Sharjah’s Mulk Holdings, a diversified UAE-based business conglomerate, has announced its entry into the retail sector in West Africa through a $40m joint venture to develop Nigeria’s National Arts Theatre in Lagos into a duty-free shopping centre in partnership with the Suzanne Group.

“The interior of the National Theatre will be redesigned and renovated into a modern duty-free and retail shopping mall. The project will convert approximately 30,000m2 of the existing space in two 15,000m2 phases,” said Kabir Yaradua, CEO of the National theatre.

Ambassador of Nigeria to the UAE, HE Bashir Yuguda, said: “The National Theatre has been the hub of cultural activities in Nigeria since its establishment in 1976, and this development will compliment and kick-start a master re-development programme designed for this area.”

The National Arts Theatre was originally built for the Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977, and later underwent a controversial privatisation after 2001 under President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Fresh plans further anticipate leasing the land around the theatre in a 30-year concession.

Minister of Tourism, HE Edem Duke, noted: “As part of the continuous drive to promote culture and tourism, the federal government is making necessary arrangements to transform the land into a modern mixed-use commercial and business hub of global standards.”

Arif Hafiz, MD of Suzanne Group, praised the “milestone contract” Mulk Holdings as “one of the major global business groups in the UAE”, while Shaji Ul Mulk, chairman, Mulk Holdings, elaborating  on the details of the project, noted that is expected to be completed in 2016.

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“Mulk Holdings is adopting aggressive strategies to expand its core business, involving serious investment into existing businesses and diversification into sustainable industries,” Ul Mulk added.

According to a report by audit firm Ernst&Young, Africa’s retail and consumer sector received about 17% of all foreign direct investment that came into the continent in 2013.

Mulk Holdings and its joint venture partners own and manage a group of 20 companies with a sector focus on construction and fit-out manufacturing, as well as diversified business interests in trading, commodities, real estate and energy, spread across 48 countries.

Based in Dubai, the Suzanne Group caters to duty free shopping outlets in international airports and seaports, and is a registered supplier of services to the offices of the United Nations.