The Senate on Wednesday called on the federal government to stop the planned sale of the National Theatre and Tafawa Balewa Square, both in Lagos state.
The lawmakers while adopting a motion by Fatimat Raji-Rasaki, Ekiti-PDP, described the move as a threat to national identity.
News of the planned sale filtered in when the Director General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, said that TBS, the National Arts Theatre and some selected power plants under the National Integrated Power Projects are part of the key national asset the federal government has concluded plans to sell to finance the country’s annual budgets for the next three years.
Leading the motion against this move, Mrs. Raji-Rasaki said the institutions and structures are historical landmarks and serve as symbols of Nigeria’s nationhood, and thus, should not be sold off.
“The Senate is concerned that Tafawa Balewa Square represents the landmark on which Nigeria got the instrument of nationhood at a ceremony on the morning of 1st of October 1960 when the Union Jack was lowered and the Green-white-green National flag was raised and hosted.
“The Senate need be informed that the final symbol of transfer of power from colonial rule to independence took place at the Tafawa Balewa Square Lagos. Therefore, instead of disposing this edifice to private use, the Federal Government can look for other alternative source of developing the Tafawa Balewa Square into an attractive profit making tourist centre. The TBS is a threshold of our new life as Nigerians which should not be disposed.”
Speaking in support of the bill, Shehu Sani, Kaduna-APC, advised potential buyers to build similar structures instead of laying pressure to get them sold.
“It is very clear that there is pressure on the federal government to dispose of these monuments; but these monuments are part of our soul, as they are part of our history. Those who wish to buy such properties are at liberty to build their own and not to auction such a very important aspect of our history.
“These are monuments, if we can commit resources, time and energy to bring them back to shape, they are very much tourist attraction for our people and those who are coming to Nigeria.”
Dino Melaye, Kogi-APC, warned the federal government against toeing a wrong path in privatising the national monuments.
“Mr. President, it is pathetic that as a nation, we want to re-write our history in the wrong direction by privatising those historical and cultural edifices that explain the history and heritage of our nation.
“From antecedents, we have seen in this country that our national institutions are being sold for less than 10 percent of their worth to friends and cronies of those in power.
“Places with historical value, places with historical heritage must be preserved for generations yet unborn. And if they decide to go ahead Mr. President, some of us will lead Nigerians to the street to resist this.”
The Senate, therefore, urged the federal government to, as a matter urgency, stop the planned sale of the TBS and the National Theatre. It also asked the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to immediately develop the two into a viable tourist attraction for the country.
The lawmakers also mandated the committee on culture to identify all buildings that could be classified as national monuments and report within one month.