By Amechi Ogbonna

After several years of abandonment by the Federal Government, the Bankers’ Committee and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have commenced renovation works on the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos.

The reconstruction of the national edifice was coming after the government, on July 12, 2020, handed over the iconic theatre to CBN and the Bankers’ Committee to kick-start the project with both pledging an investment outlay of N21.894 billion covering renovation, refurbishment and commercialisation of  the complex.

According to the Federal Government, the revamp of Nigeria’s National Theatre in Lagos kicked off, with a $100million investment, by the Bankers Committee, in a Public Private Partnership PPP with it.

Apart from the rehabilitation, the sprawling ground of the theater will be redeveloped into a Creative Hub for film, fashion, music and IT.

Like the Staple Centre in Los Angeles in the United States of America, if and when the theatre is completely redeveloped into a creative hub to promote film, fashion, music and industrial technology, the nation expects to add a minimum of one million new direct and indirect jobs to further soak off the huge unemployment pressure in its labour market.

The ongoing reconstruction was the outcome of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the federal executive council, the CBN and the Ministry of Information and Culture for the implementation of the project. The MoU has a life span of 21 years after which it will be handed back to government.

According to Mr Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, the decision to hand over the national theatre to the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee was largely informed by the government’s funding constraints on the project.

This was even as he assured the facility’s management and other stakeholders that the renovation will not lead to job loss, but that instead about 6,000 jobs will be created at the reconstruction and revamping stages, with an additional 2,000 jobs provided when the project is completed.

Describing the development as ‘a landmark approval’, the minister said it would pave the way for investment in the creative industry as part of the resolve of the present regime to create at least one million jobs in the industry in the next three years.

Mohammed said, “The President had in 2020 given approval to the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee to develop, refurbish, renovate the National Theatre and at the same time take over the adjoining lands to create a veritable creative industry where there will be four hubs: one each for films, music, IT and fashion.

The minister said a special purpose vehicle will be created to run it as it cannot be business as usual.

“It cannot be business as usual; it will be a turning point in the creative industry in the sense that we are going to have a brand-new National Theatre, an event centre that will help in creating more jobs.”

From its completion in the 1976, in preparation for the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977, the National Theatre, had been seen as Nigeria’s primary centre for the performing arts in the country and its management had endeavoured to pursue the objectives for which it was established, especially as it concerns the presentation, preservation and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria.

The National Theatre, Nigeria was designed and constructed by Bulgarian construction company (Techno Exporstroy).

Regrettably, the once dearly cherished event and tourist centre for culture and performance arts has become a shadow of itself having been taken over by petty traders, gamblers and rodents in some case and now in need of a comprehensive makeover to meet the demands of current times.

It was therefore not surprising the excitement that erupted when the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, revealed that the reconstruction of the National Arts Theatre was costing the Bankers’ Committee a whopping $100million.

Emefiele who spoke at the ‘Arise Fashion 2021’ programme, the 2020 Dubai UAE Expo event in Dubai, had commended President Muhammadu Buhari, for giving the Bankers’ Committee an opportunity to revamp the National Arts Theatre expected to open a new channel of revenue for the country upon completion.

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He said, “That project is costing the Bankers’ Committee almost $100million to resuscitate and revamp the National Art Theatre.

“It is not just about resuscitating it; by the design of the National Art Theatre, what we do intend to do is to develop four creative hubs around the theatre.

“The National Art Theatre can contain in a particular gathering at least 7,500 people. We do hope that come 2023 and onwards, we will begin to see these fashion shows being held around the premises of the National Art Theatre.”

Explaining the four hubs to be established, he said, “The hubs are the fashion hub, music hub, the film, and to support these, the IT, where we are going to have Nigeria’s young and talented IT developers, developing software to increase and earn revenue for themselves and also to support the revenue base of the country. “We are trying to build infrastructure to support the creative industry in Nigeria.”

Emefiele explained that the country’s deposit money banks had in 2020 set up a Creative industry Financing Fund aimed at making it possible for young and talented youths in the creative industry to raise funding to establish or grow their businesses. The Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI), would enable businesses to obtain loans up to the tune of N500 million.

