Monday, 1 February 2016

Artists’ Village demolition: Artists cry out for compensation

Lai Mohammed

 Presently, some Nigerians are wearing sad faces and feeling that all hope is lost as they gather together on a daily basis, counting their losses after the demolition of their workshops by the Federal Government. 
These Nigerians are professional sculptors, painters, actors, dancers and so on, who have carved niches for themselves in the art world and also trained a lot of artists. Most of them closed from work and went home to go and spend the night and weekend with their loved ones on Friday evening without having any premonition that their place of work would be destroyed the following day, Saturday, January 23, 2016. But when they were alerted by some of their colleagues about the demolition, they ran to the scene feeling dejected, confused and perplexed. Since that day, life has not been the same for them.
The artistes were operating under the auspices of private sector within the premises of  the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), also known as Artistes’ Village, in the National Theatre, Lagos.
Owie allegedly hit by a stray bullet
 Narrating how his training centre was demolished, an artist and the Chief Executive Officer, Create Ur World Agency (a modeling academy that also trains general talents), Mr. Tunde Afolabi, said, on Saturday, January 23, 2016, he was working overnight with a great painter, Mufu Onifade, an assistant director, National Art Gallery, around 5.30 am, one of the resident artists informed him that there was a bulldozer outside the premises. “We all came out. They started from the other angle near the fence, demolishing the security post, the community canteen, sculptors’ studios, dance studio called ‘Gong Beat’ owned by Isioma Williams, a cafeteria and so on. We did not know what to do. The only person I could recognize was the General Manager of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, Mr. Kabir Yusuf, with battalion of some fully armed members of the Nigeria police. We couldn’t do anything. The police were scaring us
away when we tried to look at them. Other artists also came and joined us watched them destroying structures. We have a management. We are operating under here the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) but they didn’t work on Saturday. So I called one of the security officers named Otunba and told him what was happening and he promised to get back to me.”
Asked whether they were given any notice before that day, Afolabi said: “No notice from anywhere, that was why I called the management.” When inquired further whether the demolition was in respect to the notice given to occupants of some buildings within the National Theatre premises he reacted: “In December, the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai
Mohammed, visited us
but some of us were not around, I was in Calabar, Cross River State for Calabar Carnival. Some of my colleagues that were around told me that he said there was nothing like demolition, that we all are one family, that we are his children. I think the Honourable Minister told Yusuf to destroy the shanties within the National Theatre, which are the illegal buildings at the back of the fence where hoodlums hide. But Yusuf came here and destroyed art studios, galleries dance studios and artists workshops.
“When they were leaving and got to the gate, they started shooting at us and in the process, shot an artist, a sculptor, Mr. Owie Smart, and injured two other artists. We felt so bad about the whole situation, so the Minister of Information came later that Saturday and talked to us. He was shocked to see how everywhere was destroyed and told us that everything would be taken care of. He asked us to keep calm.”
On their next line of action, Afolabi said “I voted for the All Progressives Congress (APC) because I wanted a better government and a better society and country, so I feel sad to see a District Police Officer (DPO) shot unarmed professional artists. I campaigned for APC even though I am not a politician. The change we voted for was to see the progress of Nigerians and the arts in Nigeria not the government that will kill the youth and its professionals. In art, there is no structure, that is what we are fighting for. But now, what we are seeing is destruction. I don’t have access to grant in this country. I have been struggling to build my brand for the past 10 years. I have trained over one thousand professional models in the country. I am part of the people who have developed fashion industry in Nigeria. If people including the dancers would be shot by a DPO, this is not what we want. We want the culprits to be brought to justice. We learnt that the DPO came from the Police Station at Oyingbo, Lagos.
