AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT ISSUED THIS WEEK BY THE FEDERAL MINISTRY OF TOURISM AND CULTURE, ORDERING ITS PARASTATALS TO RELOCATE THEIR OFFICES FROM THE GROUNDS OF THE NATIONAL THEATRE AT IGANMU, LAGOS, WITHIN TWO WEEKS, IN PREPARATION FOR THE PLANNED CONCESSION OF THE PROPERTY HAS JOLTED THEATRE PRACTITIONERS. THE BEWILDERED ARTISTES AND DIRECTORS HAVE HELD SEVERAL CONSULTATIVE MEETINGS TO FEEL EACH OTHERS’ PULSE ON THE ISSUE BUT STILL CANNOT COME TO GRIPS WITH THE REALITY ON GROUND. BENNETT OGHIFO AND TOPE OGUDU VISITED THE THEATRE AND SPOKE WITH SOME OF THE AGGRIEVED PARTIES
Nobody likes notice of eviction. It brings gloom to every conversation. That is the reason those affected fight desperately to resist being thrown out of their property. The notice of relocation given the parastatals has suddenly taken the shine off those usually ebullient arts professionals. They huddled in groups discussing the imminent blow fate has in store for them.
Invitation to Tender
A tender’s notice allegedly issued by the General Manager of the National Theatre did not hint at the concession of the complex but states that “The National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, in its desirous to continue upgrading its facilities to rehabilitate the edifice to its past glory, in strict compliance with the Federal Government Procurement Guidelines hereby invites experienced, reputable and registered contractors/suppliers to bid for the under-listed projects under its 2013 Capital Projects.”
He went on to list the projects, which are mainly in the cinema halls and, gave guidelines for qualification to the prospective contractors.
“All Tender Documents should be submitted by hand and deposited in the Tender Box in the office of General Manager/CEO, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, not later than 20th May, 2013. The opening date of the Bid documents will be Tuesday, 21st May, 2013,” the statement said.
An arts practitioner’s thoughts
Word at the National Theatre Complex is that President Jonathan has given an approval for the property to be concessioned to different concessionaires, who presented proposals to build recreational facilities, including a hotel on the grounds around the theatre building.
The theatre complex is prime property on vast land that is beginning to draw attention from both speculators and genuine investors whose projects will improve the nation’s economy. What worries arts practitioners is the fact that the theatre, built to host most of the cultural events of the FESTAC 77, has gone to rot because after the festival the government did not appoint theatre professionals with entrepreneurial skills to manage the facility in a sustainable way.
Most of the theatre and arts’ practitioners at the National Theatre complex weave their activities around the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) and have their offices and rehearsal rooms on the property. They believe the government has a responsibility to ensure that they have conducive environment to operate.
According to one of the professionals on the property, Tope Babayemi, President Goodluck Jonathan should re-consider the concession of the National Theatre annex in Lagos.
“We hear that the Minister Culture and Tourism has gotten approval of the President to bring the private sector to invest in the development of infrastructure around the National Theatre. The complex and physical structure there are dilapidated and the minister is saying that we are having a problem in raising money, and mobilising resources for the development of the arts.”
He said last year’s budget for the National Theatre was N1.9 billion and that it was not enough money to manage the complex, explaining that owing to the low funding, the government would not be able to do everything and that it was a good reason the government should encourage the private sector to come and invest in the management of the complex. “On the surface it looks reasonable, but you don’t have to dig too deep to see that the minster’s proposal is fraught with so many challenges. It is also apparent that the whole process has not been very well thought-out. We want to be charitable and say, there is no hidden agenda, but the speed used in effecting this new policy and of seeking and getting approval from Mr President without engaging the stakeholders is worrisome.”
He said there was need to get the private sector involved in the arts’ sector. “Government should use its money to invest in the arts as seed fund alone and, from that point on we will get the private sector involved. But what happens is that the government still invests in the arts. What we need in this country’s art sector is not so much money from the government; what we need is effective leadership and direction from the public sector.”
He called on Nigerians and the president to engage people who are knowledgeable in theatre management in managing the National Theatre complex, adding that the government was ill-advised in giving approval to the Minister to concession the complex.
He said, “the people entrusted with the responsibility to run the National Theatre are not giving him sound advice base on the common good. “They are giving him advice based on self-interest.”
He said it was a pity that the National Theatre’s management has be unable to attract the events of the Nigerian Brewery, which is a few meters from the complex. “Nigerian Brewery can use the National Theatre in the presentation of its programmes in arts and culture. The company has four branded cultural events: Guilder Ultimate Search, Star Mega Jam, Star Quest and Maltina Dance All that is funded with billions of naira.”
He wondered what level of expenditure the theatre had attracted in the years after FESTAC 77. The main theatre building has the largest indoor arena with a rotating stage that is ideal for all sorts of cultural events. It has capacity to hold 5,000 guests. Regrettably, there are no programmes to keep the halls filled at all times.
Babayemi said from his experience as an arts manager with specific regard to base management and with experience across continents, it would be more beneficial for the country to keep the structure and environment of the National Theatre to international standard.
The National Theatre, he said, “has become an eyesore, complete with an amusement park for children and wild music blaring from the speakers of a DJ’s music set. Why is the National Theatre trying to compete with the activities of an amusement park?