• Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Lagos at crossroads over business model for own multi-billion theatres


The government of Nigeria’s most economically viable state appears to be at a loss regarding what business model to adopt in profitably managing six community-based theatres it constructed in fulfilment of its promise of supporting the arts and tourism and creating more employment opportunities in the sector.

The Lagos State, during the immediate past administration of Akinwunmi Ambode as governor, sank several billions of public funds in the construction of six community-based theatres across the state, for which the government has received huge commendations.

However, stakeholders in the sector fear that a wrong business model in the operations of the theatres could jeopardise the objectives of the projects.

Checks at some of the theatres located at Igando, in Alimosho; Oregun, in Ikeja; Epe and Badagry, among other locations, reveal locked-up facilities with weeds already growing within the premises, even after completion.

Bonu Solomon Saanu, special adviser on Arts and Culture to Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, admits there have been low activities at the theatres, but blames it on coronavirus that has impacted the sector due to the need to observe social and physical distancing.

“We are the one who made the law; we must abide by the law. That is why the theatres are not hosting events,” says Saanu.

Industry stakeholders and residents in adjoining neighbourhoods of some of the theatres, however, say before the outbreak of the coronavirus in February, the facilities seldom hosted events.

In the same breath, Saanu says the government is still considering the best and most effective model to run the theatres.

“We have considered concessioning the theatres. But then our experience with the private sector managing our similar facilities in the state is that of not remitting anything to the government’s coffers. All the same, five private firms have indicated interest in the concessoning of the theatres,” he states.

Bode Adeniyi, a performing art practitioner and stage director, says the Lagos theatres should not run on government grants, they should be able to create exciting activities and business that would enable them pay their bills.

“If Lagos wants these theatres to thrive, it should give them out to private companies that would draw and follow up on their plans to make the theatres self-sustaining,” he notes.

Citing the success story of Terra Kulture Studio Limited, part of the firms that built the theatres, Adoki Efema, a choreographer and artistic director of a dance company, suggests that Lagos State can also handover the theatres to Terra Kulture to manage or source reputable art management companies to run the theatres.

“The theatres are lasting legacies for the arts by the state government, but they will soon become white-elephant projects if government dabbles into their management. For me, Lagos State has no business in running them, let the experts do that while government gets the taxes accruing to it from private business ventures that use the facilities,” he states.

Agreeing with Efema, Adeniyi says since the commissioner has explained that the choice of Terra Kulture Studio Limited for the construction works was as a result of the impeccable track records of the company among other household names in the arts and culture industry, the state should also allow Terra Kulture manage the theatres the way it has successfully managed Tera Kulture Arena, its theatre, in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Jonas Onah, a business owner at Freedom Park, Lagos Island, thinks that the park, equally owned by the Lagos State government, is self-sustained because it is managed by the private sector, which adopted a sustainable business model since inception, amid delivering huge profit to the state.

It would be recalled that at the handing-over ceremony of four Lagos Theatres early this year by Terra Kulture Studio Limited at Alausa, Ikeja, Uzamat AkinbiIe-Yusuf, Lagos State commissioner for tourism, arts and culture, said the theatres were huge investments in the tourism sector by the present administration. As well, Rabiu Olowo, the state commissioner for finance, in his remarks, stated that the new theatres would contribute significantly to the revenue of the state.

To ensure the anticipated revenue, stakeholders are urging the government to do the needful by adopting the model that has seen Tera Kulture and Freedom Park self-sustained since they opened to the public few years ago.

Expressing her opinion on the management style, Bolanle Austin-Peters, managing director, Terra Kulture Studio Limited, advises that the theatres should be self-sustaining after working with the take-off grant.

“The management should be free to adopt any commercially viable form of partnership under a strictly secular arrangement. Companies can provide grants solely for enjoying lasting corporate benefits, such as naming individual halls after them with added advantage in branding. Management can also form a partnership with advertising agencies in a bid to attract outdoor, indoor, screen and publication advertisements for the facility,” she states.

Speaking further on the sustainable business model, she explains that it is also possible to run joint studio activities with TV production stations and companies that would bring regular returns to the theatre.

“Theatre production companies with the means can block-book the hall with rebates given as incentives but not to the extent of alienating other users,” she notes.

Meanwhile, the four theatres have been receiving fewer visitations as the operators are yet to optimise the opportunities across the facilities. The lull in business is worsened by the impact of Covid-19, which restricts crowding of the facilities in accordance with the social distancing directives of the government.

Ekene Odika, CEO, Mainframe Theatre, a theatre company, says he approached the theatre at Igandu for his show but was told that the facility had not started holding shows yet.

A notable activity in one of the theatres is the virtual party held by the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture at the Oregun theatre last week.

Many art practitioners say that some of the theatres are still closed after the commissioning; some are of the option that the modalities on hosting shows in them are not clear, while the public are yet to enjoy shows across the theatres, which the government says are for them.

As well, there is fear that the theatres in Badagry and other remote locations may not attract much business as priorities in these areas are different, hence need for creating massive awareness on the theatres and their benefits to the communities they are sited in.