Monday, August 13, 2007

Who Will Buy My Wife? Reflections On National Theatre Concession

Who Will Buy My Wife?
Reflections On National Theatre Concession

( As published in The Guardian August 13, 2007)

SSHH… My wife must not hear about my perfidious thoughts! I am certainly going to deny if she hears that I have conceived of an idea of offering her for sale (concession her to someone else, to use the new buzz word in our land).
As difficult as it is, I am constrained to take this step because I cannot afford to maintain her again.
The harsh realities of the economy and the devaluation of my manhood (no puns intended please) over the last 30 years have made a mess of my marital vow. 30 years ago, General Olusegun Obasanjo (Rtd) was directing the affairs of the nation when we married each other.
Coming a few months after General Yakubu Gowon’s administration behaved as if money was the 20th century manna falling from the sky, there was little or no financial pressure on me. I literally lived life on a binge with my lovely wife. Her Most Beautiful Girl In Nigeria-like vital statistics was an added advantage to me. More importantly was the fact that she was a simple home-girl, who came from our village to marry a city boy.
Everything excited her. She was just natural. Getting her to use perfumes or moisturizing cream was akin to getting an elephant to dance. She always preferred cooking without seasonings. How I relished her first class meals.
In those days, whatever amount I made available was always enough to run our face-me-I –face-you one room apartment. Since both of us were afraid that witches could kill us from our village we did not have a need to travel on holiday to the village or anywhere else.
THREE decades later, and after the second coming of General Olusegun Obasanjo, I have become a non-performing husband. I confess that my strength has failed me in all departments as a husband.
My body system is already tired though I have not reached the retirement age (I wish someone will sincerely show me how I will truly benefit from the pension scheme). My wife has simply grown into a city woman. With our five children I have to painfully finance yearly holiday abroad.
The other day, my teenage daughter told me that “ Ghana is not abroad. It is in West Africa ” when I suggested that they travel to the former Gold Coast.
You should have seen the face of my wife turning red from shock. Today, almost all my wife’s designer bags have giant sized designer padlocks.
That means that I can no longer take money from her bag without her consent. To worsen my personal economy, our first two children who graduated some four years ago are painfully employed.
Their salaries are often paid in arrears after so much dubious deductions. In spite of all these, my wife continues to accentuate her costly lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with this if I do not have to finance her from my diminishing resources.
Alas, nothing I say impresses my wife about my financial condition. She keeps reminding me that she is my responsibility. Oh! I agree with her but I have run out of ideas on how to improve my finances. If only she could be as simple as she was 30 years ago.
IN line with the practice in some modern countries, I decided to sell, I mean concession, my wife for the next 30 years. The immediate benefit of this decision is that my wife will now be able to afford all the pleasures that she needs as a modern woman.
With a successful concession deal, my wife will be able to compete with the advanced women of the world. I just pray that I will be able to find a kind- hearted man such as Mazi Carl Orji or a member of his class of economic philanthropists who will be able to spend seven times more than I can spend on my wife on a yearly basis. Personally, I will be free from the burden of being arm strung in living up to my responsibilities as a husband and a father. That way everybody is happy.
  The only challenge I have now is that my childhood friend who is already estranged from his wife (his wife left him and eloped with another man to Grand Caymans Island where there are more banks than registered companies) does not support my decision.
He thinks I will be courting the ire of the National Committee that is fighting human trafficking in Nigeria .
Secondly, he believes that all the stakeholders in my marriage will be up in arms against me. For example, my children will certainly kick against the idea of another man sharing a bed with their mother just as my Pastor will accuse me of leading my wife into the temptation of adultery. My wife’s siblings will withdraw their respect for me as an in law just as my wife’s friends will label me a callous and irresponsible husband.
Whoever is the Orji-inclined man who ends up taking my wife will be rightly perceived as a gold digger who is exploiting my inability to sustain the good work I have begun on my wife. Truly, she now wears size 22 dresses from the clingy size 12 dresses she used to wear when I married her.  Most importantly, how can I trust that a stranger will take care of my wife the way I would have done without leading her to an early grave?
HAVING considered my friend’s ground for objection I am forced to wonder who will buy my wife and give me joy?
  This is really the reason for the heat the concession of the National Theatre has generated. Regardless of the fancy arguments of Orji on the honest intentions of his fellow travelers on the platform of Infrastructica Consortium, the National Theatre Concession is worse than the idea of selling my wife of 30 years.
The National Theatre, just as my wife, was not conceived as a money-making venture and its depreciation ought to be expected. Every sensible person knows that a building needs to be massively renovated every 10 years. So, using the argument about its structural condition as a basis for its concession is specious.
To all intents and purposes, the National Theatre is a monument where our arts and culture live. It is the centre of our collective way of life, past, present and future. It is therefore dangerous to endanger its vitality on the economic altar of privatisation.
The National Theatre is too strategic to our social existence to be entrusted to some moneybags who neither have a cultural nor arts consciousness. I am yet to see a serious nation that sells or concedes her National Theatre from Ghana to Slovak.
UNFORTUNATELY, the jaundiced views of some of our immediate past leaders have foisted the cancer of privatisation on our national psyche. Little wonder that I also entertained the satanic thought of selling my wife of 30 years.