Some of Guobadia's works
“This place is not within Kabir’s jurisdiction. It belongs to another parastatal, the National Council for Arts and Culture. What he would have done is to be a friend of this place and we will bring programmes to him. He calls us miscreants and nonentities without knowing that we are highly educated and are employers of labour. I cannot afford to pay millions of naira for rent that is why I am where I pay a token as a service charge here. One of the core duties of NCAC is to promote arts and culture that is why they gave the space to us. No landlord will allow anyone to turn a three-bedroom apartment to a rehearsing centre to avoid disturbing other tenants.”
A sculptor, Mr. Owie Smart, who allegedly sustained a gunshot that day narrated his ordeal and said he had spent about 10 years in his studio in Artists’ Village which was demolished last Saturday. In his words: “If I tell you I know what happened, I am lying because my landlord, which is NCAC that haboured me didn’t give me any notice concerning the event. I left the studio on Friday evening and went home. So on Saturday morning, on my way to meet with an automobile electrician who was going to fix my bus that developed problem the previous night, I received a call from my neighbour. I took a bike and came here. On getting to this place, I saw what used to be my studio and my works all rumpled together. I couldn’t recognize them. The bulldozer was grinding and yanking everything on its path. So I went there to meet Mr. Yusuf who led the team of policemen and demolishers who came from a Chinese company to ask him why he destroyed my works because he is not my landlord. NCAC which used to be a mother parastatal to the National Theatre is my landlord. He kept quiet. While I was asking him, the policemen said they were going to handcuff me and take me away, I told them with what they have done they should cuff me. I left. When they were going, artists were grumbling and crying, nobody attacked them. The policemen got to the gate and started shooting into the village and people were panicking. Is it a crime for someone whose property and means of livelihood have been destroyed to shout? The Federal Government is thinking of how to create jobs but some people are destroying jobs that have been created. I have three daughters and a pregnant wife. Now I have a bullet in my leg because the policemen were shooting into the premises. A lot of people were running, I stood because I know that I could not out run a bullet. I believed that safest bet was to stand so that they would not shoot me but, the man kept pointing the pistol at me. They came with rifles, pistols and so on. I wasn’t a threat to them because the only thing I had on me was my key and phones. The bullet they shot at my leg was their parting gift because the moment they discovered they shot me, they left. That is my story.”
Another victim, Mr. Monday Guobadia, one of the visual artists whose workshop was affected also spoke to Newswatch Times and said it was around 6 am in the morning that his apprentice came and told him that there was a multitude of policemen with other people destroying houses. “Before I could come outside, a caterpillar was by my workshop followed by Mr. Kabir Yusuf. We rushed to carry my artworks and could only rescue a few of them before one of the policemen said to me: “If you don’t come out from there, if you die, you die in vain.” They crushed everything including my tools, refrigerator, radio, fan and artworks.”
The sculptor frowned at the way everything happened and said if they had told him to leave his workshop, he would have packed his belongings and left. “I started crying because I lost my things. I have been here for the past three years. I reside in Iyana-Era, after Okokomaiko, Lagos.” 
He implored the Federal Government and the management of the National Theatre to compensate him for all he lost. “Do they want to send me to go and thief? I train students and apprentices here. I used to do work here, label and display it at NCAC art gallery, but everything is gone.”
Attempts to get Kabir react to the latest development proved abortive because the reporter was told that he had travelled to Abuja on official duty. But a reliable source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said “if you know what is happening there, there is no Minister that would be happy that the creative men are staying there coupled with the rate of insecurity here. In December 2015, it was in the news that hoodlums and armed robbers have taken over the National Theatre, Lagos. They have been reigning terror on people who come for picnicking. Based on that report, the Honourable Minister came here. He summoned us on a holiday for him to see things by himself. When he came, he went round and saw shanties and illegal structures. He gave a directive that the premises should be cleared of shanties and illegal structures. The main building of NCAC was not touched. When you ask them, they would tell you they are paying rent. Rent to who? Who is the landlord of this place? Who is in charge? Did you see any receipt of the National Theatre? How can they say the National Theatre is under NCAC? The other day, they told the Honourable Minister that NCAC is their landlord and he told them that the National Theatre is their landlord while he is their Chief landlord,” he explained.
