By Bridget Onochie and Omiko Awa
Tension was high last Tuesday, as the National Troupe of Nigeria; the country’s major promoter of culture through dance, drama and music was prevented from using any of the halls in National Theatre, Iganmu, to hold its induction/ orientation of new artistes.
This made invited guests and the newly recruited artistes, dressed in the nation’s colour and expectant of their induction, to stay several hours in the sun until the organisers decided to carry out the ceremony in the open, when according to sources, all attempts to make the GM, CEO, Kabir Yusuf, to open Hall 2, venue of the event or any other hall failed.
Downcast, the artistes walked back to their hostels, believing the event would never hold. But sensing the effect, organisers quickly called them back to carry out the programme in the open space; in a way that lack the usual glamour associated with events of such magnitude.
Inducting the 36 artistes, 19 from the states, eight female and 11 male and 17 freelancers, seven male and 10 female, selected across the states of the federation, Martin Adaji, artistic director of the Troupe, said, out of the expected 36 artistes only 28 have been accredited. To this end, he called on all stakeholders whose representatives are yet to be accredited to notify them to report at the National Troupe Camp at the National Theatre Complex.
“It’s a National Troupe and every state has a representation; we have carried this campaign to National Council meeting and reminded states to bring in their artistes, so, if you know of any artistes that is from your state that is not yet here remind the person to come and register, he said.
In finding out while such mud should be flung on the face of the body, an angry worker in the National Theatre complex noted, “we have been having problems since Kabir Yusuff came in as General Manager, we have been being paying for our offices and all the services National Theatre have been providing.”
Worried by the situation some media men sought audience with the GM on some of the issues pertaining to the event.
He said, “I’m not aware that the event will take place at the National Theatre and even though, they said, I was officially invited, such invitation should be acknowledged, which I did not do.” He continued, “I am here to generate revenue to the government, I was not invited and National Troupe is a tenant like any other group such as the National Art Gallery, though we share the same board, National troupe remains a tenant. I made it clear to them, when I addressed them, this year that if they want to make use of the hall they should book in advance for it like any other body.”
But the same board established you. “The board does not mean management, we are two autonomous entities; I’m the Chief Executive of the National Theatre while Martin Adaji is an Assistant Artistic Director. The National Troupe is a quasi- parastatal while I’m a full-fledged parastatal. In the recent restructuring I’m made to generate revenue.”
Grieved by the questioning, he asked, “did they not tell you what they did to be locked outside? They know it very well; government gives everybody overhead, my overhead was cut down and theirs was increased, as such, they should be able to pay for common services such as electricity, cleaning, water and others. Government say we should go as individuals to generate fund, my overhead has been cut down and the board has agreed that they should pay certain per cent to augment the expenses incurred in running the complex and they have refused to pay it. And if they don’t pay it, they would not enjoy any facility.”
But for how long has this been on? The GM, informed, “it’s not the case of today, Yerima was paying when he was here. All of last year, they did not pay and we agreed they will pay up this year. January, we sent them a bill, which was not honoured and we are now in March, so they need to pay. We are powered by generator, I buy fuel for N158 per litre and we use 11000 litres for three weeks, if they don’t pay for services where do you think I will get all that money from. The hall was closed because there was no booking.” He continued, “ they are just to pay 35 per cent of the overhead for the services they enjoy in the 18 offices they occupy. In those day, the National Theatre retains the revenue it generates, but now, it’s no longer so, instead we generate and remit to government.”
Asked why he did not consider them bearing in mind that many guests would be invited and it has to do with our national image.
“Don’t be emotional about it. You hit somebody, when he needs you most that is the time he knows you are important. He wrote to say he is not going to pay for common services, if he does not pay he should not use them. And I have reported the matter officially to the Minister.”
“It’s not the issue of national colour or flag; if today, I don’t have money to run this place, you will be the first to point that out to me. I have the responsibility of running the National Theatre and the National Troupe is feeding on me. They are told to contribute and they refuse. Every month I remit my revenue, I don’t keep a dim, what I generate does not come to me; an overhead has been given to me and to them and in his overhead, he has electricity bill, cleaner, water, as well as in mine, but does he pay for any of those things? No,” he stressed.
But from fillers, it appears that the two bodies have some issues to settle which aside from the payment of services includes work time. On this Alhaji Yusuff said, “the official closing time is 4pm and it’s done for safety, so that our property would not be stolen; I mean people would not on the grounds of staff still in the offices come to steal. For instance, the cables to the hall we just renovated were cut off and we do not know who did it. But, I told them to notify us if they have programmes that will keep them late in the offices, so that we provide adequate security. If rehearsals will take them beyond that time, let them fill the event announcement form, which will enabled us to know the halls in use and make adequate arrangement for them in terms of security and other logistics. I made this clear to them that the official time is 4pm.”
But, some say you once used the Mobile policemen to chase staff out of their offices for staying beyond 4pm. “Why are they staying beyond 4pm, when the person that gives you the job said, he does not need your services after 4pm? Tell me, did the police use tear gas on their faces? They should have told you of those that went to cut cables, to sabotage the system.” Cut cables? Were they apprehended? No, but the Police Commissioner invited six of the staff for questioning. Imagine someone cutting the cable of the brand new air conditioning system installed, costing over N70 million. I reported the incident to the Minister and he said we should adhere to closing hour. Though, I was at Abuja for budget defense, when the air conditioning system was vandalised and when I was informed, I instructed they should apply the 4pm closing time as directed by the Minister. I was not even around when the police chased them away. Besides, some of them do nothing at that time.”
Recall, with the advent of Festac ’77 and the entries of different countries of their national dance ensembles or cultural troupes, it was evident that Nigeria needed a formally established cultural troupe that will engage in international tours on behalf of the country and would also be addressed as the National Cultural Dance Troupe of Nigeria.
This led to the approval for establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria at the Council of Minister’s meeting in November 1981. The objective at the time was to enhance the cultural development and artistic creativity of the nation. It was also to establish a national repertory system, which was to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the professional theatre, dance and music practitioners.
By 1988, with the launching of the cultural policy for Nigeria, the National Troupe of Nigeria was formally included in the policy as a formal arm of government. It was initially run as a branch of the performing Arts Division within the Federal Department of Culture under the supervision of the then Sole Administrator of Culture – Col. Tunde Akogun (rtd). During this same period too, government approved the appointment of the late Herbert Ogunde as its first Artistic Director. He was to organise a formal formation of the group.
Chief Ogunde was to also embark on what was later to be tagged “The Ososa Experiment” – This later became the nucleus of the artistes of the National Troupe of Nigeria The objective of the Ososa Experiment was to prepare Nigeria’s representation for the Commonwealth Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and to also convince Government that a group of artistes could be put together, organised and trained for the specific purpose of performance and future representations of Nigeria in both National and International engagements. The success of the experiment thus led to the formal establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria in September 1989. And in 1991, the Troupe haven thus developed was granted the status of a full-fledged parastatal by Decree 47 of October 1991 titled “The National Theatre and National Troupe of Nigeria Board Decree.”
By virtue of being jointly established by the government, the two bodies have a common management board headed by the General Manager/ Chief Executive Officer, appointed by the President, Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces on the recommendation of the Minister and as such are to operate like one — a Siamese twins.
And for government, the midwife, to effect the needed surgery, has to go back to the basis of its formation to review some of it founding laws and spell out the limits of each body. Government should act now, to avert the repeat of the shame passed on the nation at the orientation and induction ceremony of the newly recruited artistes of the National Troupe.