Journey Towards National Theatre’s Rebirth

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Obinna Chima writes on the move by the Bankers’ Committee to revive the National Arts Theatre in Lagos

The federal government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well as banks under the aegis of the Bankers’ Committee earlier this week signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to formally commence the renovation of the National Arts Theatre, Lagos.

Also, the Bankers’ Committee and Cappa and D’Alberto Limited, the contractor to handle the project, signed an agreement to commence the first phase of the renovation, which is expected to end in 15 months’ time.
Additionally, in order to ensure that the National Theatre and the adjoining entertainment hubs retain their ambience upon completion, the Ministry of information and the CBN/ Bankers’ Committee also signed an MoU with a facility manager to manage the building complex.

While Cappa & D’Alberto Limited is the main contractor, the Electrical sub-contractor is Nairda Limited while the mechanical sub-contractor is VACC Limited.

The agreements were signed about seven months after the federal government handed over the facility to the committee.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said at the signing of the agreements in Lagos that the project showed the commitment of all parties involved towards giving the facility a facelift.

According to him, when completed, the National Theatre would be the number one event centre in Africa.

He said there would also be the development of clusters to support the creative industry.

“Not only will the National Theatre be restored, there would not be a single job loss and more jobs would be created during the construction of the facility,” Mohammed said.

Indeed, Nigeria is a country with over 250 ethnic groups. This is a reflection of the country’s rich cultural heritage. Through music, movies, writing, food, fashion, dancing, arts among others, the country’s treasure are continuously showcased to the world.

In fact, the Nigerian music industry has been estimated to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13.4 per cent by 2021, estimated at about $73 million.

However, one of the factors that have hindered the growth of the sector is its poor state of infrastructure. For instance, the National Arts Theatre, the primary centre for the performing arts in Nigeria, has lost its glory as well as its potential as a means of non-oil revenue generation for the country.

This national asset that was built in 1976 as one of the four main venues of the historic Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) that took place in 1977, has completely lost its splendour.

Indeed, just like the National Stadium at Surulere, Lagos, this facility has now been turned into a meeting point for mostly town unions and indigenes from other tribes that reside in Lagos State. Hardly does one hear of any cultural event taking place at this edifice once hosted all Nigerian state government functions and musical extravaganzas such as the late Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Roy Ayers, Skyy, Shalamar, Whispers, Third world and Dynasty; stage events like Wole Soyinka’s adaptation of D.O Fagunwa’s Langbodo and even
Stevie Wonder, who received one of his numerous Grammy Awards at the National Theatre.

The sorry state of this national monument and the desire to aggressively ramp up activities in the non-oil sector forced the Bankers’ Committee, in collaboration with the CBN to intervene in the National Theatre as well as the creative sector.

The project would be funded through the Creative Industry Funds Initiative (CIFI) of the Bankers’ Committee. The CBN and other members of the Bankers’ Committee had set up the Creative Industries and Financing Initiative through which banks set aside, on an annual basis, five percent of their profit after tax (PAT).

The Lagos Creative Entertainment Centre

To the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who is the Chairman of the Bankers’ Committee, the idea behind the project, christened ‘Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre,’ was to restore the glory of the iconic building by aligning most of the fabric, equipment and facilities in the building with the aesthetics of the 21st century and secondly to develop an ecosystem of creative hubs on the adjoining 44-hectare parcel of land.

The new facility would complement and enhance the National Arts Theatre, he said.

According to him, the Bankers’ Committee is funding a prototype cluster located within the National Arts Theatre, a development which we have labelled the ‘Signature Cluster.’

“This facility will be a convenor – providing space, support network, business development and community engagement for the creative, cultural and technology sectors. “The Signature Cluster will consist of a building each for music, film, fashion and information technology verticals. In addition to these, a welcome/visitor’s centre, police and fire stations and structured parking for up to 500 vehicles will be built,“ he added.

Emefiele stated that the 44-hectare site adjourning the National Theatre would be developed and utilised for the development of purpose-built creative hubs for the music, film, fashion and information technology.

He said the aim was to deliver a successful creative and entertainment city that would encourage additional investment into Nigeria’s creative industry.

