Governor Rochas Okorocha recently unveiled a huge statue of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in Owerri, the Imo State capital that was allegedly built at a cost N520 million! Erecting the statue elicited outrage and a small riot in Imo State while it elicited condemnation in other parts of Nigeria and mockery from Zuma’s home country. President Zuma personally flew into Imo where he witnessed the unveiling of the giant bronze statue.
The statue was erected at a trying time when most states in the country are finding it difficult to meet up with their basic obligations, including payment of workers’ salaries and paying pension of retired workers. If indeed the statue cost N500m or even half of that, the amount is enough to build many primary health care centres or boreholes. The choice of President Zuma for this honour was also controversial because he faces charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption and has an integrity deficit in his own country. Only last week, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) gave Zuma until Nov. 30 to make submissions before it decides whether to reinstate 783 corruption charges filed against him before he became president. This was sequel to the decision of South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal to uphold a High Court ruling to reinstate the charges against Zuma. They were set aside in April 2009 by the then-head of the NPA, which paved the way for Zuma to run for president later that year. There are calls in South Africa for Zuma, 75, to step down before his term as president ends in 2019.
It was amidst this scandal that Governor Okorocha invited Zuma to Nigeria to unveil a statue. Here too, most Nigerians cannot understand why Okorocha could find no better person worthy of honour than this one. Besides the statue, Zuma was given a chieftaincy title; a road was named after him and Imo Merit Award, the state’s highest award, was conferred on him.
Rather than promote brotherly intra-African relations, South Africans too mocked us by saying Okorocha honoured their president in order to facilitate shoddy deals by Nigerians in South Africa.
Governor Okorocha however hinged the ‘wisdom’ behind erecting Zuma’s statue to an urge for foreign investment even as many wonder how Zuma’s effigy could in anyway facilitate the influx of investors for business and tourism. He said the South-African president was in the state to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Jacob Zuma Educational Foundation and the Rochas Foundation College of Africa. A statement signed by his press secretary, Sam Onwuemedo, expressed anger at the reaction of many people who were displeased with the Zuma project. He specifically attacked PDP, saying the party did not build the state’s image when it had the reins of power.
“The PDP for the 12 years they held sway never attracted any meaningful visitor to the state except PDP NEC members who were coming to loot the state.” He added that if erecting statues would attract patronage, “then, we have no option than to erect as many of such structures as possible. We owe no one an apology. Rochas made a promise to open the doors of Imo to the rest of the world for good and he is doing that and we cannot be deterred by these enemies of our people.”
If indeed this spokesman’s attitude reflects that of his boss, then Okorocha has woefully failed to see the folly of his misplaced priorities. Right now, Zuma’s statue in Owerri is under threat from angry residents who want to pull it down even as armed policemen are currently guarding it. We cannot see how such a controversial monument will attract any tourist or investor to Imo State and Nigeria. We urge the governor to appreciate that he blundered and to quietly take down this wasteful statue.