Okorocha and Jacob Zuma’s Statue

TUESDAY WITH REUBEN ABATI, Email: reuben.abati@thisdaylive.com and abati1990@gmail.com



What is it about South African President Jacob Zuma and statues? Two statues in one month- generating controversy from the streets of Pretoria to the streets of Owerri in Nigeria. In the first week of October, a 30-feet monument was unveiled in honour of President Zuma in the North West region of his country. South Africans had opposed the idea of the statue since it was first proposed in February 2017. When it was eventually unveiled, and labeled a monument, the attendant outrage was bitter and loud because it was actually a glorification of Zuma, disguised as a tourist project to preserve the site where Zuma and 45 others were arrested by the apartheid police as they travelled out of the country for military training in 1963.

The Premier, Supra Mahumapelo who commissioned the statue was accused of bad governance and insensitivity. The Zuma statue at Groot Marico has a borehole attached to it, whereas there is no potable water in the city in which it is located. Aggrieved South Africans recommended that the Statue should be pulled down, with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) offering to take the lead. Jacob Zuma is not one of Africa’s most loved leaders despite his having won election twice and leading one of Africa’s most historic political parties; the African National Congress. His Presidency has been scandal-ridden, from allegations of abuse of office to a personal life characterized by much burlesque. The biggest threat to state reconstruction in Africa has been the ego and misconduct of African leaders. Compared to those he succeeded as South African President, it is hard at this point to imagine Jacob Zuma’s eventual place in South African history.

This is the same man that Rochas Anayo Okorocha, the Governor of Imo State in Nigeria has chosen to honour. In the course of a just concluded two-day visit to Imo state, Nigeria, Zuma received the state’s highest honour, a traditional chieftaincy title- Ochiaga (Great Warrior), a street named Jacob Zuma Road, and wait for it- a life-sized statue! Governor Okorocha may not be able to convince anyone that he is not aware of the controversy over the Zuma statue in North West South Africa, and yet another piece of art that showed Zuma scantily-clad. The Premier of North West South Africa, actually wanted a life-size statue of Zuma in bronze, but public objection compelled him to rename the project a monument, but it remains a statue because the only man it celebrates is Zuma, whose obelisk is projected skywards over 6 metres.

Okorocha probably decided to embark on his own project in Nigeria to tell the anti-Zuma South African crowd that if they do not appreciate Zuma, he would be celebrated abroad; after all a prophet has no honour in his own home. The monument in Groot Marico is reportedly a R1.8m bronze structure; the one in Owerri, Nigeria is a N520 million bronze statue, both standing at over 25 metres! President Zuma could not get exactly what he wanted in South Africa, a sculptural piece that was meant to show him in his full height and majesty. He now has it in Nigeria, even if the imbecilic artist did a bad job. Standing in front of that towering Owerri statue, Jacob Zuma must have indeed felt like a giant. In his mind, he must have like Ozymandias said to himself: “I am a god! Go and tell them on the streets of South Africa!”

But his compatriots back in South Africa are not impressed, except may be the compromised South African Presidency which enthusiastically celebrated the deification of Jacob Zuma in a corner of Nigeria. Nigerians and the people of Imo State are unimpressed too. The Owerri statue has only achieved the effect of focusing attention afresh on the shortcomings of the two men at the centre of the drama: President Zuma and Governor Okorocha. “Instead of a statue”, wrote one South African, “Nigeria can keep the real thing”. Well, we don’t need your President. We have our own and nobody has erected a giant statue of his. Another South African wrote: “It’s only fair that Nigeria built a statue of Zuma. After all, under his leadership, we took in a million of their citizens”.

Point of correction, sir: Governor Okorocha, not Nigeria, built the statue with public funds. You “took in a million Nigerians?” Or South Africans killed hundreds of Nigerians due to xenophobia? Your statement is actually part of the reason Nigerians are angry: why honour a man under whose watch South Africans are killing Nigerians in South Africa? If you must know, like your Premier of the North West, Governor Okorocha has been accused of wasting public funds on a statue of the South African President when Imo state teachers and pensioners are being owed salaries and arrears for months.

