Monday, July 23, 2007

THE NATIONAL THEATRE DEBACLE: Argument, Counter-argument so far

Images from a Protest by the collective of Artistes at the National Theatre on Tuesday, July 17, 2007


July 10, 2007

National Theatre: Concession or Sale – What Difference?
(Statement by the Committee for Relevant Art)

In order to properly engage the BPE on the transaction regarding the National Theatre, we need to understand the nature of the transaction itself. It is common within the art sector to call the transaction a ‘SALE’ of the National Theatre. If the transaction is not a sale as the BPE says, then the implication is that the strident arguments against a sale are flawed ab initio.

In order to understand the nature of the transaction therefore, we may want to refer to BPE’s explanation on their website:

Why is BPE „selling" the National theatre — the only place still affordable to the poor in Lagos since Muson Centre and others like that are more for the rich?
BPE is not selling the National Theatre. What has been proposed is a concession whereby FGN will still own the Theatre fully but a private investor will maintain, expand and manage it for 20 years and thereafter return it to government or renew the tenure. The same process is being applied to Lagos International Trade Fair Complex and the Tafawa Balewa Square Investments Limited also. The edifices are recognized as National Monuments but that is the more reason why they should be managed efficiently to maintain their functionality and relevance to society instead of the current state of decay.
The above might appear to provide some comfort because:
(1) it clearly explains that the transaction is not a sale;
(2) it shares with the opponents of the transaction the view that the National Theatre is a national monument; and
(3) it also shares the view that the edifice should retain its functionality and relevance to the society.
Nonetheless, this comfort is little in the sense that the practical implication of the transaction the National Theatre and its original raison d’itre are not clarified. If the transaction is not a sale but a concession which allows the concessionaire to "maintain, expand and manage" the National Theatre, just what is the scope of the powers such a concessionaire becomes possessed of by virtue of the transaction? Does the concessionaire’s power include that to change the object of the Theatre, reconstruct the Theatre for new purposes and/or totally commercialize the operations of the Theatre?

The above posers become important in the light of two factors:

1. The hazy nature of the term ‘concession’ in the practice of the BPE; and

2. The peculiarly non-transparent manner in which the concession was carried out.
The hazy nature of Concession: In its privatization mandate, the BPE usually identifies its transactions either as ‘Privatization’ (full or partial) and commercialization (also full or partial).
BPE defined these two terms and their two respective ramifications as follows :

Full Privatization
Means divestment by the Federal Government of all its ordinary shareholding in the designated enterprise.
Partial Privatization
Means divestment by the Federal Government of a part of its ordinary shareholding in the designated enterprise.

Full Commercialization
Means that enterprises so designated will be expected to operate profitably on a commercial basis and be able to raise funds from the capital market without government guarantee. Such enterprises are expected to use private sector procedures in the running of their businesses.
Partial Commercialization
Means that such enterprises so designated will be expected to generate enough revenue to cover their operating expenditures. The government may consider giving them capital grants to finance their capital projects.
In both full and partial commercialization no divestment of the Federal Government’s shareholding will be involved, and subject to the general regulatory powers of the Federal Government the enterprises shall:
Fix rate, prices and charges for goods produced and services rendered.
Capitalise assets.
Sue and be sued in their corporate names.

In summary, privatization is what is called a sale in popular parlance (or partial sale, in the case partial privatization) while commercialization merely gives a mandate to the entity to charge commercially for its activities but does not involve the sale of government holding in the entity.

While the above explanation (certainly. Not definition) of the word ‘concession’ clearly assures one that no sale of government holding is involved, in principle, it is silent on the nature of the extent of the power of the concessionaire and its commercial latitude. The question then is, just where does concession sits in the gathering of BPE transactions?