According to him, the anticipation is that there will be at least 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created during the construction phase and over 25,000 people would be engaged in different sections of the centre when the Signature Cluster is completed, with anticipated multiplier effect of other job opportunities.

“The fashion building is a full-fledged apparel production facility with textile showroom, retail and photography spaces and teaching laboratories

“The music building will house recording studios with all front and back-end spaces and facilities. An amphitheatre has been designed to adjoin the music hub in the master plan.

“The film facility consists of stage set-up areas as well as all back-end spaces necessary for full production of films.

“The information technology facility consists of co-working and co-living spaces, training facilities and indoor and outdoor breakout clusters, all carefully designed to ensure that interface with the creative users is enhanced,” Emefiele added.

He said the Bankers’ Committee embarked on the project because of the rapid growth recorded by the creative sector over the years.

“This project will no doubt bring considerable benefits to all Nigerians, especially the youth who are the reason and inspiration behind this initiative. The tenacity of our youth is highly commendable and admirable and has reflected in the economic returns of the creative industry. Their activities, through the music, film and fashion industry, have also brought global acclaim to Nigeria,” Emefiele said.

He said contract for the second phase of the project would be awarded in the next four weeks, while work would be going on concurrently on different areas of the edifice.

The intention is that before the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure in 2023, the entire project would be completed.

“What we did here today was to sign the contract for just the remodeling and the repositioning of the National Arts Theatre, but around it we are going to be building four hubs and each of the buildings would be strategically located,” he added.

According to Emefiele, the anticipation is that there would be at least 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created during the construction phase and that over 25,000 people would be engaged in different sections of the centre when the Signature Cluster is completed, with anticipated multiplier effect of other job opportunities
Responding to a question on the cost of the first phase of the project, Emefiele said: “The first phase will cost about N21.3 billion. I have heard criticism from different places that the cost is too expensive. But if anyone is interested, we would make open the bills of quantity so that you will know how painstaking the consultant went in pricing this work.

“We are not afraid of the numbers, come and see and if possible, we would publish the bills of quantity for everyone to see. There is nothing for anybody to hide.”

Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said on completion, the project would lead to a transportation solution, urban regeneration and a total transformation of the neighborhood.

Support for Economic Diversification

Emefiele believes that the initiative would help support the federal government’s economic diversification drive.
“Given our dependence on crude oil as a major source of government revenue, as well as for our foreign exchange earnings, these challenges have served to reinforce the need for stakeholders to promote policies and programmes that will enable greater diversification of the Nigerian economy.

“A diversified economy that supports increased productivity in agriculture and manufacturing sectors, while harnessing the talents of our youths in the creative industries will lead to the build-up of a more resilient economy, which is better able to withstand external shocks, while creating wealth and jobs for our growing population,” he added.

“The creative centre, which comprises music, movies, fashion and ICT, can be a key source of growth for our economy creating up to one million jobs for the country’s teeming youths,” he said, adding that it would also aid the objective of reducing the country’s dependence on revenue from crude oil.

Emefiele explained: “India for example in 2018 generated over $240 billion from exports of IT, movies, music and fashion related goods and services. This amount is over five times our annual earnings from the sale of crude oil.

With our human capital resources and an enabling environment that will help harness the creative talents of our youths, Nigeria has the potential to earn over $20 billion annually from the creative industry.

“With the growing demand for Nigerian music, movies and fashion, across Africa and in various parts of the globe, our creative industries are spurring innovation, creating jobs, and helping to shape perceptions of Nigeria, as a nation with a strong spirit of creativity and ingenuity.”

Also, the Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, had explained that the entire banking industry came together and decided to intervene in the moribund national asset.

“It is not just about the banking community; we are also partnering the Lagos State and federal governments. Lagos State government is going to support us as far as the dredging issues are concerned and ensure that there is an entire urban regeneration around the whole of that area.

“We are doing this for some reasons. The first is that we need to restore our national heritage. The national theatre is one of the most iconic buildings all over the world. The second thing is that this will help to create employment to millions of Nigerians over the next five years, apart from those who are going to be involved in construction and all of that.

“The third thing is that it is a classic example of an urban regeneration exercise in line with the sustainability principles of the central bank,” Wigwe who is the chairman of body of bank CEOs said.