That the country’s National Theatre environment needs a transfiguration, no doubt, is an understatement. A large expanse of its land is still ensconced by swap and canal waiting for the benign encounter with a ‘messiah’.
As a national heritage built to celebrate FESTAC ’77, it has hosted many stage productions and served as a rallying point for the vibrant arts community in Lagos and indeed Nigeria. However, in the last three decades, the edifice has suffered great neglect.
At a point, 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 the government found it difficult to resuscitate the edifice.
Culture workers and practitioners had argued that instead of abandoning it, the Federal Government could outsource some of its crucial services while still retaining ownership of the structure. 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.
They noted that 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.
Since 2001, artists have protested the ‘privatisation’ of the facility, which they described as their soul. Following 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, Harmonisation and Rationalisation of Federal Parastatals/Institutions and Agencies”.
In the stated white paper, which government circulated to calm restive nerves, it was recommended that: “the National Theatre of Nigeria Lagos should be commercialised”.
The Coalition of Nigerian Artists (CONA), in a statement at the peak of the government’s concessions plan, noted, “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.”
Only recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the nation’s banking industry, under the aegis of Bankers Committee, declared their commitment to reviving the moribund National Theatre, Lagos, using their funds.
The bankers said they would use their newly introduced Creative Industry Financing Initiative (CIFI), which has already earmarked N22 billion as takeoff capital to pursue the revival of the 40-acre national asset that has become a relic.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele expressed hope that if the facility is developed, it would be 10 times better than the kind of convention centres seen in many parts of the world and would attract international attention.
Noting that Nigeria has almost 200 million people, growing at close to 2.8 per cent yearly, relative to the economy, which grew at close to two per cent in 2018, he said that close to 60 per cent of the population was under the age of 35, indicating that the country was a youthful population that needs to be engaged.
He expressed regrets that many educated youths from universities were without employment, while some of them were unleashing their creative talents in creating jobs, not only for themselves, but also for others through the music, movie, fashion and IT skills.
CBN has, over the years, been directly or indirectly involved in the financing of growth-enhancing programmes and projects of the Federal Government.
The involvement is incidental to the bank’s core mandates and part of its development and corporate social responsibilities, to accelerate the growth and development of the Nigerian economy.
In this regard, the bank’s intervention initiatives encompass real sector programmes, particularly, agriculture, small and medium enterprises, infrastructure and youth empowerment. Notable among them are: the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme; Real Sector Support Facility (RSSF); SME Credit Guarantee Scheme (SMECGS); SME Re-structuring and Refinancing Fund (SMERRF); Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL); Power and Airline Intervention Fund (PAIF); Nigeria Electricity Market Stabilisation Fund (NEMSF); Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP); Nigeria Textile Intervention Fund; Non-oil Export Stimulation Facility; Youth Innovative Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YIEDP); and Export Credit Rediscounting and Refinancing Facility.
Under the initiative, beneficiaries could get up to N500 million loan at nine per cent interest rate. The creative industries that could apply include fashion, information technology, movie distribution, music and software engineering.
Software engineering students can get a loan of up to N3m, N30m for movie production, N500 million for movie distribution, cover your rental/service fees for fashion and Information Technology business, cover your training fees, equipment fees and rental/service fees for the music business.
The fund will be used to develop Creative Industry Parks – an environment where startups and existing businesses can be incubated and rewarded for their creativity. Each will be able to support skills acquisition for over 200,000 Nigerians.
“We will build a hub around this arts edifice to accommodate them so that they can develop their God-given gift. I can imagine what this place will look like in another two years. Every weekend if there will be something happening here, it will boost the tourism potential of Lagos State and Nigeria.
“There is no need for anybody, even unions, to be afraid that they are going to be expelled. We will develop it for them to use and use for the good of their businesses and for their families.
“But the important thing to note is that an asset of this nature going down, posterity will not forgive us and generation unborn will not forgive us. That is the reason we are here today,” he said.
The Chairman of the Bankers Committee, Herbert Wigwe, said the move was in line with the Federal Government’s vision of lifting 100 million out of poverty.
“We have been to several countries on the continent, none of them has an edifice like this. Now, ours is a relic, but we believe that in two years, working under the auspices of the CBN Governor, we would be able to raise the requisite private sector funds to support and give this centre a proper facelift,” he said.
The parks will be equipped with state of the art tools, high-level training and networks that will enable creative individuals and entrepreneurs in music, movies, fashion, and information technology (IT) to turn their ideas into values.
