Following last Saturday’s demolition of the Artists’ Village at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has asked the Federal Government to hold an open enquiry into the incident and into the various controversies surrounding the national edifice.
Speaking on Tuesday at Freedom Park, Lagos Island during a press conference he called in the wake of the demolition where artists lost works worth several millions of naira, their creative spaces and one was shot in the leg, Professor Soyinka also demanded compensation for all those who suffered losses in the exercise.
Soyinka, who described the demolition as a pre-emptive action by those interested in acquiring the theatre and the expansive land around it for their own selfish interest, said it was time government conducted an open enquiry so that the issue of the National Theatre was resolved.
“There are too many lies, too many proposals; some of them totally fake being bandied around. There is supposed to be a master plan for the whole of that National Theatre area but nobody seems to have seen that plan so we don’t even know what the vision; either official or the potential public partners, we don’t even know what the vision is.
“I think it’s about time all the controversies concerning this structure and its environment is laid to rest in the open, not in caucuses, not in chambers but where we can see, not guess what is the master plan. I know that inevitably because of the amount of damage that has taken place there, it’s going to end in a kind of public-private partnership. That’s ok. But whatever the decision is; let it be taken in the open after all of us have had the chance to put forth propositions about the space,” said the human rights activist who noted that the demolition exercise spearheaded by the management of the National Theatre, brought back memories of the military.
“There is too much of military mentality embedded in some of our people, especially those who are supposed to help us strengthen whatever we consider democratic usage. Democracy means the humane approach to governance, to policy making and in addition, to the execution of those policies.
“The entire idea of using and relating to other people like human beings; not like beasts, rodents, debris and flotsam, to be displaced at will, I think we must begin by getting rid of that mentality by emphasizing and reemphasizing that there are certain ways in which you do not relate with citizenry.”
He said that government must compensate all the artists that suffered losses and that punishment for those who led the demolition and shot Roland Owvie in the leg is equally important to prevent a recurrence.
“We must talk about issues of compensation and if that is not forthcoming the artists must go to court to request for compensation for the destruction of their artistic work. It is about time we stopped the mentality of arbitrary destruction of people’s livelihood however parlous their history may be. That should become unacceptable.”
Also speaking at the news conference, a visual artist, Mufu Onifade, who worked overnight in his studio at the Artists’ Village when the demolition team arrived at dawn on Saturday, said it was led by the General Manager of the National Theatre, Kabir Yusuf.
He said that when he approached Yusuf, who was accompanied by over 40 policemen led by a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in mufti, to find out what the issue was, the GM said he was there to demolish the Artists’ Village on the orders of Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
However, Onifade said the Minister clarified when he visited with the artists later on Saturday evening that he only asked Yusuf to demolish shanties around the National Theatre and not the Artists’ Village.
Popular poet, Odia Ofeimun, also lamented the demolition of the Artists’ Village, disclosing that it came into existence because most of the other venues in Lagos made productions unviable with their huge rental cost.
“The Artists’ Village became a kind of refuge for artists and it was a kind of haven that was necessary. It was the place where we all synergised and it made Lagos the proper workshop for creativity in Africa. We still need a community like that; that place needs to be saved,” he said.
Filmmaker Mahmood Ali-Balogun described the demolition as payback by the management of the Theatre for the artists’ opposition to the planned sale, and later concession, of the National Theatre.
Coordinator of the Artists’ Village, Aremo Tope Babayemi, agreed with him. He alleged that Yusuf was “settling old scores” and that the theatre is in its present state because the manager lacked “cultural programming skills” to make the complex viable.
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