By Cosmas Omegoh
There was tension yesterday in Lagos when security operatives attached to the Special Presidential Investigative Panel on the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP) raided the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, and whisked away four of its top management staff over allegation of diversion and embezzlement of funds.
Incidentally, the incident happened shortly after staff of the National Arts Theatre and the National Troupe ended a rally tagged, ‘Culture must kill corruption before corruption kills culture.’
Daily Sun gathered that the security operatives who came from Abuja were armed with a letter directing the Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Mr Tar Ukoh, to release the four accused directors for questioning. The affected persons, according to a letter dated October 9, 2017 and signed by Sulaiman Abdul, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) for the chairman of SPIPRPP, included Mr Abbe Abiodu, Director, Events and Business Development; Mr Joel Femi, Director Marketing; Mr Alele Nwogbi, Director Engineering Services and Mrs Doris Okafor, Director, Planning, Research and Statistics. The quartet was taken away to Abuja immediately.
Yesterday’s raid took place while some workers from the office of the Head of Service (HoS) of the Federation were busy at the National Theatre reorganising and repositioning the agency for greater productivity, promising that their arrival was not intended to make the staff lose their jobs.
Meanwhile, Ukoh has said that the affected directors who were taken away for questioning over alleged diversion and embezzlement of more than N35million being revenue that accrued to the National Theatre between December 2016 and March 2017.
He revealed that the fifth person (name withheld) being investigated was a former top shot of the organization, who is now a director in the Ministry of Information, Abuja. Ukoh said that aside the money alleged to have been stolen, both the SPIPRPP and the National Theatre were tracing the disappearance of N109m and another N50m belonging to the theatre.
He told news men that the rot he met at the theatre soon after he took over was “monumental” and vowed that he was prepared to ensure that the right things were done in line with the anti-corruption crusade mounted by the federal government.
Earlier, during the rally organised by workers of the National Theatre and the National Troupe, Ukoh said: “I’m here to repair this place; I’m here to structure the National Theatre and make it work for all of us. A situation where money meant for the running of this monument is being diverted, a situation where the theatre is owing N20m as electricity bill is unacceptable; all that must stop. If anyone tries that with me, I will give him a kick in the groin. Corruption is a cancer; it is a dreaded disease in the country at the moment.”
He promised workers of the two agencies improved welfare package, stating that training of staff to make them relevant in the industry was his main priority.
Staff of both the National Theatre and the National Troupe who spoke on the occasion promised to support the director in his efforts to bring sanity to the two offices.