A Lagos landmark is set for a new status – if the Federal Government succeeds in its plan to find another use for it. The 37-year-old National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos Mainland is to be converted into a five-star hotel.
Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation Edem Duke has given a two-week quit notice to Federal Government agencies at the facility. Some of the agencies are National Council for Arts and Culture; Nigeria Gallery of Arts; National Troupe of Nigeria and an unnamed agency.
But some stakeholders have rejected the plan, especially the sudden quit notice given to the agencies. They are saying the Federal Executive Council did not approve the proposal and that a transaction advisor was appointed without due process.
Other stakeholders also see the plan as an attempt to short-change the Southwest. The theatre was inaugurated on September 30, 1976 by the then Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. It was opened five months before the hosting of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77) in January/February 1977. The Federal Government unfolded its plan through a March 18 letter the Minister sent to some agencies, including those that had been directed to leave the edifice. Prior to the letter, it was gathered that the minister did not brief chief executives of the parastatals under him on the government’s plan.
But the two-week quit notice aroused the stakeholders’ curiousity about the project. According to sources, an investor from Niger Delta has been linked to the project which may be executed with the Marriot Hotel Group. Although the government is hiding under the guise of expanding infrastructure at the National Theatre, most stakeholders are said to have got more information on the deal.
The minster’s letter reads: “The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, has approved the development of the National Theatre Land in accordance with the original Masterplan with infrastructures(sic) which include, but not limited to a Five-Star Hotel, Shopping Mall, Multi-Level Car Park, Land and Water Restaurant, offices.
“Consequently, a Transaction Advisor was engaged, to, among others give Transaction Advisory Services for the application of Public-Private Partnership option for the delivery of the necessary services on the land. “Please recall that the inevitability of relocating your office was discussed at the meeting I had with you on this development on 5th of March, 2013 in Lagos .
“To this effect, you are hereby advised to relocate your office within two (2) weeks to an alternative location as suggested at the meeting, so as to pave (sic) way for the development that is to be situated where your office is currently located. “Please note that this relocation is temporary as the structures that will eventually provide accommodation for your operations are being envisaged under the new arraignment.
“As we solicit for your understanding and cooperation, we assure you that the efforts of the government in providing these infrastructural facilities as complementary to the National Theatre, as it is with other Theatres in other parts of the world will be a thing of pride when completed. Please accept the assurances of my best regards.” But the Minister’s letter has created confusion in the ministry and among stakeholders.
A source said: “They are talking of expansion under PPP arrangement, but we are suspecting that they want to convert the National Theatre Complex into a hotel. If their plan is to expand infrastructure in the complex, why will they ask vital agencies to relocate from the place within two weeks. “Nigerians should ask the Minister to tell them when the PPP arrangement was mooted, the recommendations of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), and how a transaction advisor was appointed.
As we are talking now, there are no records to show that the matter was tabled for approval by the Federal Executive Council. Some people are just trying to create a crisis for the administration of Jonathan. “We are suspecting foul play because an investor from the Niger Delta has been linked with the project.”
Another source added: “Again, they are trying to shortchange the South-West which is already protesting against marginalisation. They are acting a script to do away with the National Arts Theatre, which was built by Obasanjo. “Even if Obasanjo is no longer a good man in their books, the national heritage he constructed should not be wasted.” The National Theatre comprises a main hall, a conference/banquet hall, exhibition halls, two cinema halls, a VIP lounge and a roof garden.
A brief from Wikipedia on the National Arts Theatre reads: “Acknowledged as an architectural masterpiece and a cultural landmark, the complex covers an area of about 23,000 square meters and standing well over 31meters tall. “The multipurpose National Theatre was established for the preservation, presentation and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria.
Although the idea for a National Theatre was initiated by the Gowon Administration, hosting the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977 (FESTAC ’77) was the catalyst for the birth of the monument. The concrete arrangements for its establishment started in 1973 when the Federal Government appointed a 29-member Theatre Consultative Committee to advise it on the concept and organisational structure of a theatre.
“The committee proposed the establishment of a National Theatre, which should also be the home of a National Troupe. The design for the monument was taken from the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varma , Bulgaria . The contract for its construction was signed on April 24, 1973, with the Bulgarian construction company called Technoexportsroy, the main contractors for the building of the complex. “But the vision for the building of the complex went beyond the provision of a befitting venue for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77), which Nigeria successfully hosted in January/February, 1977.
“The main hall, which is capable of seating 5,000 people, and from its inception, consists of a collapsible stage and an auditorium. When in proscenium, the hall has a capacity for 3,500 seats. “The cinema screen in the hall is fixed at the ceiling and can be lowered by remote control. The stage has three rows of curtains, a backdrop and a double cyclorama for creating silhouette effects; and easily amenable to any directional concepts.
“The Conference/Banquet hall is specially designed and equipped for conferences and banquets of international standard. It has a capacity for 1,500 seats. It also has a proscenium stage, and a facility which is capable of interpreting eight languages simultaneously. The exhibition hall is capable of accommodating large corporate exhibitions and is equipped with lighting and sound facilities for various events and activities.
“The National Theatre has two Cinema halls, each with a seating capacity of 700 people. Each of the Cinema halls has standard proscenium stage facilities, and standard 16mm and 35mm film projectors with high quality sound equipment and state-of-the-art lighting facilities for stage productions.”