Friday 9 September 2011

National Theatre

National Theatre: Heritage challenge for Lagos, Fed Govt
By Tajudeen Sowole
 Friday, 08 July 2011 00:00
 WITH the signing of Lagos State Listed Sites Law by Gov Babatunde Fashola, about two weeks ago, efforts at preservation of monuments to enrich heritage and tourism in the state has received a boost. However, issue such as recurring federal and state government dichotomy would be put to test once again as some of the listed monuments are still under the control or ownership of the central authority.

ONE of such listed monuments is the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, which the governor assured would add to the tourism value of the people via the new heritage law of the state within the context of monuments. Aside its popular status as events venue, the National Theatre, perhaps, houses the largest contemporary Nigerian arts in paintings, murals, stained glasses, sculptures and other diverse medium.

Lagos State’s ministries such as Culture and Home Affairs, Works and Tourism, Physical Planning and Urban Development, according to the governor, have the responsibility of ensuring compliant with the law, in case of any alteration to these sites. As laudable as this law appears, it could be another medium for the state government to reopen the ownership issue on National Theatre’s land space.

When some federal government-owned monuments in Lagos State were concessioned in 2007 – National Theatre inclusive – the state government and some notable senior citizens protested and challenged the central government’s transfer of the properties to private managers. Under the group, Council of Lagos Eminent Citizens (CLEC), the protesters requested that the properties be reverted to the state government. And since the first choice of Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) in concession of the National Theatre, Infrastructica Consortium, lost the confidence of government to continue with the deal, there has been a fragile silence on the status of the edifice under the privatisation of BPE.
National Theatre, Iganmu, lagos
With this background, there are indications that Lagos State and the federal government’s parastatals such as the BPE, National Theatre management and National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) may be on fresh collision, as the state has listed the National Theatre among the sites to be closely monitored to comply with the new heritage laws of the land.
The new Lagos Heritage Site laws, according to sources, seems to have thrown another hurdle in the way of a possible revisit of the concession of National Theatre: acquisition of any of the listed heritage, has been prohibited, under the new law.

Director-General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah, in his response to the development stated that the new Lagos Heritage Law has not been brought to the notice of the NCMM. He however argued that when a state government listed any monument as a heritage site, the finality in enlisting such as a national monument rests within the powers of the federal government, if the sites meet stipulated requirements.

However, recent development as regards national monuments in Lagos suggested that the two tiers of government have much to share in improving the tourism prospects of the state. For example, the ongoing restoration of one of federal government’s listed national heritage sites, the Ilojo Bar or Casa do Fernandez house on No 6 Alli St. and No. 2 Bamgbose St, Lagos Island showed that collaboration could work. During the recent visit of Abdallah to the site, he stated that the effort to restore the house has received the support and backing of the Lagos Island Local Government as well the state government.

Estimated at over 100 years old, Ilojo Bar represents over 300 years of history between Nigeria and Brazil. The house is owned by Olaiya family, a non-descendant of Brazilian slave returnees. The Fernandez family sold the house in 1934 to Mr. Alfred Omolana Olaiya, an Ilesha indigene. In 1956, federal government listed the house as a National Monument.

Irrespective of the federal government’s criteria for listing a site as heritage or national monument, the ongoing posture of the Lagos State government in engaging culture to boost tourism may have informed the laws, which, indirectly is aimed at making most of the abandoned federal government’s buildings fit into the state’s mega city projection. One of such attempts has been carried out on the abandoned former prison on Broad Street, now christened Freedom Park. Since its opening, as part of several activities marking Nigeria’s 50th Anniversary, the park has been hosting several art and cultural events. This stresses the state government’s new posture on heritage and tourism value. Several features of the park include a mini amphitheatre, embossed portraits of Nigeria’s founding fathers, sculptures, paintings depicting the nation’s history and 52 cells retained from the original structures to educate visitors on the history of the park.

And with as many as seven other sites listed, Lagos State appears set to confront the lackaidasical attitude of the federal government to abandoned projects. Others are: Independence Building (once famous 25-storey, the tallest in the country then), first storey building, Badagry; Iddo Railway Terminus, Kings College, Massey Children Hospital, and site of the first pipe borne water at Enu-Owa, Central Lagos.

Perhaps, one of the most embarrassing of these list is the Independence Building. It is instructive to note that this once cherished monument used to be as popular as what the National Theatre is today. This suggests that National Theatre is not insulated from this pestilence, hence the preventive posture of Lagos State to take over and rescue another decay as done with the Freedom Park.

Legal adviser to National Theatre, Mr. Mike Anyanwu disagreed on the federal government’s possible collision with Lagos State over the issue. Although Anyanwu stated that “I am yet to read the law as passed,” he however, warned that critics should “not politicise the good intention of Lagos State government.”
In a state with such a small land space, observers were worried on the increasing neglect of federal government’s properties since the central seat of power moved to Abuja.

The current unbefitting look of the Ilojo Bar, for instance, is an odd mix among the fast redevelopment of structures on the Broad Street and Tinubu Square axis.

Veteran Highlife musician and one of the heads of the Olaiya family, Victor Olaiya had repeatedly called on the government to stand up to its responsibility on preservation of this heritage.  With the attempt at restoration, these worries could turn to respite if the efforts of the NCMM and its expected private partners would yield the desired results. The trio of Abdallah, the architect in charge, and Prof. John Godwin disclosed that the scope of the partnership in restoration was very broad such that success would be achieved in a short while.

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