The controversy over the unveiling of a President Jacob Zuma statue in Owerri, the Imo State capital, by Governor Rochas Okorocha has beclouded the main purpose of the visit, which is to promote education for the most underprivileged in Africa. I am confounded that nobody seems to be talking about the education aspect. Instead, a statue, which is there today but may crumble tomorrow, has taken the centre stage. I stand for equity, justice, fairness and good governance. Scarce resources should be utilised judiciously. Is there nothing good in the pan Africanism spirit being promoted by Zuma and Okorocha?
I am confounded that the essence of Zuma’s visit has been lost in the cacophony of criticisms over the statue. People are pouring invectives on both Zuma and Okorocha for choosing to come together to promote what is beneficial to Africa. Criticism is the easiest thing anyone can do. But the bible counsels that when you point one accusing finger to someone, the other four fingers are pointing back at you, meaning that you are not better.
If that be the case, then, criticism should be done with caution. The Jewish lawyer and apostle, Paul, said, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is no one who is perfect, who has no stain, no matter how small it is. Rather than dwell on the frivolity of an erected statue, is it not better that we take stock of the free education project being promoted by Zuma and Okorocha?
Why can’t we assess the importance of the education project and see how it could be expanded and adopted by other leaders in Africa? If Zuma has committed atrocities in his country and yet the constitution still allows him to preside over South Africa, then, who are we to judge him? Why not allow the South African laws to dictate Zuma fate? Is there any amount of lampooning in Nigeria that will change the perception of Zuma?
President Jacob Zuma who landed at the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, for a two-day visit, was received by Governor Rochas Okorocha, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Governor of Jigawa State, Saminu Turaki, former INEC Chairman, Morris Iwu, former Attorney General of the Federation, Adetokunboh Kayode, Chairman of Diamond Bank, Pascal Dozie, Chairman of Zinox Computers, Leo Stan Eke, Chairman, Germane Motors, Jerry Chukwueke and Chairman Innoson motors, among others. These heavy weights aren’t stupid to associate with Okorocha and Zuma if the visit was of no interest to Nigeria.
Zuma was received at the palace of the Chairman, Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, His Royal Highness Eze Samuel Agunwa Ohiri. The traditional ruler, in his welcome address, expressed that Imo people were happy for the visit.
Zuma, in his response, said he was in the state to form a partnership between his foundation and Rochas Foundation College of Africa, in a bid to give education to the underprivileged African children. Shouldn’t Rochas be commended for attracting Zuma to Imo State, Nigeria? The high point of the visit was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Zuma Foundation and Rochas Foundation.
President Zuma used the opportunity to meet with Imo businessmen and women and also visited the Rochas Foundation College of Africa to interact with students from other African countries. Thereafter, he was conferred with the chieftaincy title of “Ochiagha,” the Great Warrior. Some may wonder what made Zuma a warrior. Zuma is a Zulu warrior who fought in the forefront in the anti-apartheid struggle during the dark days in South Africa. He bore the brunt of white minority rule in South Africa and was away in exile to save his life. He may have his failings.
I would like to state, at this juncture, that I am neither a Rochas nor Zuma apologist. I am interested in looking at light and not darkness. We should not allow personal animosity to becloud our sense of good judgment. The two men in question are currently leaders in Africa. They are also human and prone to error. It is wrong to hype their bad conduct but bury whatever good they are doing.
I have deliberately stated that the high point of the visit was the signing of MoU between Rochas and Zuma foundations and not the unveiling of a Zuma statue or the naming of a street after him. Those criticizing Zuma say he is corrupt and has some 783 allegations hanging on his neck. They also say he is there while xenophobic attacks were launched against Nigerians and other Africans. Some even said that he did not pay homage to President Muhammadu Buhari before going to Imo State.
For Rochas, they say he has wasted public funds on a bronze statue that cost N520 million. Some say if at all there must be a statue, it ought not to be Zuma’s but Nelson Mandela, who turned out to be a leading light not only in Africa but the world. They lament that workers in Imo State are being owed salaries and pensions; therefore, it amounts to misplacement of priority to erect a Zuma statue instead of paying the workers.
These points are unassailable. But nobody has said that the free education project of the two leaders is bad. Everyone agrees that education and in this case, free education, for the under privileged, is critical for Africa’s development.
Africa is underdeveloped because of low level of education attainment. Therefore, to my mind, any person, who takes it upon himself to promote mass education anywhere in Africa, should be crowned a hero. In that case, Rochas and Zuma qualify for that honour.
Having said that, of what advantage was Zuma’s visit? Governor Rochas has said that time show the benefits of Zuma’s visit. The MoU will promote education exchange programme in Africa. Already, the Rochas Foundation College Africa has students drawn from 15 African countries. Certainly, more students will benefit from the scholarship as the programme expands.
On the xenophobic attacks, I am inclined to believe that the visit of Zuma to Owerri is capable of ending the menace, as President Zuma takes a new look at the problem. When the president remembers that he was honoured in Nigeria that would show more interest and commitment in protecting Nigerians. We gain everything by making friends but lose everything by making enemies.