Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, on Tuesday in Lagos asked the Federal Government to pay compensation to artists who lost their works and had their creative space destroyed during last Saturday’s demolition of the Artists’ Village at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
The Artist Village was demolished on the orders of the management of the National Theatre.
Artists, who were in the village when the demolition started at around 5 am, claimed that the General Manager of the National Theatre, Kabir Yusuf, guarded by a team of armed policemen, ordered the place to be pulled down without prior notice to the artists.
The artists said they lost properties and creative works worth several millions of naira as Mr Kabir only gave them 15 minutes to move their belongings.
They said they could only salvage a fraction of their work before the grace period elapsed and the demolition commenced
One of the artists was shot by the rampaging policemen in the scuffle that ensued during the demolition.
Speaking during a press conference he called at the Freedom Park in Lagos, Mr Soyinka described the manner at which the place was demolished as reminiscent of the inhumane manner of doing things synonymous with the days of military rule.
“This is a very sad day. It is a very sad beginning to what we thought was to be change. There is too much of military mentality. Democracy means a humane approach to resolving issues. We must relate with other people like human beings not like disease or dirt,” he said.
Mr Soyinka said the purpose of the press conference was not to apportion blame but to get to the bottom of the matter by finding out who gave the order to demolish the Artists’ village.
The Nobel Laureate said the artists must seek to be compensated for the destruction of their works and other belongings and should be prepared to head to court if none was forthcoming from the government.
“We must talk about issues of compensation and if that is not forthcoming the artists must go to court to request for compensation for the destruction of their artistic work. It is about time we stopped the mentality of arbitrary destruction of people’s livelihood however parlous their history may be. That should become unacceptable.
He said the controversy surrounding the National Theatre and the event of Saturday must be discussed in the open so that all interested parties would have a say in the matter.
Popular Poet, Odia Ofeimun, who ran a dance company at the village said the place had become a kind refuge for up and coming artists.
He said artists basically built the village themselves and that many of the artists who used the village could not afford the steep rental cost of commercial venues.
“It was a place where poor artists could start from,” Mr. Ofeimun said. “In this city we need a place like that. I’m happy that Soyinka is here to save that place because the place needs to be saved.”
Mufu Onifade, who owned a studio at the Artists’ Village said Mr Kabir demolished the village on the pretext of demolishing shanties and illegal structures around the National Theatre.
According to him, although the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, confirmed that he gave the directive for the shanties in the National Theatre to be demolished, he did not order the demolition of the Artists’ Village.
He said Mr Mohammed has promised to pay compensation for the works demolished, and that the artists are already taking inventory of what was lost to the demolition.
The Coordinator of the Artists’ Village and an official of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Aremo Babayemi, said Mr Kabir was settling old scores by ordering the demolition of the village.
He explained that the demolition was Mr Kabir’s way of paying back the artists for standing against the concession of the National Theatre.
He therefore asked the government to take the following steps in addressing the issue:
1. That the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture make good on his promise regarding injuries to affected residents and damages to property.
2. That temporary accommodation be provided for artists whose structures were demolished pending compensation and rebuilding of such structures. The offices of the National Film Corporation (NFC) and the Centre for Black Arts and Africa Civilization (CBAAC) at the National Theatre are vacant. We implore the Honourable Minister to use his good offices to relocate the displaced Artists and their materials and works to these offices.
3. That the Honourable Minister takes active steps to stop Kabiru Yusuf Yar Adua from further preventing the National Council for Arts and Culture from carrying out her statutory obligations to Artists and the Arts Community.
4. That the Honourable Minister should as a matter of urgency, remove Kabiru Yusuf Yar Adua from office as he has become an embarrassment to the current Administration. The Nigerian culture sector is already in deep crisis as a result of a lack of leadership and direction from the public sector. Kabiru must be prevented from further demonstrating vestiges of misrule which characterized the last administration.