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By Toyin Akinosho

Lai Mohammed, the Nigerian Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, will today, hand over the National Theatre and its sprawling surrounds, to the Bankers Committee and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

It’s a transaction in which the Nigerian government will not receive a penny, but has agreed to, on the strength of the promise that the dilapidated edifice will be revamped.

The Bankers Committee, which loosely means the operational arm of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, pledges to invest ₦25Billion to reconstruct the 43-year structure, in phases, and develop the sprawling fallow land surrounding the building into a Creative Hub, featuring a film studio complex, Children’s Park, Hotels and Shopping Malls. This means that, apart installing the Creative Hub, the concessionaires will be overhauling the facilities within the main complex itself: two 700 seater cinema halls, an art gallery, a 5,000 seat Main Hall, a 1,500 seat Conference Banquet Hall, two main Exhibition Halls (1,200 seats) and the VIP Lounge (300 seats).

Bankers Committee

The pledge to reconstruct the main complex was what won the Minister over, impeccable sources tell Bookartville.com.

It also has the nod of President Muhammadu Buhari, otherwise it wouldn’t be happening.

In collecting the keys to the property, and the large expanse around it, stretching from Iganmu/Surulere in the north, to the Ijora causeway in the south; from the Eko Bridge in the east to the new Rail Terminus in the west, the Bankers Committee is working in concert with the Lagos State Government and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, although it is not entirely clear what role these government entities are playing, other than that the real estate on which the entire place sits is the property of the Lagos State Government.

The journey to Today’s handover is an 18 year long and fraught one.

As far back as 2002, President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), had sought to get the National Theatre, which he commissioned himself in 1977 as a Military Head of State, out of the hands of the government. The once gleaming pride of culture was in a bad shape and Mr. Obasanjo was not interested in the state running it.

There was a loud uproar among culture producers, against what was termed an attempt to privatise the National Theatre.

In 2006, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) conducted a bid round to concession both the National Theatre and the property around the main complex. INFRASTRUCTICA won the bid, with its partner BHI ventures, for ₦35.8Billion for 35 years. Jadeas Trust, partnered with Dolphin Properties, Zillenium Limited and Bepong Consortium, came second, with ₦28.9Billion. But the ensuing protest by the arts community created uncertainties around the concessioning, which ensured that the winner couldn’t  raise the ₦35.8Billion. Jadeas Trust emerged as Reserved bidder and later Preferred bidder, but the process was put on hold as the government was leaving office.

In 2013 Jadeas Trust was called by the National Council on Privatization (NCP) to revalidate its bid. Concurrently, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism had caused an advert to be circulated in the national dailies calling for Expression of Interest for the same concession. Upon the protest of Jadeas Trust the matter was brought before the supervisory body which ordered that the status quo be maintained. Shortly thereafter, thorough deliberations at cabinet meeting, the Ministry was directed to proceed with the 2013 concession process at the end of which Topwide Apeas Limited (TopWide) and Caldaza emerged as Preferred Bidders.

Jadeas Trust did not contest in the 2013 bid. Rather, it chose to challenge the validity of that bid process in court towards reaffirming its position as preferred bidder.

In October 2016, a year after the current government came into power, Vice President Yemi Osibajo hosted a meeting involving Lai Mohammed, who had by then become Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Jades Trust, as well as Representatives of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, Representatives of Bureau of Public Procurement, Representatives of Bureau of Public Enterprises, Representatives of Federal Ministry of Justice and Representatives of Federal Ministry of Finance

Jadeas Trust says the Vice President noted that TopWide and Jadeas Trust “can and are willing to work together”, but “for the government to take a position on the issue would be to overreach the ambit of the Court on a case which is lis pendens”. Acknowledging that both parties were empowered by the same government, the Vice President reportedly stated that this was a perfect case for collaboration as the issues surrounding the concession of the National Theatre were less technical than the Ajaokuta Steel case which has been ongoing for a long while.

In April 2019, TopWide and Jadeas Trust agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding MOU to incorporate a special purpose vehicle known as National Arts Theatre Development Corporation (NAT-DC) in which each party shall have equal shareholding.

The NAT-DC shall be utilized in towards ensuring the successful implementation of the parties’ vision of creating a world class culture-themed city centre for Nigeria.

The NAT-DC shall also be the contracting entity to which the Federal Government shall assign the Concession of the National Theatre.

This last wish, apparently, now looks harder to fulfill.

The road to today’s handover began when Godwin Emefiele, the Central Bank Governor, showed up at National Theatre in late 2019 to inspect the grounds. There were hoarse whispers that he was “trespassing”, as none of the members of the Board  of the National Theatre was there to host his delegation and show them around.

When he collects the keys to one of the country’s prized properties today, it will be clear that he knew he wasn’t trespassing at all.

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