So last weekend in my endless quest to give my kids the "Nigerian experience" (cue moaning and long sighs from back of car) I dragged them off to the National Theatre to show them around. We were lucky as there was nothing happening that day so it was deserted. We were even more lucky to come across one of the theatre's staff who gave us a guided tour of this spectacular but now crumbling edifice.
I was overwhelmed with nostalgia as I used to go and visit the theatre during my hols from school in the States and I vividly remember seeing Third World perform there. Coincidentally Iyawo was at the same show so it would appear she has been stalking me for some time.
As we wandered around this magnificent edifice it was heart breaking to see the state it had been allowed to fall into. The main hall where the shows were held was now a rotting carcass with so any holes in the roof that apparently when it rained outside it might as well have been raining inside. All the electrics had packed up, the electric moving stage was now totally incapacitated and the seats were either broken or the fabric had rotted off them. We had to tread carefully as some of the floorboards had rotted through and one wrong step......
In spite of this it was still breathtaking. Apparently it is spread over 7 floors!! and has several hundred restrooms. Iyawo was very taken (and was keen to take) with some of the beautiful and so solid carved wooden doors that were now literally hanging by a screw or a hinge.
As we went through the wide corridors, up and down the stairs and enjoyed the spectacular views of the neighbouring landscape through one of the balconies of the higher floors the guard continued to fill us in with the history of the place. Apparently it had been built by some Belgians in exchange for oil as we did not have the money to pay them in hard currency. It has its own Police station and Post Office and is located in the exact centre of Lagos to allow equal access from all corners of the state.
However due to a long running dispute between Lagos State and the Federal government over who owned it and who was responsible for maintainance it had been allowed to slowly fall into total disrepair. The good news is that a new administrator has been appointed to start reviving it and already there are some signs of work in progress. Some of the conference rooms are now being rented out for shows (the Vagina Monologues was staged there last week) , weddings and conferences and there apparently is a plan to bring the whole thing back to its previous glory. With its grounds, its vibe, the architecture and the feel of the place it could and should be one of the main tourist sites in Africa. I look forward to that day.
So if you ever have the chance I urge you to visit this piece of national treasure just to have a good look around. The architecture is still very stunning and some of the design effects are just spectacular.
Next week - The National Stadium. These kids will get the Nigerian Experience even if it kills me.