By JAPHET ALAKAM & PRISCA SAM-DURU
The National Arts Theatre, Nigeria’s culture home located in Iganmu, Lagos State, has for long been in the news, sadly, for the wrong reasons. After series of threats by past administrations, to either sell out-rightly or concession the national edifice and, or to demolish the Artists’ Village located within the environ of the monument, the space which has in recent years, served as a community for over 100 Creative individuals, was finally demolished last Saturday.
For the affected stakeholders, it was truly tragic to see Government officials who have statutory responsibility to promote and develop the Arts and Culture brutalizing Artists and destroying Government property with impunity. It was indeed a clear manifestation of the misrule that Nigerians have been subjected to in recent years.
During a press conference organised by Noble Laureate, Wole Soyinka, the affected stakeholders narrated how the whole drama happened. According to them, “On Saturday, 23rd of January, 2016 at about 6:00 am, the General Manager of the National Theatre Kabiru Yusuf Yar Adua acting on the orders of the Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed to demolish shanties within the place invaded the National Council for Arts and Culture NCAC Artistes’ Village which houses Arts Studios, Workshops, Dance studios and some service contractors with a caterpillar from CCECC and two truckloads of Armed Policemen and brought down the entire structures”.
Reports had it that Kabiru and his team which included ‘thespians’ such as Steph Ogundele and Biodun Abe, ordered the demolition of Arts and Dance Studios, Galleries and restaurants servicing the community. Some of the demolished structures belonged to the NCAC whilst others built by artists had approval of the NCAC.
The Resident Arts practitioners who represent some of the best in practice in the Nigerian Culture scene had no prior notice of the exercise and the NCAC was not informed. Kabiru carried out his vindictive demolition without allowing the Artistes and Business owners the opportunity to salvage artworks and belongings and as a result caused extensive damage to property and valuables.
One of the Artists Mr. Smart Ovwie, a sculptor who arrived the scene later and saw the destruction of his properties and tried to question the rationale behind the action, was harassed and shot in the leg by the policemen. Reacting to the incident, the stakeholders disclosed that Kabiru hid behind the orders of the Honourable Minister to settle old scores with a Community of Artists that stood staunchly against the plans of the last Administration to privatize or concession off the Management of the National Theatre of Nigeria.
Mammoud Ali Balogun who first recapitulated on series of moves stakeholders made in the past to halt the outright sale of the edifice noted that stakeholders during Obasanjo’s tenure suggested the engagement of public/private partnership. According to him, “This is a rehash or payback on those who stood against moves by the General Manager of National Theatre Kabiru who utilised the opportunity of the Minister’s directive to destroy shanties within the environment. Artist Village is a part they cannot destroy. The GM is deceiving the Minister as regards what has transpired in the past. Stakeholders should ensure that the demolition and brutality of the Police be addressed.”
Consequent upon the sad incident, the Honorable Minister for Information and Culture who paid a visit to the village, promised the Resident Artists of the NCAC Artists Village that the injured will get support for their treatment in hospital and that those who are legitimate residents will be duly compensated for damage done to their structures. Also, the Honourable Minister confirmed that he only asked Kabiru to demolish shanties at the back of the Artists’ Village along the canal that has been a route for miscreants and not Arts Studios and structures in the NCAC Artists’ Village.”
Speaking on the issue, Nobel laureate, Prof Soyinka said “This is a very sad day. It is a very sad beginning to what we thought was to be change. There is too much of military mentality. Democracy means a humane approach to resolving issues. We must relate with other people like human beings not like disease or dirt,” he said.
Soyinka who stated that the purpose of the press conference was not to apportion blame but to get to the bottom of the matter by finding out who gave the order to demolish the Artists’ village, stressed that the artists must seek to be compensated for the destruction of their works and other belongings and should be prepared to head to court if none was forthcoming from the government.
Renowned Poet, Odia Ofeimun, who ran a dance company at the village said the place had become a kind of refuge for up and coming artists, adding that artists basically built the village themselves and that many of the artists who used the village could not afford the rental cost of commercial venues.
“In this city we need a place like that. I’m happy that Soyinka is here to save that place because the place needs to be saved, for 10 years, I operated a drama dance company that uses a space at the artists Village. Artists Village has for years, become a refuge for artists to brainstorm and rehearse before their final performance. We still need to create another community like the Artists Village It needs to be saved. We need to be careful when they are describing shanties. The dance space built by Felix Okoro is one of the best in the whole world. People should also understand that there is no way an artist will work without splashing paints all over his studio,”he said.
Mufu Onifade, who owned a studio at the Artists’ Village said Mr Kabir demolished the village on the pretext of demolishing shanties and illegal structures around the National Theatre. The Coordinator of the Artists’ Village and an official of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Aremo Babayemi, accused Mr Kabir of settling old scores by ordering the demolition of the Artists’ Village. He explained that the demolition was Mr Kabir’s way of paying back the artists for standing against the concession of the National Theatre.
Babayemi went further to read to the audience, the demands of the victims which are as follows: That the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture makes good on his promise regarding injuries to affected Residents and damages to property.
That temporary accommodation be provided for artists whose structures have been demolished pending compensation and rebuilding of such structures. The offices of the National Film Corporation (NFC) and the Centre for Black Arts and Africa Civilization (CBAAC) at the National Theatre are vacant. We implore the Honourable Minister to use his good offices to relocate the displaced Artists and their materials and works to these offices.
That the Honourable Minister takes active steps to stop Kabiru Yusuf Yar Adua from further preventing the NCAC from carrying out her statutory obligations to Artists and the Arts Community.
That the Honourable Minister should as a matter of urgency, remove Kabiru Yusuf Yar Adua from office as he has become an embarrassment to the current Administration. The Nigerian Culture Sector is already in deep crisis as a result of a lack of leadership and direction from the Public Sector. Kabiru must be prevented from further demonstrating vestiges of misrule which characterized the last Administration.”