Minister appeals for calm after Artistes’ Village demolitions
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Saturday urged artists and other creative professionals at the Artistes’ Village around the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, not to do anything that would undermine peace in the area.
The minister made the plea while inspecting some structures occupied by artists and artistes in the village that were demolished there on the orders of the Management of the National Arts Theatre in the early hours of Saturday. Mohammed said the entire area should be transformed to make the National Arts Theatre and other creative establishments around it a hub of arts that could boost its potential as a tourists` delight.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that actors and other creative professionals around the Artiste`s Village staged a noisy but peaceful protest against the demolition, which was carried out with the assistance of armed policemen, starting from as early as 6:00 am. An artiste, Owie Smart, was allegedly shot in the leg by policemen during the demolition and was still in hospital when the minister visited the area about 4:00 p.m.
“I urge you to remain calm. The last time I came here I said I do not want to see any shanties around here, because such do not add value to this place as an entertainment hub.
“The government is doing everything possible to transform this area and harness its tourism potential.For now there is nothing here. “We are looking for N800million to achieve our goal.So, we should be thinking of how to get the money and not all these issues.
“Please, remain calm and maintain the peace and be sure the government will do everything to support you here,” the minister said.
Tope Babayemi,who spoke on behalf of the artistes in the village and other tenants, said they were surprised by the demolitions as some structures removed were not illegal. Babayemi said the General Manager of the National Theatre, Mr. Kabir Yusuf, had always been harassing artistes in the village. He described the village as the largest concentration of artistes and artists of different specialisations in Africa, and urged the Federal Government to help protect the status jealously.
“This is the only village in which artists/artistes, sculptors and other creative professionals can be seen in one place in Africa. So, this is a hub.
“We drive the local economy here and we are recognized internationally.
“These people came as early as 6.am to demolish our structures — most of which have documents.The Nigerian flag is standing here. “They did not respect it. They pulled down our structures and shot one of us,Ovie.
“This is why we are protesting. They want to kill this place. We are appealing to you, the Minister, to protect us.We are part of your change agenda. We need your protection,” he said.
Earlier, the General Manager of the National Theatre told the minister that the demolition was done to restore sanity in the area which he said was fast becoming a jungle. He said the people in the area were properly notified of the demolition of the structures he described as ‘shanties’ and were given enough time to remove their valuables.
“We gave them enough time to remove their valuables. We removed all the beer parlours. Nobody was shot when we were there. The police can confirm this,” he said.
Attempts to confirm the alleged shooting were, however, unsuccessful.