LAGOS State government has taken ownership of Nigeria’s most iconic building the National Arts Theatre in Iganmu after the federal government handed it over at a ceremony last weekend.
Built to host the Black Arts Festival known as Festac 77, 43 years ago, the National Arts Theatre is Nigeria’s equivalent of London’s Big Ben, Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, the Sydney Opera House or India’s Taj Mahal. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the National Arts Theatre was a popular venue for hosting foreign musical bands that visited Nigeria.
Of late, however, the facility has fallen into a state of disrepair as it was not being maintained properly and there were fears that it was subsiding. Former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, had concluded plans to sell it to a Japanese consortium who wanted to convert it into a shopping mall but these plans were scrapped by his predecessor President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Recognising that the facility will become derelict if something is not done immediately, the federal government finally decided to hand it over to the Lagos State government. Governor Babajide Sanwoolu said the handover and revitalisation of the theatre fits the vision of the state to become a 21st-century hub of commerce, trade and tourism.
Speaking yesterday during the handover ceremony, Governor Sanwoolu said: “There is no way we will make a 21st-century economy if this entire massive real estate and land that we have are not turned from a dead asset to a living asset. It fits with our vision, it fits with our plan, it fits with our thinking of our new Lagos.”
He added that the journey of regenerating the National Theatre started about 10 months ago and people misconstrued what the objectives and plans were. He pointed out that the purpose was not to put people out of work but to create more jobs and boost the economy.
Governor Sanwoolu said: ”It is exactly 410 days that I got sworn-in as governor of Lagos State and so we are counting. We have agreed and said that in a maximum of 22 months, we will be bringing the president here, to walk him round the new, reformed, revitalised National Arts Theatre and all of the adjoining buildings.
“There is no better joy for me personally than that. Lagos is a signature, Lagos is a centerpiece and we have had good times in the National Theatre and it is time to revitalise it.
”I think it will be a shame on all of us, if we are not doing what we are doing today. If people can think about 40 to 45 years ago and put this edifice here, the least we can do is what we are doing here today, to turn it around, to make it happen for another 40 years of people that are going to come behind us.”