Many have wondered why it took CBN and the BC a long time to recognise that they can play this catalytic role for the country and indeed, the entire world to tap into the enormous energy, the creative and innovative talent of the teeming resourceful Nigerian youth so that they can be part of overall national wealth creation.
These programmes, if realised, will have significant impact on job creation, employment, development of local ICT solutions and skills. They will also assist in the reduction, if not elimination, of wholesome importation of hardware and software IT solutions into the country since they will become available domestically. Indeed, according to CBN, the programmes will result in “over 50,000 Nigerians benefiting from the Parks; creation of “over 25,000 software engineers and 150,000 skilled and unskilled jobs.” Ultimately, CBN believes that they also have the potential of causing “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) gains of close to $2 billion while curbing importation of IT solutions that can be produced in Nigeria.”
Furthermore, the Parks/Hubs will serve as Outsourcing Centres for IT services required in other parts of the globe. Thus, “Nigeria can expect to earn over $200 million yearly from the provision of IT services to individuals and corporate organisations in other parts of the globe.”
Meanwhile, the seriousness of CBN/BC in taking these giant steps can be seen from their reported request from the Federal Government for approval to use the National Theatre in Lagos for the housing of the Creative Industry Centre, which in a way could be termed Bollywood Village like Hollywood in California and Bollywood in Bombay.
The Federal Government has granted the request and even handed over the theatre to the BC.
Many have argued that Nigeria has rich creative industries with great potential. As the country seeks to diversify its economy away from dependence on oil revenues, the creative industries, based on their current economic value, provide a veritable incremental source of employment, revenue, and growth.
The United Nations (2011) believes that the creative economy has become a driver of employment, economic growth, and innovation.
In a study that covered 11 creative industries across five regions of the world in 2015, it was estimated that, in 2013, the creative industries contributed US$2,250 billion to the global GDP and employed over 29 million people worldwide.
Significantly, and contrary to expectations, the creative industries – which constituted a modest 3 per cent of global GDP – yielded more revenues than traditional cash-spinners like the telecommunications sector.
While the Asia-Pacific region had the largest market for creative industries, Africa and the Middle East had the smallest, although the potential for growth exists.
Sectorally, television generated the largest revenue of US$477 billion while movies generated a sizeable US$77 billion and employed nearly 2.5 million people.
The report further states that the world’s youthful population (1.8 billion people were between 10 and 24 in 2014) is hungry for creative industries goods.
According to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, “our greatest strength lies in our creative industry, our music, and our films. That is one area we need to build on because that is one area we have a comparative advantage over many other countries.”
With more private investors coming to play in the nation’s creative industry like never before, this presents a clear pass for the industry to meet its $1 billion expectations regarding the country’s GDP by 2020, and possibly surpass it.
In the last few years, two international partnerships which involved Sony Pictures Television and Netflix, with the former entering into an agreement with Ebony Life Television to develop three African TV series while the latter acquired the worldwide rights of Genevieve Nnaji’s Lion Heart for $2 million.
That was Netflix’s first acquisition of Nigerian content since its entry into the Nigerian film and TV market in 2016.
According to Prof. Duro Oni of the University of Lagos, “with funds available at 9 per cent, it makes a world of difference in sourcing finance for viable projects. The issue of collateral may still pose a problem to less established creative artists on their projects. A lot of difference would be made if the loan terms were made liberal.”
He, however, said, “the guidelines should be properly laid out for it to benefit the actual practitioners and not diverted to merchants who have no business in the creative industries. The government should also establish a monitoring mechanism.”
According to Dr. Sola Balogun of the Department of Theatre Arts, Federal University Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), “the CIFI initiative by Central Bank is a welcome development as it is expected to boost creativity and provide job opportunities in the arts, culture and tourism/hospitality sectors.”
He said, “I think for it to benefit artistes and others in the creative sector, CBN should select representatives of key stakeholders who will ensure that no sub-sector is unduly marginalised. The representatives should also work with the CBN in assessing proposed projects and their viability before qualifying to become beneficiaries.”
Balogun added, “government should monitor the process of disbursement and utilisation of the CIFI benefits. If FG cannot implement NEA as proposed long ago under the military regime as part of strategies to implement the Cultural Policy of Nigeria, then it can integrate the objectives of NEA into CIFI and make it serve the creative people in a well-structured democratic manner.”
He continued, “if you get the policy environment right, the industry will be better for all stakeholder.”
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