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 ‘National Arts Theatre not for sale’

‘National Arts Theatre not for sale’


he great scramble for the black continent by the colonial masters almost two centuries ago, shares a verisimilitude with the current scramble for the National Arts Theatre by the powers that be.

Like the colonial masters, those falling over themselves for the soul of the National Arts Theatre are to a large extent, persuaded to take that course of action clearly by selfish intents and purposes rather than by altruistic motives.

The foregoing anecdote becomes apposite in describing how the recent news about the planned takeover of the National Arts Theatre by the Godwin Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in partnership with the Bankers Committee was received by the arts community as a whole.

According to the apex bank, the planned project is a ‘facelift’ of the main theatre complex as well as the construction of a creative industries park on 40 acres of the fallow ground surrounding the structure.

Ordinarily, the news of the planned intervention by the two of the most influential bodies in Nigeria’s financial landscape and the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee, which comprises CEOs of all deposit money commercial banks in the country, shouldn’t be misconstrued.

However, on a closer structural and critical analysis of the statements by both the CBN Governor and the current Chairman of the Bankers Committee, the shadow of evident hastiness shows that all may not be as clear cut as it seems.

According to observers, if allowed to proceed, the so-called intervention by the CBN/Bankers Committee gives an impression of Nigeria to the outside world as a lawless nation which lacks respect for due process and has no regard for international best practice.

Further investigations reveal that there has actually been a long-drawn negotiation dating back to 2002 through 2015 between the Bureau of Pubic Enterprise (BPE) and later the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), after it was created in 2008, and two consortia namely Topwide Apeas and Jadeas Trust which emerged as preferred bidders of both processes.

The public private partnership between the consortium and the federal government over the concession management of National Theatre and the surrounding land mass was technically a fait accompli’ and all that remained was for, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to give its final nod. Like a whirlwind, the CBN and the Banker’s Committee appeared from nowhere to claim that the same Presidency, whose laid down processes the concessionaries have duly followed and kept faith with, has purportedly handed it over to the CBN and the Banker’s Committee.

So the question is who gets the right to develop the property? Will it be the joint consortia who have marshalled a formidable team of foreign and local investors and technical partners to develop the entire project as the tourism and entertainment gateway into the country, and which is anchored on the creative industries for sustainability? Or the CBN and the Bankers Committee whose role should essentially be to support such an initiative as is done in other climes and not take it over?

A major component of the consortia’s Master Plan is a 55-acre Creative Industries Business Park with film and music studios as well as a Creative Industries Academy, so it seems curious that the CBN Governor and Chairman of the Bankers Committee are proposing to develop a 40-acre Creative Industries Park around the National Theatre. Doesn’t this smack of the piracy of intellectual property which has been one of the major problems facing our creative industries?

This private sector-driven public private partnership is from all indications ready to hit the ground running. Further detailed checks on the ICRC website show that the National Theatre is clearly listed under the Projects under Development and Procurement (pre-contract) page. On the flipside, there was no mention of the CBN’s involvement in the bid. As at press time, the reporter gathered that the consortium has written to the CBN to caution them and notify them of an on-going court process in respect of the National Theatre concession.

The involvement of the apex bank in the project does not only come across as a clear infraction of due process but also raises clear-cut questions on the CBN and the Banker’s Committee’s involvement especially with no history or expertise in the development of the creative industries.

The hastiness in getting involved, issues around competence and integrity in handling the project, more so that the world over, public private partnership projects such as this are noted to give incentives to private sector entities with  the proven competence  in the sector to drive such ventures, as opposed to the CBN.

Taking a cursory look at the constitutionally defined roles of the CBN, its website defines one of the roles of the bank as the formulation and implementation of various policies, innovation of appropriate products and creation of enabling environment for financial institutions to deliver services in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner. The initiatives are mainly targeted at agricultural sector, rural development and micro, small and medium enterprises. So why is the body delving into real estate and creative industry development and steering clear of its fundamental duty of providing monetary and fiscal direction as well as access to financing for small and medium sized companies?  As a matter of fact, while preparing their bid, a member of the consortia received a significant grant from the World Bank to offer capacity building and business development support to the cluster of creative industry SMEs that work out of dilapidated facilities in the NCAC Artists Village on the periphery of the National Theatre building. This would seem to be the kind of support that the CBN and Banker’s Committee should be offering to private sector specialists if they are indeed sincere about wanting to support the creative industries.

The danger of the CBN/Bankers Committee proposal is that it appears to be an attempt to continue to subsidise the asset under the guise of support to the creative industries. This contrasts unfavourably with the consortia’s private sector-driven initiative that has succeeded in bringing investors on board and will in fact generate billions in revenue and ultimately in taxes for the federal government and Lagos State.

Sadly, the once iconic monument has become a relic and pale shadow of itself.  These days, other than the occasional wedding or social event, little or no creative or cultural activity happens at the theatre.

It becomes hard to believe that such a move could have the blessing of President Buhari, given his insistence on transparency and adherence to due process.

It is therefore sad that the federal government’s silence on the matter puts to question and jeopardy the integrity of the federal government, its concession process, whilst it also positions Nigeria as a country with rather unserious, unethical and possibly corrupt institutions, while also undermining the recent improvement in our international rankings on the ease of doing business.

What is most crucial is that it continues to leave comatose the iconic national asset which could, in the right hands, put Nigeria on the global map as a world class country – a key centre for arts, culture, tourism, creative industries and leisure.

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