Selling off all the assets of a company that is going through cash flow crisis is unimaginative. There are some assets that are essentially strategic to the recovery of a business, let alone a nation.
Of course, the apologists of IMF will preach concessions and privatisation because that is the only milk they suck from the tired breasts of the neo-imperialists.
Recently, Jamaican government “concessioned” some of their major roads to a French company for rehabilitation on the basis of BOT (another buzz word for discrete sale).
The immediate gain of this arrangement is that all the roads are now motorable while the traffic situation in Jamaica has improved. Movement is now easy. Halleluiah! But that is just a part of the story. The French company handling the project will collect tolls for about 30 years from Jamaicans who ply the “concessioned” roads. Whereas the actual cost of rehabilitating the roads will be covered with interest within the first seven years.
Therefore, Jamaicans will pay for another 23 years to the French coffers. I believe that the whole idea of “concession” is an extension of the conspiracy to exploit the masses perpetually. This is why Orji’s sophistry is unfortunate. True enough, his group is going to spend seven times more than the yearly budget for the National Theatre.
What he did not tell the world is the multiple profits that his group will earn from this “patriotic investment”. Let us not engage in self deception. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune. If a group of people who have no known serious antecedents as arts and culture lovers or enthusiasts invest their money in an arts and culture edifice, I do not expect them to be faithful in promoting arts and culture.
The business imperative suggests that they will mind the things that will quickly guarantee superior financial results. The body language of the group is already a warning signal to the world. The group unwittingly thinks that the National Theatre is all about the building and the National Troupe. Read my lips: Anything else can be sacrificed for profit!
MY experience as a staff of MUSON Centre for over six years instructs me that we cannot take it for granted that arts and culture will thrive in the new dispensation of a “concessioned” National Theatre.
I witnessed many undercurrents and impatience of those who believe in “financial viability” of the MUSON project with scant regard for the expressed purpose of first popularizing classical music and the ultimate vision of perpetuating arts and culture in Nigeria .
The childhood passion and commitment of the of Pa Akintola Williams, the late Pa Ayo Rosiji, Loius Mbanefo, Rasheed Gbadamosi, Mrs Franscesca Yetunde Emmanuel, Dotun Sulaimon, Femi Williams, Femi Akinsanya, Femi Akinkugbe and others for the arts, more than anything else, has sustained the vision of the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON). These eminent Nigerians have explored all possible avenues including their relationships and contact at corporate and global levels to fire up and nurture the MUSON dream.
Their commitment has elicited the interest of their friends, partners, associates and relations to be part of the pursuit of the MUSON dream.
The yearly MUSON Festival remains a major statement on arts and culture propagation in Nigeria since 1996. A group that seeks the involvement of everyone in the sustenance of arts is what is really needed to move the National Theatre forward.
UNFORTUNATELY, the aritistes themselves did every unimaginable thing to frustrate the founders of the MUSON Centre in the past based on the myopic thoughts that “they are not artistes”.  This will explain why till date these personalities with the exception of Rasheed Gbadamosi are not really accepted among “professional artistes”.
Being a playwright, Rasheed Gbadamosi has enjoyed recognition which has occasionally been exploited to cheat the statesman. The lesson here is that the current travails in the arthouse is tantamount to self immolation where only those who patronize “abe igi” within the precincts of the National Theatre, or are stage actors are perceived as artistes.
That is why we were not able to mobilize ourselves to manage the National Theatre as a collective responsibility.
Of course, I know that career civil servants, with their limitations in dynamic management, have not tapped into the immense opportunities that those perceived as “ex-artistes” possess. It is pathetic that we have found ourselves in this situation.
Yet, a group of moneybags should not just be allowed by government and its agencies to rubbish our collective history. There is no nation that should put her arts and culture on the line because of the past mistakes of her leaders.
ZAMBIA, about seven years ago, sold off its Copper mines deposits for $25 million dollars based on the privatization scheme.
Less than six months the company that bought the mine generated the sum of $75 million dollars from the same Copper mine the government sold. Really, this concession stuff is a polite way of mortgaging the future because of inept leadership.
  In this era when banks declare billions of naira profits and when some executive directors in banks own individual shares in excess of N10 billion, a determined government can mobilise funds for the arts in a skillful way. Banks and telecommunication companies that declare billions of naira as profits must be made to commit a fraction of their profits to the arts endowment fund and the National Theatre.
If the government is sincere about using tourism as a pivot of economic growth, then we cannot afford to sell off our heritage. The National Theatre is also the future of our children who need a solid base to anchor their survival.  Besides, the silly experience of the past where exclusionism was the strategy of artistes and theatre managers must stop.
As for the concession, I pray that the, so far, forward looking government of Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’dua  will intervene in the concession of the National Theatre. In the meantime, the Carl Orjis of this world should appreciate the implication of buying my wife. There shall be endless acrimony until the feelings and opinions of all stakeholders are considered.

• Adeduro, a former Ag. General Manager in MUSON Centre, is the Founder of Centre For Productivity.
FILENAME \p Guardian Fileserver 1a:7Sunday:Text:National Theatre (arts) 12/7/08

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