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National Arts Theatre: Home of entertainment

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By Abraham Adekunle

The iconic structure was completed in preparation for FESTAC ’77.

The National Arts Theatre is the primary center for the performing arts in Nigeria. The iconic monument is located in Iganmu, Surulere, Lagos State. Its Construction was completed in 1976 during the administration of the then head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, in preparation for the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) which was held in 1977. The National Theatre can be described as Nigeria’s home of entertainment whose management is committed to achieving its objectives with regard to the presentation, preservation, and promotion of arts and culture in Nigeria.

Since its establishment, the National Theatre has served as a major events venue, relaxation center, and tourist spot for both Nigerians and foreigners. The halls of the theater have served as important venues for historic events, meetings and gatherings. The cinema halls have also been used to present some interesting and breathtaking dramas. The National Theatre offers diverse facilities and innovations which have been integrated into the basic structures so that the halls can be easily transformed to serve required purposes.

The theater’s exterior is built to look like a military hat.

The military government of Yakubu Gowon started the construction of the National Theatre, while the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo completed it. The theater’s exterior was designed, shaped, and built to look like a military hat. Its Main Hall originally has a 5000-seat capacity with a collapsible stage. It has additional two capacity cinema halls, both of which are equipped with facilities for simultaneous translation of eight languages. The magnificent edifice has had a number of management team heads, including Jimmy Folorunso Atte (1991 to August 1999), Prof. Babafemi Osofisan (2000 to 2004), Dr Ahmed Parker Yerima (2006 to August 2009), Kabir Yusuf (2009 to 2016), and more.

The National Arts Theatre was designed and constructed by the Bulgarian construction company, Techno Exporstroy. The theatre resembles the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria, which was completed in 1968. However, Nigeria’s monument is the bigger of the two. The National Theatre has appeared in various media – music videos and films. For instance, filming for the “Keys to the Kingdom” video in Beyonce’s visual album, Black is King, took place at the theater. Also, Burna Boy performed some tracks in his Grammy Award-winning album, Twice as Tall, in front of and inside the building, during the Premiere ceremony of the 63rd Grammy Awards.

The National Theatre held some events of FESTAC ’77.

The National Theatre, Lagos was constructed in preparation for FESTAC which was held in Lagos in 1977. The festival is known as the Second World Festival of Black Arts, or Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture. The first was the First World Festival of Black Arts, or World Festival of Negro Arts. It was held in Dakar, Senegal in 1966. The festivals were planned as Pan-African celebrations, and ranged in content from debate to performance, particularly dance and theater.

FESTAC ’77 was held in Lagos, Nigeria from January 15 to February 12, 1977. The National Theatre hosted some of the events, which showcased to the world African music, fine art, literature, drama, dance, and Religion. Artists who performed at the event, some at the National Theatre, included Stevie Wonder from the United States, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago, Les Ballets Africans, South African Miriam Makeba, and Franco Luambo Makiadi. At the time the event was held, it was the largest pan-African gathering to be held. This definitely made the National Arts Theatre more popular, such that the theater cannot be mentioned without reference to FESTAC ’77.

Sold to the highest bidder amidst national outrage.

President Olusegun Obasanjo announced plans in 2005 to privatize the National Theatre. This sparked national outrage from Nigerian entertainers and literary icons. One of them is Wole Soyinka, Nobel laureate. He said, “You can liken this to a horrendous fate suffered by the black race, pauperized and victimized by public office holders who transform power into an instrument of repression and oppression. Privatization of the theatre can go haywire and I’m totally against it.” On December 30, 2014, the Federal Government announced that the National Theatre has been sold to a Dubai-based conglomerate for a sum of $40 million.


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