Looking to the theatre to restore our dying heritage

“The important thing to note is that an asset of this nature going down, posterity will not forgive us and generation unborn will not forgive us.” These words came from the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, when he shared concerns about the deplorable state of the National Theatre. It is not news to many Nigerians that some of our national monuments are in a shameful state. It seems the government has not figured a way to maintain the national heritages which have served as symbols of our cultural history.

The shameful state of the National Theatre has recently attracted the attention of the CBN who has requested permission from the government to help restore the architectural masterpiece to its glory days. The theatre which was built in 1976 was home to the biggest Tourism event in 1977, Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC77). Hosting the biggest black gathering of arts and culture in the world is one of the things Nigeria has prided itself on since. It is, however, sad that the same monument is now a shadow of itself. It is little wonder that parastatals have called for an SOS concerning the theatre.

The National Theatre was constructed to serve as the home of arts and culture and as a means to preserve the Nigerian culture. It has since failed to live up to that. This is mostly because Arts and Culture in Nigeria in itself is suffering. Lacks of support, modernisation, and a couple of other reasons have made Nigerian troupes suffer insignificance and a host of other career demeaning issues.

It is this that makes one wonder if the CBN’s involvement is enough to revive the Nigerian theatre. It is beyond the Central Bank and also beyond the multi-purposed structure. The defining moment of truth to reviving Nigeria’s heritage, arts and culture, traditional relevance, and so on, comes when organisations begin to support the arts from the grassroots level to established Nigerian troupes.

Recently, the Nigerian Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF) held in Lagos. It was a beautiful week-long event that featured several universities around Nigeria coming around to display beautiful colors and traditions. These young thespians showed a potpourri of relevance that Nigeria has missed. Now, it was the first time the festival was hosted in the National Theatre and hence was tagged a special edition. The event was nostalgic for theatre lovers who recounted the glory days of the Nigerian theatre. This brought up the question, “what happened to the Nigerian theatre”? I believe this is a rhetorical question that has been over-flogged. The crux of the concern should, instead, be looking to revive our theatre. The way forward to restore the country’s theatre to her glory days is unconditional support from the government as well as well-meaning corporations.

It is gladdening to see organisations that are aware of the importance of the theatre to the nations’ global relevance, unity, cultural survival, and so on. One such company is MTN Nigeria which sponsored the Nigerian Universities’ Festival. Apart from the NUTAF, it was interesting to find that the CSR arm of the company, MTN Foundation, has sponsored a series of theatre productions this year. From Sound Sultan’s Jungle Story which tackled the corruption and incompetence of the government, to the culturally rich Emotan and Agbarho that discussed narratives inspired by traditional values. Ending the year on a high for Nigerian arts and culture, the foundation is also one of the sponsors of Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens; a musical on the legend of afrobeat legend, Fela and his Queens.

As much as these private corporations encourage the Nigerian theatre, it would be amazing to see the federal government make moves to support one of the beautiful art of human existence. Theatre productions mostly draw inspiration from cultural norms and traditions. These productions should thus be supported to help resuscitate the dying cultural awareness among the populace.



Victor ILO from Lagos.



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