When completed, the National Arts Theatre Centre would be at par with other world-class entertainment and convention centres in any part of the world as its activities in would include music, movies, fashion, and ICT. This new development will indeed reduce the dependence on revenues from crude oil and could be a source of growth to the economy at large.

Impact on creative industry

Economic experts have said the creative industry has the potential to generate over $20 billion annually for Nigeria with its human capital resources and an enabling environment that would harness the creative talents of youths and the CBN boss said, “We must do more to encourage the innovative works of these young talented Nigerians as they can make significant contributions to the growth and development of our country.

“Secondly, given our growing population of close to 200million people, with 60 percent under the age of 35, it is imperative that we strive to create opportunities that will keep our youths engaged, as it would portend great dangers for the progress of our nation if we allow these talents go to waste”.

The Bankers’ Committee intends to support the creative venture with about N25billion of initial funding towards the realisation of this objective. 

He said its goal was to support startups and existing businesses across the four pillars, as well as foster the development of a Nigeria Creative Industries Centre in four major cities in Nigeria.

In 2020 for instance the nation’s motion picture and music recording accounted for roughly N730 billion ($1.8 billion of Nigeria’s GDP then while telecommunications and information services held 12.2 percent of the country’s GDP, representing the most valuable sector in the creative, entertainment, and information industry.

Nigeria’s film industry, also known as “Nollywood”, provides millions of dollars to the nation’s economy and numerous direct jobs by providing films to millions of viewers around the globe, amidst its informal and unorganised structure of street market sales and low-budget productions.

In their separate reactions some entertainment personalities said the revamp of the degraded museum could not have come at a better time than now when the Nigerian arts industry is gaining global attention.

For instance, Peju Oladapo, a stage director told Daily Sun “I am excited that the renovation will result in the rebound of theatre culture, patronage of stage artists, and business for performing art, visual arts and other creative genres. However, I was at the National Theatre in April to see a play by Crown Troupe of Africa and I did not like the poor turnout that graced the enthralling play by Segun Adefila. That is discouraging because theatre should be able to pay by itself. So, if the theatre is alive, fresh with new amenities and more relaxing, more people will come and live theatre will peak again with more money in the pockets of the cast and crew members. However, I feel that the operators of the revamped theatre might raise fees that would scare art practitioners, event organisers and even the public from patronizing the place as is usually the case with facilities that the government handed over to the private sector to remodel and operate. I hope the artist community, creative talents and other related stakeholders who the renovation is meant to help would not be the losers at the end, especially if the operators hike fees for using the facilities above the reach of the creative industry practitioners.

In her contribution, Omotunde David Adebowale, aka Lolo 1, an On-Air Personality and a Nollywood actress said “I would say the renovation is a long time coming. The theatre was built to be a monument for us in Nigeria. I mean it was built so that tourists can come all over the world to come and see. Just look at the architecture of the place, the amount of theatres in that venue alone. We do not always have to come to the island to have events, but because we have left the place to rot, that is money wasting because money gotten from there can go a long way into the creative industry. I am glad the CBN as well as other stakeholders injected a lot to renovate the place. Nigerian people will benefit immensely because it is not only the artists that will benefit, artisans like carpenters, masons, costumiers and others. For us who are practitioners, we will say that theatre is our national pride and beyond the money that will be generated, it is also a monumental wonder for Nigerians.

Also commenting, Chief Daniel Dickson-Okezie, Chairman, SMEs Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)recalled that the national theatre used to be a great tourist attraction to African countries, but as things changed, it suddenly went obsolete. Well, since it’s a tourist attraction, renovating it would attract more businesses to the country. It’s a good development by the CBN and the bankers committee. I see SMEs who had left there because of the decay coming back to boost their businesses. Also when it was announced that the renovation was about to begin, no one raised any eyebrow because it’s a worthwhile venture. It will boom again, because the work will change the face and we believe it would become the pride of Africa and the country again.. Those days people used to visit with their families and friends until things went sour in the area. After the renovation, it will begin to boom again and generate revenue for government.

For his part, Anthony Omojola, National coordinator, Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria (ISAN) said, “It’s a tourist attraction. Reconstructing it will help change the narrative that Nigeria is insecure. It will  bring back the days of going to the theatre to watch plays and drama as artistes will return in full force to make the theatre flourish again. Businesses will return. It will create more jobs.