The Non-Transparent nature of the Concession: The last question posed would have been answered in the course of the proceedings of the concession itself. But alas, this has not been the case. And we are speaking here in the particular case of the concession of the National theatre and other institutions acknowledged by the BPE as National Monuments.
The shady nature of the concession itself is testament to the perception of the Art and Culture sector in the scheme of things in Nigeria. While the BPE has gone to a great extent to demonstrate, with facts and figures, graphs and charts, what the nature of the privatization or commercialization of other entities in other sectors of the economy (say the Mint, the Rail, the Ports etc) are like and the cost-benefit analysis, nothing of the sort was ever done with these much cherished ‘National Monuments’.
The facts on the Ports for example demonstrate in figures how the privatization will increase productivity, cut operating costs, reduce port charges, reduce import costs and generate savings for the economy. The facts on the Rail go so far as to compare the situation in Nigeria with other African countries. The facts on NITEL, Nigeria’s erstwhile telecommunications monopoly, demonstrate that the net effect of the personnel impact of the privatization would be favourable rather than adverse. (Refer to BPE’s – 7 Key Things You Don’t Know About Privatisation – A Privatization Factbook)
It would be realized from the above that these documents were developed, not just with a view to demonstrating buried facts, but also with a view to addressing the concerns of stakeholders (including private operators and public sector employees) within the respective industries.

Why did the BPE not consider the development of pre-bid facts and figures to justify the concession of the National Theatre? Is it because the facts are not sufficient to create colourful scenarios such as in other sectors, which had received better funding from government in the last many years? Or because there are no real entrenched establishments in the Art and Culture sector to placate or at least shame into submission? Or that Art and Culture workers, patrons and connoisseurs could always be expected to resign to whatever became their lot?

The following facts presented by Dr. Wale Okediran, President of the Association of Nigeria Authors and a member of the House of Representative painted the state of funding of the National Theatre and the National Troupe in the 2005 budget:
"National Theatre: N850,000,000 was appropriated but reduced to N663,000,000 out of which N22,874,979 representing 3.43% was released… The National Troupe was the luckiest in the 2005 budget when it was able to assess about 50% of its approved capital allocation amounting to N39,000,000 out of its N78,000,000".
In the same presentation, the audience was shocked to learn that the National Council for Arts and Culture only 1.79% of its budgeted allocation, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation got only 17.55%, Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization 32% and the National Gallery of the Arts only 8.54%. (OUR ART: OUR DEMOCRACY: THE REVIEW OF THE NIGERIA’S CULTURAL SECTOR 2003 – 2007, presented at the 62nd Art Stampede of the Committee for Relevant Art at the National theatre on Sunday 1st July, 2007).
Is it any wonder that the BPE could not bring together facts and figures to demonstrate the positive impact that privatization, commercialization or concession would bring about in the case of the cherished ‘National Monuments’?

Now the Unknown Concessionaire
It would have been a shock if the non-transparent process of the concessioning produced a satisfactory result. The announced winner of bid, a certain Infrastructica, is an entity which is not known by the critical mass of Art and Culture patrons, workers and connoisseurs in Nigeria. Also, the identity of the persons behind the entity is not much of public knowledge. The level of technical partnership, expertise and content of their periodic (say 10-year or 20-year rolling plan) is not known to many people. This is significant in the sense that, ever since the privatisation of the Theatre was muted a few years ago and then formally announced some months back, a number of consortiums have been meeting with functionaries within the industry, collecting views, gaining confidence and presenting their cases to stakeholders. While most stakeholders remained suspicious of any sort of privatization of the Theatre, they were at least given the privilege of gaining an insight into the proposals of such consortia. This is quite apart from the fact that many of the key promoters of such consortia are well known to functionaries of the Art and Culture scene. So how did this unknown Infrastructica win the bid? Is this another case of giving it to the highest bidder? Was there a prequalification process?

Setting the Position Straight
We do not claim to be ignorant of the fact that public facilities, from theatres to entertainment or conference centres are managed by professional facility managers. Such management is however normally within the strict maintenance of the objects of such facilities. The commercial prowess of the managers in the packaging and positioning of the facilities for attracting and hosting regional and international events while developing, in conjunction with entertainment and culture workers and entrepreneurs the necessary content for maintaining the position of the facilities as active culture institutions.
Now we are not entirely sure that these factors were part of the prequalification requirements of the National Theatre concession.

