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National Theatre: Are FG, CBN, NBC unaware of concessionaire before planning redevelopment?

Rewind to when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Bankers Committee (NBC) unveiled their joint plan to revive the National Theatre at Iganmu, Lagos, with about N25bn at the 11th Bankers Committee retreat in Ogere, Ogun State, on Saturday, December 14, 2019.

At that event, the Governor of CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele said “What the Bankers Committee is doing is to help to revive dead assets, or an asset that is dying that cannot be able to generate its potential and revenue as a result of lack of funds and good maintenance.”

Besides, earlier in 2019, after receiving the approval of the Federal Government to take over the assets, the CBN and Bankers Committee had disclosed that their plan was to develop a 40- acre Creative Industry Park around the National Theatre.

Definitely, they planned to give it a facelift and reopen the touring potential the National Theatre offered during the FESTAC ‘77.

It appears that all the above happenstances were going on without a clear briefing that there may have been a concessionaire even though the company may have not made its redevelopment plan public.

CBN Emefiele 77
CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele

However, shortly after touring the complex with the aim of taking off proper redevelopment and construction activities by the CBN, Lagos Government officials and officials of the Bankers’ Committee, the unexpected court action appeared possibly from the blues even though claims so far prayed in the court are still subject to determination.

Otherwise, a company, Topwideapeas Limited, apparently standing as the concessionaire and by its claims, the current owners of the complex has dragged the CBN and Bankers Committee to a federal High Court in Lagos in a N1.26 trillion lawsuit on the controversial National Theatre edifice.

This, according to investigations by Business Hilights remains the key obstacle in the planned takeoff of redevelopment activities planned for the first quarter of this year.

At the recent resumed hearing of the matter and due to the inability of the plaintiff to serve defendants in the substantive suit, trial Justice Ayokunle Faji ordered the plaintiff, Topwideapeas Limited, to serve the writ of summons and statement of claim via DHL courier service and also by publication in a national newspaper.

Access B H Wigwe
GMD of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Herbert Wigwe. Set to become the chief executive of Africa’s largest bank

The court also ordered that hearing notice for an interlocutory injunction to restrain the defendants from interfering with the plaintiff’s rights as concessionaire of the fallow land adjoining the National Theatre should be served on the defendants, while the substantive motion was set down for hearing on March 10, 2020.

Business Hilights gathered that among the defendants to be served by substituted means are Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Minister, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture & National Orientation, Attorney-General of the Federation and Central Bank of Nigeria as second to fifth defendants.

Justice Faji gave the ruling after hearing Mr. Chijioke Okoli (SAN) argue a motion ex-parte for substituted service on the defendants.

Other defendants in the suit are National Theatre & The National Troupe of Nigeria Board, Access Bank of Nigeria Plc and its Managing Director, Mr. Herbert Wigwe, as first, sixth and seventh defendants respectively.

Details of the suit seen by our correspondent showed that Topwideapeas Limited is seeking among others a declaration that the plaintiff has a valid and binding contract for the concession of the fallow land surrounding the National Theatre Complex in terms of the updated draft concession agreement between the Federal Republic of Nigeria (represented by the first and third defendants) and the plaintiff, the approval of the Federal Executive Council being a mere formality in the circumstances.

National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos

Also, the plaintiff prays for a declaration that it is unlawful for the fifth to seventh defendants to purport to truncate and nullify the plaintiff’s right as the concessionaire of the fallow land in and about the National Theatre Complex Iganmu, Lagos, by inducing the breach of the plaintiff’s contract with the first to third defendants or by any other means.

Topwideapeas Limited is also seeking the court to declare that it is contrary to public policy and constitutes a misappropriation of scarce public funds for the fifth defendant (CBN) to divert public funds towards any project concerning the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos, when the plaintiff and its partners and privies have mobilised local and foreign private investment into developing the complex and surrounding land into a grand mini-city on a scale entirely beyond the legitimate capacity of the fifth defendant.

Additional orders sought by Topwideapeas Limited include but not limited to “an order of perpetual injunction stopping the defendants and their agents/privies from interfering or/and doing anything whatsoever inconsistent with the plaintiff’s right as the concessionaire of the fallow land in and about the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos.”

“An order directing the first to fourth defendants to take the necessary steps to ensure the prompt handover of the fallow land in and about the National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos, to the plaintiff and its partners and agents for commencement of construction of the projects planned under the concession agreement.”

Added to the above prayers, Topwideapeas Limited seeks the court to award N1 billion damages against the sixth and seventh defendants, Topwideapeas is seeking an award of N50 million as cost.

The matter was adjourned to today, March 3, 2020 on the condition that the substituted service must have been achieved.

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