National Theatre: hub for business, entrepreneurship

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WHAT is known today as the National Theatre, that edifice that sits atop that swamp at Ijora en-route Lagos Island was birthed in 1977. It was and remains the venue that hosted the global cultural event called FESTAC 77.

Although some have criticised the cultural event as a wasteful jamboree, calling its relevance to question, the festival has left behind in its wake, some landmark benefits and physical structures that Nigerians, and not a few, still look back to and applaud as some of the enduring and tangible benefits of that event, 45 years after.

Apart from the FESTAC 77 symbol – the famous Benin Pendant Mask that is acclaimed globally as a masterpiece of African scripted carving, a timeless cultural gift to Art and Culture lovers from Benin, Edo State, FESTAC Town, arguably Nigeria’s most successful attempt at providing urban housing, is another of the festival’s unforgettable and enduring gifts.

Forget the fact, regrettably though that the town is a shadow of its former self. As it  is common with most things Nigerian, the National Theatre itself, suffered the same fate as FESTAC Town, its progenitor, but thanks to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the  banking community woven around the Bankers’ Committee under the leadership of the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, the National Theatre is the focus of attention and that for the good reasons.

The CBN, in collaboration with the Bankers Committee and the Federal Government,  have pulled resources together to synergistically breathe life into the National Theatre’s ecosystem, transforming it into a business incubation centre and a hub for businesses, micro, small and medium, including eateries, fast foods, name it for the benefit and uplifting of youths to help them unbundle and express their innate and creative talents across the many spheres of IT, the film and entertainment industry and, wait for it, and a haven for outdoor advertisers and advertising agencies.

For many years, the National Theatre lost its essence, wasting and depreciating in value. Despite the many years of neglect and abandonment, the National Theatre remained a monument of value, partly because of its ambience and location.

Its location and positioning and the very conspicuous strategic site it occupies would not let it be ignored, whether you are ascending into Lagos Island, or descending into the mainland. It reminds everyone of its existence, not only for playing host to FESTAC 77, but so much more for its unique shape and architectural design and ambience. No other building in this clime matches its feature. How could such an edifice be neglected for so long and overlooked for that matter! The answer lies in our national malfeasance, no doubt.

As a people, this nation has grown over time to be more interested in raising structures, some of them very gigantic, than be concerned with their maintenance and sustainability. A few examples will suffice- Nigeria’s four refineries and petrochemical plants in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna; Nigeria Airways, which some have captioned – Nigeria Air waste, Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) which until recently was a shadow of its former self, the Nigerian power sector infrastructure from the days of NEPA to PHCH and the current beggerly Discos and Gencos.

Consider the nation’s road infrastructure that go from bad to worse before the naked eyes of those charged with the responsibility of overseeing and fixing them. Time will fail me not to mention how our educational infrastructure are being systematically eroded; first by stripping them of the relevant physical infrastructure, and then the human resources by completely undermining the academic staff and its composition.

It’s in our very eyes that UAE, an enclave that has the same resource like ours, sprinted from nowhere to become the toast of global investors, and all manner of businesses now stream to that enclave, a desert nation as it were, in preference to a supposedly giant of Africa. Giant of Africa! Yes and now the poverty capital of the world. What a descent!

Thanks to the banking and financial services sector’s intervention under CBN’s leadership, the future of the National Theatre and its ecosystem is now looking up.

In accordance with what is envisioned for the national theatre, its developers and the Federal Government, the National Theatre is being packaged to be the number one event centre in Africa.

There’ll also be the development of clusters to support the creative industry, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed said  during the handover of the facility to the CBN and the Bankers Committee.

“Not only will the National Theatre be restored,  more jobs will be created during the construction of the facility,” Mohammed said.

Emefiele, who is the Chairman of the Bankers’ Committee, said the idea behind the project, christened ‘Lagos Creative and Entertainment Centre,’ is to restore the glory of the iconic building by aligning most of the fabric, equipment and facilities in the building with the aesthetics of the 21st century and secondly to develop an ecosystem of creative hubs on the adjoining parcel of land.

Emefiele listed the four hubs to be established to include the fashion hub, music hub, film hub and the IT hub, where young Nigerians and talented IT developers, developing softw are to increase and earn revenue for themselves as well as to support the country’s revenue base.”

He said resuscitating and revamping the National Theatre is costing the Bankers’ Committee almost $100 million.

On its capacity, the CBN chief said the National Art Theatre can contain a gathering of at least 7,500 people, saying come 2023 and onwards, we will begin to see these fashion shows being held around the premises of the National Art Theatre.

“We are trying to build infrastructure to support the creative industry in Nigeria,” Emefiele said, adding that the goal is to make it easier for young and talented people in the creative industry to get funds to start or expand their enterprises.

He said the new facility will complement and enhance the National Arts Theatre, stating that the Bankers’ Committee is funding a prototype cluster located within the National Arts Theatre, a development which we have labelled the ‘Signature Cluster.’

Emefiele said the National Theatre will be a convener – providing space, support network, business development and community engagement for the creative, cultural and technology sectors, adding that the Signature Cluster, will consist of a building each for music, film, fashion and information technology verticals.

In addition to these, a welcome/visitor’s centre, police and fire stations and structured parking for up to 500 vehicles will be built..

Emefiele said the 44-hectare site adjourning the National Theatre will be developed and utilised for purpose-built creative hubs for the music, film, fashion and information technology, saying the aim will be to deliver a successful creative and entertainment city that will encourage additional investment into the creative industry.

According to him, the anticipation is that there will be at least 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created during the construction phase and over 25,000 people would be engaged in different sections of the centre when the Signature Cluster is completed, with anticipated multiplier effect of other job opportunities.

He said the fashion building will be a full-fledged apparel production facility with textile showroom, retail and photography spaces and teaching laboratories. He said music building will house recording studios with all front and back-end spaces and facilities.

Emefiele said an amphitheatre has been designed to adjoin the music hub in the master plan. “The film facility consists of stage set-up areas, as well as all back-end spaces necessary for full production of films.

“The information technology facility will consist of co-working and co-living spaces, training facilities and indoor and outdoor breakout clusters, all carefully designed to ensure that interface with the creative users is enhanced,” he said.

Emefiele stated why the Bankers’ Committee embarked on the project, saying it did so because of the rapid growth recorded by the creative sector over the years.

“This project will no doubt bring considerable benefits to Nigerians, especially the youth who are the reason and inspiration behind this initiative.”

The CBN chief acknowledged the tenacity of youths which he said is highly commendable and admirable and has reflected in the economic returns of the creative industry.

Their activities, through the music, film and fashion industry, have also brought global acclaim to Nigeria,” Emefiele said.

-The Nation

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