Indeed, CORA attempted to open the debate sometime in 2006 after the BPE opened the process for the concession when, through Artsville the weekly column of its Secretary General, Toyin Akinosho, in the Sunday Guardian, by requesting for a reasoned response of the Arts community to the planned concession. This request, as it was couched then, was not just an invitation to the usual deprecation of the ‘sale of our national monument’ (afterall BPE has also, somewhat with a tint of bastardisation, appropriated those terms) but for suggestion on how key interest groups within the Art community could team up to rescue the National Theatre from the gaping jaws of would-be concessionaire -- who were never known to have any interest of the Arts at heart.

It is therefore our view that this concession which has not gained nor attempted to gain the buy-in of the key stakeholders in the Art and Culture community should be reviewed and a proper, transparent and formal agenda set for such an action, if considered necessary after a key review of the state of the funding and manning of the Art sector.

Akinosho Toyin
Programme Chairman


Myths And Facts Of The National Arts Theatre Concession
Carl Orji
We are writing to your highly esteemed newspapers to respond to the inaccuracies in the article written by representatives of CORA (The Guardian, Friday, July 13, p. 36). I am puzzled by the opening assertion which attempts in every respect to describe transactions within the arts as a "sale transaction"? It is untrue that in the arts all transactions are called a "sale" because within the arts if one has to decompose asset and fiduciary arrangements there are concessions and leases which are undertaken daily.
It would border on the absurd, if it was deemed a sale when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or Guggenheim Bilbao offered the Musée du Louvre in Paris its collection of Picasso’s or Rembrandt for an exhibition? Thus, the argument of using a context which is not relevant to the BPE and concessionaire to underpin a logical position in the article is flawed at its best. This in logic is the fallacy of drawing an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise. As such, the logic of making the analysis on the basis of a simple black and white or "thumbs-up, thumbs-down" conclusion deprive the readers of a succinct argument for and against concessioning.
Hence, the jump from admitting in the first paragraph that the transaction is a concession to the juxtaposition of a sale takes a quantum leap of faith to achieve and misses the mark entirely. In all the transaction and due diligence documents provided by BPE (over 250 pages) there is no sentence or word which refers to the term sale of the National Arts Theatre. There is also no term which refers to either the concept or context of a privatization. In undertaking this transaction process, we were in no doubt that the National Arts Theatre as Nigeria’s and possibly Africa’s premier Arts Centre was a sacrosanct position in any concessionaire’s business plan.
As a consequence, we have had to put in a lot of work to factor and financially model what we think would work and be sustainable in the long term. The reality of this is that we as a consortium have to make the National Arts Theatre and its site work, pay the Federal Government on average One billion Naira per year and subsidize the Arts and Culture community in the site. Our role and responsibilities ranges from jointly working with the National Troupe; National Gallery of Arts and the Centre for Black African Arts when the site is fully developed to subsidizing the funding for these centers whilst absorbing the workforce at the National Arts Theatre.
As a consequence, our capital expenses on the site would be seven times the 2007 budget of the Federal Ministry of Culture &Tourism (N9.2B) over the next three years (N65B). With over Ten Billion going into refurbishing the National Arts Theatre this itself represents a thirty fold increase on the entire budget for the National Arts Theatre. It can be verified that no concessionaire in this country or outside has ever been encumbered with this level of responsibilities in any sector. Nevertheless, we are undertaking this due to our belief in the sustainability of the arts & culture in Nigeria and the strength of the financial investment from our institutional investors.
I am sure the CORA writers are aware of the degradation and derelict nature of the National Arts Theatre. They must also be aware that nothing practically works on the site and the recent renovations have barely papered over the cracks in the theatre. Any concessionaire who truly has done a due diligence on the site would be aware of the enormity of the problem. We have assessed the National Arts Theatre from the failing roof structure to the sinking basement of the building and to the remediation of the environmental pollution in the site. All these would require a massive reconstruction and renovation of the site, which the Federal Government wouldn’t undertake even in partnership with operators. This is because the allocation of national resources for competing national requirements puts the National Arts Theatre at the bottom of the pecking order of pressing issues. If you did an impact assessment & cost benefit analysis of how many people would benefit from investing N65 Billion on a scale of preference, the redevelopment of the National Art Theatre would come far behind Power; Water; Roads; Healthcare; Education; Housing and Security.
In reference, to the question of whether there would be a cost for the performances to the artists who will offer shows to the public. For the new designated theatres including the main theatre absolutely not. This would be FREE. We would subsidise that part of the Theatre in conjunction with the Arts & Culture Trustees who will be the final determinant of what gets shown and when. In addition, there would be no cost to the National Troupe office which would be housed free of charge in offices befitting a National Troupe and its staff.

