For the most part of 30 years in which Nigeria’s foremost culture edifice, National Theatre, has been in comatose, government has lost over N300 billion.
The 5,000-capacity main bowl has not been put to use since 1992 due to structural errors. The other halls run skeletal services at best, with most of them as non-cultural or artistic events. Organisers of artistic events have since shifted to other well-maintained venues.
The government has continued to incur overhead costs in terms of salaries of staff of both the National Troupe of Nigeria and the National Theatre. “A source close to the operations at the facility put the overhead expenses on the National Theatre within the last one year (although not regular) at N18 million monthly, and N4 million for National Troupe of Nigeria. This has, however, stopped to be regular in the last two years, but whenever it comes, the two establishments get that much,” the source disclosed.
In spite of the monthly allocations and monies collected from the few event organisers and patrons, the edifice has been in total darkness for most part of 2017. It is currently experiencing a blackout because it owes N20 million electricity supply debts.
Notable filmmaker, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, has accused managers of the theatre of incompetence for running down the prime venue where he screened his celluloid films alongside Chief Herbert Ogunde and Dr. Ola Balogun in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The main bowl, Ugbomah disclosed, has lost close to N90 billion in about 30 years while the other halls also lost another N200 billion in 18 years. He based his estimates on what he and the late Yoruba film doyen, Ogunde, and Balogun, used to rake in at most weekends for showing their celluloid films. He said while Ogunde, whose Yoruba language films were very popular, made about N5 million most weekends, he (Ugbomah) made about N3 million with his English films like The Death of a Black President, Oyenusi and Black Gold.
Ugbomah noted that the theatre has more halls than any event centre in the country and if well managed, revenues from them could be used to sustain it with reserves sent to government’s coffers.
“There is the exhibition hall, two cinema halls, the banquet hall, the VIP hall, and the 5,000-seater main bowl,” Ugbomah said. “No other venue in Nigeria has this capacity. The main bowl also has a revolving stage, which is rare to come by in most event centres, and this stage has not been used in the past 30 years. Imagine how much money government would be making if 5,000 people pay at least N500 to watch a film or play that would be shown thrice or four times a day?”
Another filmmaker and first president of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Mr. Mahmoud Ali-Balogun (producer of Tangle with Me), spoke in agreement with Ugbomah, but said the financial loss at the National Theatre was unquantifiable given the resurgence in the cinema-going tradition in the past few years in the country.
Mo Abudu’s The Wedding Party grossed N200 million in just 16 days of four weekends in box office earnings in cinema halls that seat only 100 people at a time. Also, AY’s (Ayo Makun) A Trip to Jamaica earned N168 million in less than four weekends. The two cinema halls at the National Theatre seat well over 500 people each at the same time, the exhibition hall well over 800 people.
Ali-Balogun spoke further: “Earnings from cinemas are just one aspect of what can be done with the National Theatre. If you look at what is being done at Terra Kulture, FilmOne House, Silverbird Galleria, and Genesis in terms of raising revenues, I will say National Theatre’s loss is too much, too unquantifiable, and it’s a shame. The National Theatre is like a cultural headquarters. It is a place where you can have exhibitions like fine arts, film shows like cinemas, plays performed and corporate AGMs. Do you know the kind of affinity artists have for that place? But it’s being left fallow right now. It’s just unfortunate. I believe that things have to change. What is responsible for this I don’t know, but I know government is making efforts to make it work.”
Ali-Balogun who said he was not pointing fingers, insisted that something was wrong somewhere: “Why are our national monuments so cursed in terms of functionality? Look at the National Stadiums in Lagos and Abuja, It’s unfortunate. I can’t put a finger to what the exact losses are, but it is huge. It’s not just revenue loss, but employment. When the place is functioning, it’s not just the ministry people I’m talking about. I’m talking about all categories of artists, who should be working there; it was our workplace in those days.”
The General Manager of Terra Kulture, Mr. Joseph Umoibom, noted a lot of cultural events like the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), held last Sunday, could have been staged at the theatre but for its poor management. Eko Hotel hosted AFRIMA instead. Terra Kulture Arena Theatre, which opened as an interventionist theatre space last year, was largely in response to the National Theatre’s continuing failing as Nigeria’s cultural hotspot.
“Eko Hotel charges N8million to N10 million a day,” Umoibom noted. “Even if National Theatre is a little cheaper, it can’t charge less than N5 million per day. In other words, the National Theatre can’t make less than N20 million on a weekend. A lot of other earnings can be made on the sides from food vending around the theatre and the car park. So, you really can’t quantify what is being lost at the theatre. People are being paid for doing nothing in that place, when they are sitting on money.”