Burna Boy at the National Theatre Lagos

If you happened to watch the 63rd Grammy Award Presentations last night, as a Nigerian, you would have been proud.

Burna Boy won for best Global Album (Twice As Tall) and Wizkid won Best Music Video for (Brown Skin Girl).

Two African Giants representing for Nigeria and the entire African continent. Burna’s epic performance was shot at one of Nigeria’s most famous landmarks – the National Theatre lagos.

Wiz and Burna courtesy Voyages Afriq

Burna’s performance began with sweeping drone shots that slowly brought into the picture the famous theatre. Outside at the base of the structure, a choir in all white was singing the intro to “Level Up” and Burna was seen crouched in the foreground before he sprang up to sing.

Burna’s Grammy Performance

Coloured dye poured out in the background and was a stark contrast to the white building and the grey overcast Lagos day. The imagery was striking and the performance creative and the use of the famed National Theatre as a backdrop was genius. What else says “Nigeria” like the National Theatre in Lagos?

Watching the performance we couldn’t help but notice the condition of the National Theatre, Lagos. While the imagery and video were cool and creative, those with sharp eyes and a knack for real estate quickly could see that this impressive building had seen better days.

The roofing material is dilapidating, the paint is peeling and dirty, the grounds are a complete mess. But it is apparent that this was once a masterpiece in design and purpose.

Erected in 1976

The National Theatre Lagos was finished in 1976 in preparation for the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) which was held in 1977. The edifice was built by a Bulgarian construction company (Techno Exporstroy) which designed the theatre after the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna, Bulgaria.

The building was designed to resemble a military hat with its sloping roof that is held up by vertical mullion likes bars that rise to the top. There is a promenade that wraps around the base of the building where people would queue up and stroll before entering.

Theatre grounds in disarray

The theatre seats 5,000 in the main hall and features a collapsible stage, and has two ancillary cinema halls, and was designed to host international events, conventions, festivals, and boxing matches.

The National Theatre Lagos is arguably the most prominent and recognizable landmark in Nigeria. It was once truly a symbol of pride and a tourist destination, a place that could rival any convention centre in the world… “could“.

What Happened to the Theatre?

Years of neglect happened. Any building or structure will surely decay if left to sit and rot with no maintenance or investment to keep it up. Our government did not take the necessary steps to fund the building to keep it in good repair – this is a shame.

To let the countries most famous and revered landmark slowly rot before the entire nations eyes, is sad. Granted, we have bigger fish to fry in the country that can barely feed its own people or provide light and potable water to the masses, but surely there were some budgetary allowances to do some repairs to this once beautiful structure.

There is never a lack of resources to build fancy mansions and hotels that are owned by politicians, or the fleets of private luxury cars that shuttle them to fancy vacations, but who are we to talk about priorities.

Courtesy Business Day
Courtesy Business Day

What is Next for the Theatre?

There has been a lot of chatter about renovating the National Theatre Lagos to bring it back to the international standards that it once held. In a recent report, the Minister of Information and Culture (Lai Mohammed) transferred ownership of the theatre to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which is supposed to fund and implement the repairs in the next couple of years.

We hope that these efforts come to fruition so we as Nigerians can be proud to point to, and hold world-class events in the beautiful, famous, and prominent National Theatre, Lagos.

Roman Kingsley

Journalist based in the United States and Nigeria, focusing on Real Estate Development and the stories emerging in and around the built environment.

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