With regards to position of the writers from CORA on the "the peculiarly non-transparent manner in which the concession was carried out" we find this bewildering. This statement by the writers from CORA raises concerns and contradicts their earlier comments on having no knowledge of the transaction or its process. This is deflated immediately by the implied assertion that they had met with potential concessionaires, gained insight to their proposals and were shocked when they didn’t win? As they quote: "This is quite apart from the fact that many of the key promoters of such consortia are well known to functionaries of the Art and Culture scene."
To be frank, the writers from CORA can’t have it both ways. The evident disparity here is that you can’t in one breath dismiss the process and then in the same breathe profess to have a preferred candidate(s) in the same flawed process? The context, of the concession is quite clear. It is quite difficult to turn three simple terms "Sale; Privatization & Concession" into a Philosophy course on Hegelian Synthesis of Opposites in a triadic context. Are we just guilty of not being their preferred choice or not being popular? On the other hand, whilst there is need to clarify these terms to the generality of Nigerians who see the internal workings of BPE as divorced from their day to day existence. The differences and relationships are quite clear and don’t need further elucidation to the writers of CORA who are evidently literate enough to decipher the nuances in the concepts. For me to do so would be to erode the deference and esteem I have for CORA and its members.
Additionally, CORA writers make the case for the lack of pre-bid facts & figures and a cost benefit analysis of the concessioning of the National Arts Theatre by BPE. On the former, these were supplied to all potential concessionaires, which the writers from CORA could have gotten from the bidders who they were in contact with. With reference to the latter, we cant hold brief for the BPE but can state that due to the multiple and variant uses the site could be put to by the potential concessionaires it would be difficult for the BPE to offer a strategic cost benefit scenario which will embraced by all the concessionaires without stifling the concession transaction. However, every potential concessionaire would have proffered their own cost benefit analysis which would be reflected in their concession bid price on the day.
On the issue of Infrastructica Consortium being an "unknown" concessionaire as the writers from CORA put it is entirely not true and distorts the facts. Simply stated, we are a special purpose vehicle that seeks to invest in infrastructure development in Nigeria and Africa which is also the basis of the consortium name. Our structure is based on international and local institutional investors being asset owners that appoint world class operators of the assets. This is done to ensure adequate job creation, sustainable stakeholder and shareholder value.
Accordingly, most of the newspapers in Nigeria last November 23 2006 published extensively on the news of Infrastructica Consortium partnering the FG in a $1.4Billion rail project which was announced as part of the private rail initiatives for Nigeria. The consortium is made of institutional investors such as: HSBC; Merrill Lynch; First Bank; UBA; Union Bank; M&T Bank; Bank PHB and Zenith Bank. As such, this is an allegation which is easily discounted with an archive search of the newspapers on the day or alternatively an internet search of the rail transactions which are still going through the final negotiations with the FG would put this to rest.
As far as the BPE prequalification process is concerned we were the only bidders who actually followed the rules of the transaction to the letter. BPE in its request for Expression of Interests document required that the operators be local or international and that they have a five year operational record. The operator that is part of our consortium is the Tussauds Group that has a 200 year operational record as compared to the five years required! They operate visitor attractions in London; New York; Amsterdam; Shanghai; Hong Kong & Las Vegas. They also have under their portfolio over 51 attractions, in 12 countries, across three continents Europe, North America and Asia and employ over 13,000 staff. Cumulatively, the group is the second largest operator in the world to Disney by visitor numbers by attracting over 30 Million visitors globally. By any standards if this doesn’t fit the prequalification requirement then I don’t know what will?
