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Cloud of crisis over National Theatre renovation

Crisis looms over a proposal to renovate the decades-old National Theatre in Lagos after at least three investors have raised concerns about being schemed out…

Crisis looms over a proposal to renovate the decades-old National Theatre in Lagos after at least three investors have raised concerns about being schemed out of the project.

Two companies, Top Wide Apeas and Jadeas Trust, have already gone to court over the facility, and a court hearing is slated for October 29.

Last week, another firm Caldaza, wrote the Central Bank of Nigeria demanding “full compliance with” the terms of a concession bid on the National Theatre going to back to 2015.

It came days after the information and culture ministry handed over the facility to the Central Bank and the Bankers Committee in a N25 billion deal to renovate the monument.

The National Theatre is designed after a military hat, surrounded by stretches of lawns, lakes and recreation facilities

Monument not living up to its bill

The National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos is a monument to art that goes back to the 70s. It was completed in 1976 just in time for the Festival of Arts and Culture, popularly known as FESTAC.

Its design is in the fashion of a military hat. Works or art make up its walls carving and décor.

Lawns, lakes, shrubs, trees, sculptures surround it.

It is venue for musical and performing-arts concerts, constantly hosting artists and curators visiting the museum.

It has been called “educative for children, a place of history and an architectural masterpiece”.

In its heydays, the National Theatre was a draw for events and performances, packing crowds simultaneously into different halls

Collections by the National Gallery of Modern Nigerian Art are housed in a section of the building.

But it has not seen any major renovation in the last 40 years. In its current state, it was not “living up to its billing,” information and culture minister Lai Mohammed said in a statement early July that’s marked a turning point in the history of the theatre.

It was on the day the government handed the monument over to the CBN and the Bankers Committee in a N25 billion renovation deal to be funded by a public private partnership.

Highly contested bids

It is the first time a major renovation has been considered for the complex.

In 2012, the government engaged a transaction advisor BGL Plc to facilitate a concession for the complex.

The concession got more traction in 2013 after an approval by the Federal Executive Council, and more solid base for PPP.

The PPP arrangement was “strategy to redevelop the National Theatre, restore it to its past glory and generate revenue for government”, according to documents Daily Trust has seen from 2015.

In addition, the government proposed to inject N144 billion in physical infrastructure.

It was in consideration of fallow land around the theatre—a vast 134 hectares of land in need of use.

The masterplan was for “Nigeria Entertainment Centre”—a sprawl of real estate that would include complimentary facilities as a five-star hotel, an international-standard shopping mall, multi-level car park, land and water recreation parks, office buildings and facility management.

In December 2017, seven out of 10 firms were pre-qualified and issued request for proposals. They put in their bids, and two were chosen with the best bids.

Caldaza, a firm based in Lagos, was chosen as the “preferred bidder; Chris Micheal/Topwide Apeas was chosen as the “reserve bidder”.

Then minister of tourism, culture and national orientation Edem Duke wrote the presidency, under Goodluck Jonathan, to grant “anticipatory approval” to both bidders.

In another letter dated 15 May 2015 Duke, Caldaza received notification of its selection as preferred bidder.

It was to expect a formal letter of award of concession after the final ratification by the Federal Executive Council, followed by a “final negotiation and execution of concession agreement”, prompt payment of signature bonus and mobilization to site.

It was informed the President had accepted to perform “ground breaking” at the site on 21 May and to have a representative at the event.

By 7 December, Caldaza and Top Wide Apeas signed a memorandum to consolidate their separate bids. Fidelis Anosike stood for Caldaza; Senator A Okonkwo stood for Top Wide Apeas.

Caldaza it went ahead with work, setting up structures and facilities for the project before the current government came into office and “unilaterally put a wedge” in its progress, the firm’s legal counsel said in its petition to the CBN.

It has spent an estimated $5 million so far, the firm’s counsel Uche Amulu  at Elias Mordi & Co tells Daily Trust.

A page from petition to the CBN, written by law firm Elias Mordi & Co on behalf of Caldaza this July
A page from petition to the CBN, written by law firm Elias Mordi & Co on behalf of Caldaza this July

Gestapo style

Elias Mordi & Co authored the petition on behalf of Caldaza on 17 July to the Central Bank governor. A copy indicating it was received at the security services department of the CBN head office security was stamped 23 July.

“Our client was shocked to learn, upon coming into force of the present government that the project has been taken off her shoulders and given to a third-party company which never participated in the bidding exercise,” Amulu wrote.

“More worrisome is the wave of news and information through print and electronic media that the federal government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bankers’ Committee have concluded plans to take over and indeed taken over, the same project which was duly awarded to our client which was driven out thereof in a Gestapo matter.

