What to expect as National Theatre gets N21bn makeover


It is no longer news that the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos, which is a foremost Nigerian historic monument and supposedly creative industry hub, has been in ruins for the major part of the 45 years it has been in existence.

But there seems to be excitement across the Nigerian creative industry and tourism landscape as the federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bankers’ Committee are walking the talk with the approval of N21 billion for the renovation of the dilapidated theatre into a world-class creative industry hub and for multipurpose use.

The expression of industry excitement started when the federal government handed over the theatre complex, alongside the 44 acres of barely developed land, to the Bankers’ Committee in July 2020 for renovation and recreating of the complex into a job and wealth creation venture for the creative industry and related industries.

Assuring the public of the sincerity of purpose of the Bankers’ Committee and the CBN on delivering the project, Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor, noted at his visit to the theatre complex after the handover that work would commence in early 2021 and would be completed and commissioned in November 2022 by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Our goal for the National Theatre is to create an environment where startups and existing businesses are rewarded for their creativity.

“These Nigerians will be empowered with funds at single digits interest rate, high level training using state-of-the-art tools, and networks that will enable them to turn their ideas into a reality”, Emefiele said.

Hence, the N21 billion will go into recreating the iconic edifice, installing world-class facilities, and providing funding and platforms that will enable creative talents to hone their craft, help in creating wealth and engage the global audiences better.

The edifice, according to the Bankers’ Committee, will be at the heart of a larger development of hubs that will form an ecosystem of the creative sector including; film, fashion, information technology and music, alongside other critical amenities with the ultimate objective of unleashing opportunities for the youth, competence and capacity building and enhancement of the prospects for revenue generation.

Among the facilities expected after the renovation is the Creative Center, which will offer platforms for growing further on music, movies, fashion and ICT potential.

So far, things are looking up for the theatre, considering the level of completion of the renovation work, amid new services routes, remodeled interior spaces, nearly 300 units of conveniences, 3,000 square-metre roof terrace, which had been a major source of leakages is now replaced, while the floors, walls, panels, and ceilings had been stripped back as part of a plan to ensure that all underlying structures are able to support new finishes.

The renovated theatre is also offering a 4,000-seater main bowl, the new stage infrastructure with future-fit performing arts spaces for dance, theatre, music and multimedia with adjustable acoustics and advanced technical systems adaptable to the requirements of audiences, artists and sponsors.

The renovated theatre is also offering a 4,000-seater main bowl, the new stage infrastructure with future-fit performing arts spaces for dance, theatre, music and multimedia

Also, the banquet halls and exhibition spaces as well as the two 500-seater cinemas now wear new walls, floor and ceiling finishes. Also, a station of the Lagos rail is expected to complement other world-class facilities expected at the theatre complex later including; a five-star hotel, ultramodern car park, leisure park, artists’ village among others.

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Looking at the impact of the renovation, the Bankers’ Committee explained that the revamping of the theatre is necessary considering that Nigeria has the potential to earn over $20 billion annually from the creative industry.

For the CBN governor, the renovation would lift the Nigerian youths, the creative industry, and the country from the high level of unemployment, amid huge impact on GDP.

“The National Theatre when fully renovated will be able to support skills acquisition and job creation for over 1 million Nigerians over the next five years”, Emefiele said.

Speaking in the same vein, Ayo Sadare, CEO, Inspiro Productions, organiser of Lagos Jazz Festival, said the creative industry is a key source of growth for the economy and investing in the sector would unlock the creative talents of hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths across all the genres in the sector.

He thinks that the renovation will boost creative business in Lagos mainland as many events that hitherto hold on Lagos Island for lack of facilities in mainland will now shift to the revamped theatre.

Peju Oladapo, a stage director and playwright, is 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.

“I was at the National Theatre this Easter 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”, Oladapo said.

But he fears 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”, he noted with keen concern.

The government through the minister of Information and Culture, the CBN governor and the Bankers’ Committee, key partners in the project, have earlier allayed the fear saying that such will run against the objective of the renovation and government’s plan to create over 1 million jobs for Nigerians in the next five years in the creative industry, as well as denying Nigeria earnings from the creative industry, which has potential to earn over $20 billion annual revenue for the country.

Riding on the assurances, Tony Okuyeme, a performance artist, Raphael Ogini, a spoken word artist, Imadi Ocheme, a dramatist, Segun Adefila, owner of a stage production company, look forward to better days for the creative industry, starting from this November when the renovated theatre will be opened.

However, after the renovation, the complex will cease to be called the National Theatre and will be renamed the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre (LC&EC), in line with the expanded offerings and focus, according to Lai Mohammed, minister of Information and Culture.

More also, to ensure sustainable business and world-class operation of the theatre after the renovation, the minister noted that a special vehicle that would be created by the Bankers’ Committee would be in charge of the operations.

He assured further that the operation would be void of government interference, while the operators would apply world’s best practice and proven business models in their operations.

To test run the Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre (LC&EC), Mohammed is planning to host the first Global Conference on Cultural Tourism and Creative Industry, a global conference, at the centre from November 14-17, 2022, after the commissioning by president Buhari.

Already, the minister has signed an agreement on Nigeria’s hosting of this global conference with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) at the organisation’s headquarters in Madrid, Spain, last week and setting the ball rolling for an enterprising and self-sufficient Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre.

But what matters most for creative industry stakeholders is having easy access, affordability and availability of sustainable platforms at the renovated theatre to help hone, showcase talents and also help in creating jobs, wealth and impacting the nation’s GDP.