The writers from CORA also comment on their understanding of the auction bid process. Without being superfluous, the concession auction process was based on a variant of a Vickrey-Clarke-Groves (VCG) auction used globally. This is a type of sealed-bid auction, where bidders submit written bids without knowing the bid of the other bidders in the auction. The highest bidder wins, but the price paid is the highest bid in the second round. The concept here is that potential concessionaires in the auction pay the opportunity cost that their presence introduces to all the other bidders. As far as auctions go this is the fairest where potential concessionaires have little or no information on the intentions of other bidders. Naturally, the asymmetric information between the bidders creates a distortion to which the Federal Government and the Nigerian people benefit the most by obtaining the highest bid possible for an asset which still belongs to them.
With regards to the writers from CORA’s comment on buy in of key stakeholders, we would state categorically that we have approached individual stakeholders in the Arts & Culture community over the past two years and even CORA members and would continuously do so through the lifecycle of the project. Within the next few weeks we would have a design charrette stage & pre-master plan stage which will involve CORA and other key stakeholders within the Art & Culture community. This we explained extensively to the Director General (DG) of the National Arts Theatre in our discussions and meeting with him.
For reasons of brevity, our plans for the site are to build a fully functioning cultural district with twelve theatres for performances and cinemas. This will also include building a complementary African Museum to the National Museum in Lagos which will be equipped with the world class environment which will enable Nigeria & African Museums to request the return of African Artefacts in museums in the West. It is proposed that it will host various exhibitions of artefacts from other parts of the world and have exchange links with museums such as British Museum, Guggenheim New York & Bilbao, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Tate UK, Museo del Bargello in Florence and Egyptian Museum Cairo. Recent global examples of this can be seen in the move by Abu Dhabi to get the franchise rights for the Musée du Louvre to boost its tourist potentials.
Equally, the aim here is to expand the availability of world class theatre space and visitor opportunities in Nigeria beyond the MUSON centre. Once the site is up and running we would be the second largest employer of the arts & culture community in Nigeria; we would be the largest single buyer or arts and crafts in Nigeria. All the arts and craft for the site would be primarily sourced from Nigerian artists, reflecting the rich heritage of the Ife, Nsukka, and Zaria art schools. This we believe will also aid in reawakening the FESTAC concept on a 2-4 year basis.
In addition, we would undertake a N3.5 Billion environmental remediation for the pollution on the site which will be transformed into a themepark and waterpark. The site will also have two world class hotels, arts & crafts market, arts & media training centres and a shopping mall with parking for over 3000 visitors. In terms of job creation, the site would be going from 23,000 sq M to at least 250,000 sq M with the number of jobs available increased pre and post construction to at least 1000 workers.
This we communicated clearly in the discussions with the Director General Dr Yerima. It is also important to note that we have started negotiations with Lagos State to integrate the surrounding areas to the site which would be included in the benefits to accrue from the site in terms of traffic management, security, job creation, location beautification and rehabilitation. We also intend that the National Arts Theatre site would not just be about entertainment and looking back into the past, but would be seeking to inspire the future of Nigerians who visit the site with a Science & Space centre which the Tussauds group and NASA would be putting in place. These are only some of the key aspects of the plans we outlined to the BPE when we were biding for the National Arts Theatre.

