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History Trivia: National Theatre, Lagos

 

The National Theatre is a monument that stands, these days, as more of a monument. People use it to symbolize Lagos but the real head-scratcher is that it does not do much else than feature in video reels as a symbol of a glorious past.


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Located in the Orile-Iganmu area of Surulere, the National Theatre was the edifice that replaced sprawling villages spanning at least 23,000 square metres in that area of Lagos. It was built in preparation for FESTAC ’77. At the time, the village was earmarked for the purpose because the village was close enough to Lagos.

So the Federal Military and state governments cleared out a few villages in the area and shifted them further out to the Ijora-Badia communes a few miles east. The building project for the National Theatre started under Gowon in 1973 and was finished with Obasanjo’s junta in power in 1976.

The building has a Bulgarian connection to it. The design and construction were handled by Techno Exporstroy- a Bulgarian-Nigerian joint venture at the time. The company was partly owned by Alhaji Sule Katagum. the building was modelled after the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria which was finished in 1968.


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The theatre is, however, much bigger than its Bulgarian cousin. It houses a 5000-seater concert hall and two smaller cinema halls. It also houses a museum/gallery of modern Nigerian art. It is the home of the Nigerian Cultural Troupe.

Onward from FESTAC ’77, the Theatre hosted a great number of concerts and events. Prominent amongst them was the Kool n; Gang and Silverbird’s Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria pageant from the early ’80s.

The under-use became more apparent from the early ’90s when Nigeria’s seat of power moved to Abuja. The area has now become unattractive to promoters majorly because the area around it is not what it used to be.

The location has deteriorated as the canal now emits a pungent odour that does no one any favours. More importantly, thugs have practically taken over the area.

Also, Surulere is not the middle-class gem it used to be. In so far as it is no longer making money or justifying its existence, the federal government has toyed with the idea of selling but the deal fell through during Jonathan’s administration.

On the 14th of February 2021, an MoU was signed between the Bankers’ Committee and the FMIC on the investment plan to revamp the iconic National Art Theatre and build a new creative city at Iganmu. This is supposed to significantly boost the creative and tourism economy of  Lagos in particular and Nigeria at large.

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David Okwara

Some call me David. Others, Emerie. Others, (unfortunate fellows) Biggie. I like to think that I have sense and that is why I write too. Otherwise, I draw and paint and sing (in the bathroom) and love to make people laugh. I love to understand how things work and that’s why I love DIY videos and YouTube of course. Follow me on Twitter @EmerieOkwara

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