Each administration in the Fourth Republic is accustomed to the desire to sell public assets in order to rake in funds to finance its activities. There is nothing basically wrong in doing so. But including our historical monuments among assets to be sold is irrational. Globally, cultural monuments and natural sites of global importance are preserved for future generations.
The Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, hinted at the House of Representatives Joint Committee meeting on the 2018 budget last month that the Tafawa Balewa Square and the National Arts Theatre, both in Lagos, along with some electricity plants under the National Integrated Power Projects would be transferred to private hands.
No doubt, the NIPPs are ripe for such transaction. The non-performing four petroleum refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna; and the Ajaokuta Steel Company ought to have been enlisted, instead of the TBS and the theatre, which are clearly national monuments. It was at the TBS on October 1, 1960, that the British Union Jack was lowered, and Nigeria’s Green, White, Green flag was hoisted to signal the birth of a new nation or political independence.
Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, with the National Theatre, Iganmu, as its iconic legacy. A total of 56 nations featured in the FESTAC ’77 cultural carnival that show-cased the best in black people’s arts, literature, music, religion and dance. Senegal had hosted the premier event in 1966.
That edifice at Iganmu is a culture asset that should be well-managed to serve Nollywood and the music industry, given their significant contributions to Nigeria’s rebased Gross Domestic Product of $510 billion in 2013. These sectors are job creation mills for the teeming unemployed youths, where the real and public sectors have performed woefully. Selling the complex will amount to utter disdain for Nigeria’s cultural heritage, history and essence of the black race.
Lack of a sense of history explains why the Federal Government demolished Herbert Macaulay’s one-storey residence on Lagos Island, recently, to make way for the expansion of the General Post Office. This contrasts sharply with the preservation of the house where the German classical music genius, Ludwig van Beethoven, was born in 1770 and lived before he moved to Vienna, Austria.
Our important monuments are either demolished or are not properly maintained, including Lord Lugard’s colonial vestiges at Zungeru and Lokoja. The Northern and Southern Protectorates were amalgamated in Zungeru town in Niger State in 1914 by Lugard, as the colonial Governor-General, to become the political entity known as Nigeria. Media pictures show Lugard’s residence in ruins. In civilised parts of the world, the house would have formed part of tourism assets and the study of history.
This is the case in developed societies. In Germany, for instance, visitors throng Adolf Hitler’s concentration camps, where about six million Jews and other minorities were murdered, as part of their history lesson. In January 2016, Germany’s Minister of Culture, Monika Grutters, welcomed the five millionth visitor to the Berlin Holocaust memorial. The Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden and George Washington Bridge, all in the United States, have not ceased to attract and amaze millions of visitors because of their historical relevance and appeal. The City of London dates back to the Roman Empire so there is no shortage of historic attractions to visit. Dating back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest, one of the most impressive and iconic attractions, and one of the most important London landmarks, is the Tower of London.
There is overwhelming evidence that national monuments help power local economies. Turkey’s 325 museums and ancient sites attracted 28.45 million tourists in 2015. Among the monuments visited is Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine Christian basilica, built in the 6th Century AD, but was transformed into a mosque in the 15th Century, when the Turks conquered Constantinople. It is no longer a mosque, but preserved as a historical monument. Countries such as Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Tanzania, Tunisia and Ethiopia reap bountifully from tourism based on preserving their past.
National monuments not only protect historic places, they promote the economy, too. The main factor in the choice of destinations by many tourists is the presence of the historical monuments in the area that will be visited. It is not for nothing that UNESCO commits millions of dollars to acquiring and maintaining world heritage sites globally. In the interest of preserving Nigeria’s historic landmarks, the Tafawa Balewa Square and the National Arts Theatre should not be sold.a