•Orji is a Transaction Consultant to Infrastructica in the National Theatre concessioning.


The Concessioning Of The National Theatre
In pursuance of its avowed determination to privatise some Federal Government-owned concerns, and sell off or concession some of the nation’s assets, the Bureau of Public Enterprises recently announced that it has granted concession rights on the National Theatre to a private company. By the terms of the agreement the private company, Infrastructica will run the theatre for thirty-five years and pay the sum of thirty-five billion naira (N35bn) to the government. Artistes have been united against this concessioning of the National Theatre. Last week, Nigerian artistes including veterans assembled at the National Theatre to publicly demonstrate against the initiative.
As a national heritage built to celebrate FESTAC ’77, questions are being raised as to the propriety of handing over the National Theatre to private investors. Where do we draw the line in the privatisation exercise? In view of the criticisms and objections that have followed the sale of two of the nation’s refineries, is it not advisable for the BPE to proceed with extreme caution? Why should the National Theatre be abandoned by government? How have national theatres in other countries been managed? Should the National Theatre be a profit-oriented concern? Shall we with the excuse of inefficiency sell off all public institutions? If there are plans to build another National Theatre in Abuja why hands off the one in Lagos?
The National Theatre was built in time for the Festival of African Arts and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977. Designed and meant to be home to the best of our culture, it has remained an important rendezvous for artistic expression in the last thirty years. It has also hosted many stage productions and served as a rallying point for the vibrant arts community in Lagos and indeed Nigeria. In the last twenty odd years the edifice has suffered great neglect. At a point it was reported that the structure was caving in. Its roof and walls started cracking. The surroundings were left unkempt. The canal around it which was designed for boating became a dumping ground for refuse. Government after government found it difficult to resuscitate the edifice. However, it was clear also that there was no commitment on the part of government to maintain the structure as a national monument. It was against this background that the government decided to hands off the National Theatre along with some other public institutions.
Privatisation was one of the planks of the last administration headed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The idea is that government cannot be in business. This contravenes the early thinking when governments ran certain crucial organisations as a way of guaranteeing protection and welfare. The argument against government retention of control over the National Theatre is that it is inefficiently managed and unprofitable. In privatisation parlance only the private sector can run businesses successfully.
But the shoddy manner in which the Obasanjo administration conducted the privatisation exercise in its last days in office was indeed appalling. In appreciation of this fact the President Umaru Yar’Adua promised in a recent BBC interview that he would review the sale of the national refineries if the committee set up by the government submits a report indicating that the sale was not above board.
We call on the government to take a second look at the concessioning of the National Theatre. Nations preserve their monuments. The Kennedy Centre for the Arts and the Smithsonian Institute are part of the national heritage of the United States of America. The Tate Gallery in the United Kingdom is also a government-owned institution. It was not ceded to private hands during the privatisation gale that swept through the UK in the days of Margaret Thatcher. Such structures represent the national will, serving as symbols of national unity. The museums, parks and gardens, archives, stadia, and some other institutions are examples of national monuments. The National Theatre currently plays host to different cultural organisations and bodies that play crucial roles in the arts sector. The Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), the National Gallery, the National Troupe, Association of Nigerian Authors, the Nigerian Video and Films Censors’ Board, are some of such bodies that are domiciled in the precincts of the National Theatre.
The National Theatre should be left out of the privatisation drive. Instead of abandoning it, the Federal Government can outsource some of its crucial services while still retaining ownership of the structure. Outsourcing of services is a better option. This way the national heritage remains in the hands of the state, not in the hands of a few private persons who might turn it into a commercial enterprise with scant respect for culture and the arts in the years ahead. To hand over the theatre to a private group for thirty five years is a frightening proposition.

8 Statemnt by collective of artistes sent to President Umar Yar'Adua as published in The Guardian Thursday JULY 19, 2007

Contact: No 7, Rasaq Balogun Street, Off Adeniran Ogunsanya Street, Surulere, Lagos. Tel: 07030243491; 08051933865


The President and Commander in Chief
Federal Republic of Nigeria

Ufs: The Secretary to Government of the Federation

Through: The Permanent Secretary
Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation

Attention: S. A (Communication) To Mr. President

Your Excellency,


It is with heavy heart, Your Excellency that we the artistes of Nigeria write to you. It is indeed with heavy heart because at a time when we should be rejoicing over your election as President and Commander in Chief of the Arm Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a government agency like the BPE, set up with tax payers funds have forced us to engage you with a protest letter because of their (The BPE) insistence on selling off a cultural monument like the National Theatre constructed at the cost of about US $210m (Two hundred and ten million US dollars) as far back as 1972 and commissioned for use by President Olusegun Obasanjo, then the Military Head of government on September 30, 1975 for the promotion and preservation of our rich cultural heritage in the name of ‘Concession’.

Your Excellency, the fate of the National Theatre (whose present value is put at US$450 million-Four hundred and fifty million US dollars-converted as N58,050,000,000-Fifty eight billion and fifty million naira) under the immediate past civilian administration has been a matter of grave concern to the entire artistes body of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We, collectively and individually have in the last four years been conveying our protest against the plan to trade of the symbol of our collective cultural heritage that was built from inception for the purpose of preservation, presentation and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria, but it appears that the Federal government under the then headship of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo did not appreciate the anxiety which that ill advised move by some paid agents within government has generated among the Nigerian Artistes and well meaning Nigerians.