“We can confirm the assertion under this head as have learnt of suit No. FHC/L/CS/2932/2019 Topwides Apeas Lted Vs National Theatre and National Troupe of Nigeria Board & 6 Ors pending before the Honourable Justice Ayokunle Faji of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi Lagos,” Elias Mordi and Co, wrote.

Amulu says CBN has made no contact. It is uncertain whether Caldaza wants to pursue the case in court or not.

Page from the memorandum for Caldaza and Topwide to consolidate their bids and detailing how disputes would be resolved
Letter notifying Caldaza of its selection as preferred bidder
Page from the memorandum for Caldaza and Topwide to consolidate their bids and detailing how disputes would be resolved
Edem Duke’s letter requesting presidential grant of “anticipatory approval” for Caldaza and Chris Michael/Topwide Apeas as preferred and reserve bidder respectively
Edem Duke’s letter requesting presidential grant of “anticipatory approval” for Caldaza and Chris Michael/Topwide Apeas as preferred and reserve bidder respectively
2015 document showing Federal Executive Council approval for bidders

The presidency in 2015 moved from Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, and the ministerial cabinet changed. The firms on the docket also changed

“The concession was first given to my client. We swooped into action,” Amulu explains to Daily Trust.

“A new sheriff came in now and chased everybody away. We didn’t even know they had given it to another entity in 2017, and they did to them what they did to us; took it away and now give it to Bankers Committee.”

The Bankers Committee is a forum for the chief executives of commercial banks and CBN department directors, chaired by the CBN governor.

It was represented, alongside the governor Godwin Emefiele and Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, when information and culture minister Law Mohammed handed over the National Theatre and facilities for revamping and development on 12 July, in a ceremony in front of the theatre itself.

Mohammed insisted the monument was a national heritage and not being “ceded”.

Caldaza’s petition to the CBN came days after the handover. After the petition hit the news, the ministry is silent about it.

In response to Daily Trust queries on the matter, CBN’s director for corporate communication, Isaac Okorafor, said the “honourable minister of information and culture should be the person to respond to your question.”

On 28 July, Mohammed spoke on NTA to allay concerns over loss of a national monument to commerce.

It said the renovation was a partnership among the CBN, Lagos State government, and the Federal Government including ministries of information and culture, and youth and sports development.

He said the partnership was opportunity to undertake the project because the paucity of funds wouldn’t have enabled the government do it in 10 years.

Instead the project is expected completed in 18 to 22 months.

Two phases

  • The first phase will see the Theatre restored and upgraded to its “glory days”, estimated to cost N7 billion.
  • It will include upgrade of the main halls, cinema halls, conference hall, banquet hall, press hall and the bar, installation of new seats, upgrade of sanitary facilities, installation of lifts, acoustics and specialist lightings and replacement of air conditioning, lighting and plumbing.
  • The second phase is the development of the adjoining fallow land at N18 billion, to include development of a purpose-built clusters to provide purpose-built clusters to provide world class facilities for Nigeria’s Creative Industry, with the clusters having four hubs: Fashion, Music, Film and Information and Technology hubs.
  • The creative clusters will be supported by a multi-storey parking to accommodate 1,000 cars, a visitors’ welcome centre which will house commercial and retail facilities, as well as administration and management offices.
L-R: Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information & Culture, Deaconess Grace Gekpe; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu; his Deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat and Principal Partner, ECAD Architects Limited, Mr. Ade Laoye, during the official handover of the National Theatre facilities to the CBN and Bankers Committee for revamping and development on Sunday, July 12, 2020.

Caldaza can’t understand how it was kicked off the project.

In its petition, it called on the CBN governor and the attorney-general of the federation to review the steps taken by the “federal government and its agencies” and return the issue in question to “status quo” when it was awarded the concession on the fallow land of the National Theatre.

“We have overtime, searched every available records and cannot find where the selection of our client was faulted by any rightful authority and more worrisome is the way and manner the whole activities are being handled by persons our client cannot identify in the project,” its counsel wrote.

Caldaza declared its “capability, willingness and readiness” to carry, execute and hand over the project in line with agreement in that regard.

The letter was the firm’s seeking amicable resolution and credibility for the process.

But Caldaza has not ruled out legal proceedings in the absence of a resolution, and will decide shortly, according to its counsel.

“We have expended money on that contract. If they don’t want us to continue with the contract, then they pay us what we have spent,” says Amulu.

“That is the appropriate thing anybody expects a reasonable entity, human being or corporation to do. But Nigeria has a way of defying due process.”

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