competition for culture producers’ fund.

With the Creative Industry Funding Initiative factored to it, there will be deepened imagination, ingenuity and innovation. The more a person or organisation has these commodities, the higher the value they provide.

In a creative economy, the strength and uniqueness of your idea is very important. More importantly, creative innovations will encourage participants to collaborate with one another for optimum performance.

What Nigeria Will Gain
THE Guardian checks show that the box office returns from Terra Kulture, FilmOne House, Silverbird Galleria and Genesis in the last four years is a pointer to the fact that National Theatre has loss much revenue in the last two decades when it became an eyesore.

There is the exhibition hall, two cinema halls, the banquet hall, the VIP hall, and the 5,000-seater main bowl. No other venue in Nigeria has this capacity. The main bowl also has a revolving stage, which is rare to come by in most event centres, and this stage has not been put into use since 1992 due to structural errors. Imagine how much money government would be making if 5,000 people pay at least N1,000 to watch a film or play that would be shown thrice or four times a day?

The other halls run skeletal services at best, with most of them as non-cultural or artistic events. The late filmmaker, Eddie Ugboma, in a chat with The Guardian, estimates that he and the late Yoruba film doyen, Hubert Ogunde, were raking in about N8 million every weekend. Ogunde, whose Yoruba language films were very popular, made about N5 million most weekends, he (Ugbomah) made about N3 million with his English films like, The Death of a Black President, Oyenusi and Black Gold.

Mo Abudu’s The Wedding Party grossed N200 million in just 16 days of four weekends in box office earnings in cinema halls that seat only 100 people at a time. Also, AY’s (Ayo Makun) A Trip to Jamaica earned N168 million in less than four weekends. The two cinema halls at the National Theatre seat well over 500 people each at the same time, the exhibition hall well over 800 people.

Earnings from cinemas are just one aspect of what can be done with the theatre. Nigerians go out of the country for different seminars, conferences and business tourism, with a functional main bowl, a convention centre would have been put in place.