Your Excellency, the continued insistence by the BPE to privatize a national asset like the National Theatre in spite of a government white paper against that decision, is the reason why we write you. We cannot understand why the Bureau will still go ahead with their plans to contract out the National Theatre to some unknown interest, in spite of our oppositions and in spite of the resolve by the Federal government not to surrender the matters of culture to market forces as the BPE has been proposing. Mr. President need be informed that it is such a resolve that got the President-in-Council in 2004 to approve funds for the rehabilitation of the edifice (of which work is still on going) and for the merger and reconstitution of the management of the National Theatre so that the edifice can be fully rehabilitated, and made functional at little or no direct funding by the government, which is the whole purpose of the concessioning option being currently considered.

Mr. President, any one advocating the sale in whatever guise of the "House of Culture" does not honestly wish Nigeria and its future well. Even the faceless individuals who have bided and are desirous of buying over a house of culture in the guise of a 35 years lease do not wish our future and those of our unborn children well. We wonder why the BPE have not stopped to find why countries like Great Britain, Ghana, Senegal, and Guinea have not put up their National Theatre for sale. These countries know as well as we do that National Theatres represent the cultural symbol and artistic soul of any nation; a foremost tourist attraction; a central performing arts venue and a national arts education resource centre. The Nigerian National Theatre is the symbol of our diverse cultural heritage as well as the soul of Black Culture, Civilization and Consciousness

Mr. President, the above represents some of our arguments against the attempt to first privatize and now concession the National Theatre to certain interests who are desirous of killing what remains of our culture. However we were glad that following our protests and the several representations made to government on the need to preserve the edifice for posterity as it is done all over the world, government in November 2000 amended a recommendation made in a White Paper titled, "Government White Paper on the Review, Harmonization and Rationalization of Federal Parastatals/Institutions and Agencies".

In the stated white paper, which government circulated to calm our restive nerves, it was recommended that: "the National Theatre of Nigeria Lagos should be commercialized". But the President in Council rejected the recommendation and directed that the "National Theatre of Nigeria be partially funded" so that the edifice can continue to be useful to the artistes thus retaining the status of the nation’s cultural haven.

Your Excellency, NO RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT abdicates its role towards cultural preservation. In a world that is fast being globalised, perhaps cultural identity may become the only thing to hold on to in the long run. Besides governments the world over have the responsibility of preventing a mindless sweeping away of their peoples cultural heritage as well as making provisions for the custodianship of international cultural materials and monuments like the National Theatre in order to bring into focus Nigerian culture in the Black and African world.


It is on this premise that we request His Excellency to use his good offices to direct the BPE to immediately de-list the National Theatre from the list of government agencies to be privatized and to similarly draw the BPE attention as well as compel them to respect the decision of the Federal government as contained in the White paper of November 2000 (page 55).

Similarly we implore Mr. President, to declare the complex a national monument and to formally initiate an Act of Parliament that will legislate the National Theatre as a government concern that will be retained for its strategic position in the articulation and expression of the culture of the Nigerian people. It is ironical Mr. President, to have a Ministry of Culture and Tourism without a house of culture like the National Theatre which is to be entirely dedicated for the celebration of the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria.

We suggest that the Ministry of Culture should be further empowered to provide support to the present management of the edifice who have in less than a year of running the edifice, proved that it is possible to turn the fortunes of the edifice around. The present management team which the former President put in place last year after he had approved funds for the rehabilitation of the edifice have not only restored public confidence in the use of the edifice in spite of poor funding but they have showed that it is possible to attract funding from the private sector and foreign donor agencies (many of whom we are aware have shown interest to contribute at no cost to government) for the maintenance and running of the edifice without necessary negating the reasons which the National Theatre was established.

Mr. President is similarly invited to note the interest of some international funding agencies and other cultural institutions like UNESCO and the Ford Foundation (who seem to appreciate the importance of preserving a national monument like the National Theatre), in the renovation and refurbishment of the National Theatre at no cost to government. We are aware that discussions between these agencies and the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation have reached advanced stage. But it is the mercantilist posture of the BPE that has made the possibility of achieving the full renovation and operational rehabilitation of the Theatre using private sector funding, impossible.

Thank you Mr. President for finding time to read from us.

We remain yours in the true spirit of arts and culture,
For and Behalf of the Coalition of Nigerian Artiste.

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