Some sculptures from the rubbles
The source revealed that some of them have turned that place to a residential place, where activities very immoral are going on. “People are rearing pigs and goats there. You can see boys and girls doing immoral things there. Because that place used to serve as their zonal office, so they are there, meanwhile NCAC has moved to Abuja, but their structures are standing. Since nobody is coordinating here, the person here is just allowing them and collecting money for those receipts they showed you. Those structures they were occupying were illegal ones. The land belongs to the National Theatre,” the source added.
Commenting on the wound on Mr. Owie’s leg, the source argued that he must have injured himself because, “after the whole exercise had ended, he came from nowhere and did everything to create a scene, but it was avoided. We even heard that they kidnapped a policeman but the policeman was rescued from them.”
Reacting to some of the artists’ views that they were ejected because they kicked against the concessioning of the National Theatre and feel the demolition was a way of the National Theater management to get back at them, the source refuted the statement and said “the demolition of the illegal structures is a presidential directive and it was carried out. People think it is the General Manager of the National Theatre that demolished the structures. It is just unfortunate that these things are happening during his tenure. He has nothing to do other than to carry out directives. That’s all. The artists are not the only people who were ejected from illegal settlement in the National Theatre premises, if you go to waterworks area near the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), about 30 families were told to leave. No any incident of sort. The artists claimed they didn’t get any notice to vacate the place, when the Honorable Minister said that illegal structures should not remain there, were they not there? The artists wanted to create a kingdom for themselves there but the Federal Government said no, ‘we want security’. Unknown people throw corpses through the fence into the National Theatre premises all the time so we always remove them. When we put iron gate, they destroyed it so we had to put concrete wall to secure the place.”
Asked whether the artists would be allowed to rehearse inside the main hall of the National Theatre and the source said they have to pay a token for it.
Will the visual artists whose works got damaged in the process be compensated? The source said nobody damaged anything. “When we were dealing with the Ijora end, they were all there. So I believe most of them removed their things.”
It will be recalled that the39-year-old edifice, the National Theatre, Lagos, was inaugurated on September 30, 1976, by the then Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, and was commissioned few months before the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77) in January/February 1977.
Demolished site
In 2001, the then President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo announced plans to privatize the National Arts Theatre and this sparked controversy amongst Nigerian entertainers and playwrights including Professor Wole Soyinka.
Consequently, the immediate past Government’s plan to engage Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the management of the facility was greeted with protests  and outcry after a quit notice was issued to the National Gallery of Arts (NGA), the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN). Many people accused the government of turning the theatre to a hotel, while some people became skeptical, alleging that few people might be interested in building structures in the theatre premises.
On September 20, 2012, the past Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, inaugurated a committee which included the Federal Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Federal Ministry of Works, Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation, Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Committee (ICRC) and the National Theatre.
After advertisements on local and international media on “Request for Expression of Interest (EOI) for the concession of the fallow land around the National Theatre in line with the Master Plan (Nigeria Entertainment City)” through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) in accordance with the ICRC Act 2005 and National Policy on Public Private Partnership, the National Theatre held four (4) Investor Road Shows to shop for reputable local and international investors in four locations in Lagos (Nigeria) on November 6, 2014, London (United Kingdom) on November 13 and 14, 2014, Dubai (United Arab Emirate) on November 16 and 17, 2014 and Johannesburg (South Africa) on December 1 and 2, 2014.
Sources criticized the plan and argued that often times, they would hear that a government has privatized a project or property and few individuals would end up using pseudo names to acquire such property for themselves.
But, Duke, in 2013 debunked that allegation and said that a Transaction Advisor was engaged, to, among others give Transaction Advisory Services for the application of Public-Private Partnership option for the delivery of the necessary services on the land.
