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NIGERIA: Dont sell our national heritage

OUR government has fallen into the “sell it” mode as an all-time cure for national heritages it cannot manage. In this tempestuous mood nothing is sacrosanct.

If not, why would anyone contemplate selling the National Theatre, a piece of our national history, just for the shameful excuse that government cannot manage it? Are those mouthing such idea aware of the place of the National Theatre in our history, our tradition?

The National Theatre was purposefully built to host the Black Festival of Arts and Culture, otherwise known as Festac’77. It was the biggest gathering to celebrate the black man’s culture and spurned a resurgence of pride in black people. Some in the United States, thereafter, began a search for their roots.

It was at the National Theatre that a series of conferences that gave more impetus to the liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe were held. Many national and international performances at the National Theatre established it for decades and created a cadre of young artists and artistes who looked forward to their day at the National Theatre. Someone wants to sell it, turn the place into a hotel, all in the name of commercialisation when arts and cultural institutions around the country do not have a befitting centre?

Abuja in all its false majesty does not have a national theatre, it has no cultural centre. It is unimaginable for anyone to canvass the idea. It is worse still that it is being justified.

Then the National Stadium; we have only two of them, one each in Abuja and Lagos. Their histories include hosting the All Africa Games 30 years apart: 1973 and 2003. The one in Lagos particularly served as the apex of national sports productions, with sports people all over Nigeria drawing their pride from winning laurels there. The Abuja stadium was built with a flourish for a modern city.

Both have been allowed to decay beyond conscionable explanation. Government watched them dilapidate; now it wants to sell them.

The same frenzy for privatisation left us without a national airline, while those we claim to imitate either have national airlines or have ways of supporting their private airlines for they know airlines are vital niches in an economy.

Will anyone contemplate selling London’s Hyde Park that has been open to the public since 1637 or the Royal Festival Hall?  The eight public parks in London cost the government about £30 million (about N7.5 billion) to maintain in 2012 though they generated £18 million (about N4.5 billion) income. Can Americans think of selling the 213-year-old Library of Congress though it cost will $750 million (N166.25 billion) this year to maintain its collections and 4,000 staff?  Will Wembley (the arena or the stadium) be up for sale to become a hotel? What these governments have done is find ways of maintaining their heritages without desecrating them. We seem to have no qualms in our own cases.

The all-time solution the government is proposing for these facilities is like cutting off the head to cure a headache. After the decapitation what happens to arts, culture, sports, and theatre without these facilities? Government only weeks back promised a N3 billion in Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, then it turns around to sell the National Theatre? After the effusive celebrations of the Eagles victory at the Nations Cup, government wants to sell the National Stadium, which should be the team’s home turf? Can we sell the Presidential Villa because of the cost of maintaining it?

Government should find the expertise (yes, even outside government) to manage these facilities and other national heritage. What are we celebrating in Nigeria’s centenary, if we cannot preserve national assets like the National Theatre and National Stadium which are not more than 40 years old? The stadium in Abuja is just 10!

It is important that we do not develop a country bereft of its cultural history in the quest to please those who preach privatisation, while they find ways to preserve — at all costs — their history.

We may not have the resources the other countries have, but with more respect for national heritage, we can find the will to maintain these facilities by creatively generating more activities around them.

The sale of the National Theatre and the National Stadium is not an option in government’s management of national assets.

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