He also said that a committee that consisted of representatives of the Federal Ministry of Housing, Infrastructural Regulations Committee and Surveyor General, was set up in September 2012, to look into the possibility of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the management of the facility and revealed that the committee engaged VGL Consultants, a foreign consulting firm, to look into ways of turning around the surroundings of the theatre.
“The theatre ground had empty space with smelly water, which should be rehabilitated and the land turned into a five-star hotel, a shopping mall, offices, leisure spots and car parks. This was designed many years ago, when the theatre was built but because of lack of funds, the plan did not come up,” he explained.
Mr. Kabir was asked if they have made any arrangement for the organisations that were asked to vacate from the premises and he said many of them have submitted letters of “Submission of Nominal Roll” for allocation of spaces where the management earlier planned to make available for them.
Stressing further, he said that the affected offices have their headquarters in Abuja, that the offices they are occupying in Lagos are shanty houses and the land belongs to National Theatre.
“All the structures they occupied in the National Theatre are temporary structures. The government did not wake up one day and decided to build a hotel, shopping mall and a car park at the National Theatre.”
At a press briefing in December in 2014, Yusuf revealed that 11 consortia namely; Resilient Africa Proprietary Limited, CCECC Nigeria Limited, Afrebay U.S.A, Quippo Energy Nigeria Private Limited, Neon Holdings Consortium, Trevari Group, Causeway Project Limited, Calzada Limited, RMB Westport and Chrismichaels Limited/Topwide Apeas, indicated interest to participate in the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Project to provide Five Star Hotel, International Standard Duty-Free Shopping Mall, Multi-level Car Park, Land and Water Recreation Parks, Office Buildings and Facility Management.
He emphasized that, as indicated in the advertisements, the bids were opened on December 22, 2014, in the presence of the companies, the bids were analysed by a team which comprised their transaction Advisers and National Theatre.
The analysis, according to him, was observed by the regulator of the PPP Transactions, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC).
“From the analysis, seven companies were prequalified. They included: CCECC Nigeria Limited, Calzada Limited, Chrismichaels Limited, Resilient Africa, Quippo Energy Nigeria Private Limited, RMB Westport and Neon Holdings Consortium. In the light of above, the seven companies issued with the Request For Proposal (RFP) in continuation of the process,” he added.
After the bidding processes and emergence of the preferred bidder and the reserved bidder, some stakeholders therefore, advised the Federal Government to look into the outcome of bids and ensure that the real preferred bidder is selected.

On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, Mr. Yusuf held a press conference and named Topwide Apeas/Chris Michael Limited as the preferred bidder and Calzada Nigeria Limited as the reserved bidder for the concession of the fallow land at the complex for the provision of Five Star Hotel, International Standard Duty-Free Shopping Mall, Multi-level Car Park, Land and Water Recreation Parks, Office Buildings and so on.
Yusuf, according to reports said the two companies were among the three that submitted technical and financial bids in line with the concession plan and emphasised that the companies were selected after their technical and financial bids were opened and evaluated by a special team, consisting of representatives of the National Theatre and its transaction advisers, BGL Plc, under the supervision of the official regulator of the project the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Committee (ICRC).
Newswatch Times learnt that he said the result has been certified by the ICRC and the companies have been communicated to accordingly. “The next stage of this transaction is negotiation and the preparation of the Final Outline Business Case (OBC) for the approval of the Federal Executive Council, after which the project will commence,” he said.
After the expiration of former President Jonathan’s administration last year, some people thought that the issue of the concession has been suspended, but a source reiterated that, Federal Government’s plan to follow the National Theatre’s original master plan has not been suspended, and added that the plan is a long process that is still going on. “Government activities is not done just in a minute, it involves almost all the ministries. The agreement is going on and almost at the tail end. The Minister has said it that this place would be developed; this national icon would be put into use when those things are there. Hotels, car parks, shopping malls and so on will be built around this fallow land. They have given NCAN, NAN and others notice and they have been given alternative places.”

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