To worsen matters, Governor Okorocha is setting up in Owerri, the equivalent of a political Jurassic park. Alongside Zuma’s statue are other statues, draped in national colours of Nigeria and other African countries. My personal worry is that when those other statues are unveiled, we may just discover that Governor Okorocha has included in this emerging park, statues of himself and his wife! African leaders who erect statues are ever so tempted to erect one or two of their own. Okorocha may even one of these days have a brain wave and erect a bronze statue of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe on Nigerian soil. You have your Zuma. We have our Okorocha.

He has tried to justify the present gaffe but his explanations sound hollow and false: “We in Imo State have chosen to identify with this great leader who meant well for his people…” We? Which we is Okorocha referring to, please? Did the state House of Assembly deliberate over the decision to establish a political Jurassic Park in Owerri? And who discussed and approved the honour’s list? We? Is Mr. Okorocha referring to his own sycophantic State Executive Council or the local government staff called traditional rulers who gave Zuma the title of Ochiaga? Many Nigerians in fact believe that Nelson Mandela’s statue would have been preferable, especially as Governor Okorocha praised President Zuma as “a great leader who meant well for his people, who had to toil, struggle and fight for the liberation of his people, not minding the consequences thereafter. This to me is courage. This to me is strength of character…” Who are the brainless speech-writers penning these cliches? Nelson Mandela is the one whom these words best describe. President Zuma is the one the South African system is accusing of Constitutional violations, 783 corruption allegations and wanton abuse of the people.

The Governor in the long run pretended that there was something positive out of the entire show. In a press statement, we are told: “President of South Africa, Mr. Jacob Zuma has said that a South African must not kill a Nigerian and a Nigerian must not kill a South African, adding that the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa should be stronger than any other part, for the sake of the continent of Africa.” Nobody should kill anybody, Nigerian or South African, in the first place. Murder is inexcusable. Xenophobia defeats the goals of African integration. President Zuma is very adept at telling people what they want to hear. What did he do while South Africans killed Nigerians under his watch? How many South Africans have been convicted for promoting xenophobia and taking the laws into their hands? What has President Zuma done in concrete terms to promote bilateral relations and people-to-people diplomacy between our two countries? Governor Okorocha may have been trying to be a good host but to import a bronze statue of President Zuma, which South Africans rejected, and then physically implant him on Nigerian soil is an insult and overkill!

Mr. Okorocha is of course, a master of the overkill. He does everything, good and bad, with the same level of enthusiasm. When he followed President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States in 2015, and got a sideline chance to shake the hands of President Barrack Obama, it became what seemed like the biggest event of his life. Billboards of him and the two Presidents suddenly started popping up all over the state capital with the inscription – “Behold the new faces of change”. How? Please, how does a mere handshake with Obama translate into change in Nigeria? In a particular billboard showing Okorocha and President Obama, he is described as “a true Igbo leader”. The same Okorocha who cannot even say a kind word about his own brothers who are asking for equity and justice for all Igbos? He was also once accused of naming a government building after his own daughter, that daughter’s husband is reportedly a member of the Imo State cabinet. When the Governor turned 55 recently, 27 women representing the 27 local governments in Imo State serenaded him with 27 cakes as gifts. Okorocha obviously has enough cake to last him till he leaves office, but he should be careful because too much sugar is not good for anybody’s health.

This same Okorocha -when journalists asked him to publicly account for the state’s revenue and expenditure since 2011 when he assumed office, he threatened to deal ruthlessly with the journalists and chase them out of Imo State. President Zuma and Governor Okorocha obviously have a lot in common. They both love entertainment. They both think they are smart. They both don’t like criticism. They consider themselves very good politicians. They both like to be celebrated too. On this latter score in an official citation, Okorocha is described hyperbolically as a “Professor of Philanthropy!”

But I must pause a little, here, to say this. I don’t have any personal axe to grind with either President Zuma or Governor Okorocha. I am in fact aware that Okorocha has been described by Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana – “Grand Counsellor of Imo State” – as “a gift to humanity”. Of him President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chairman of the Rochas Foundation, has also said: “Rochas does not only love education, he has passion for the education of the underprivileged… I doff my hat for him for his great strides in education.” President Obasanjo made this statement at the 10th graduation ceremony of the Rochas Foundation Colleges. In 1998, Okorocha established the Rochas Foundation to provide free education to the children of the “poorest of the poor”. President Jacob Zuma has a similar Foundation known as The Zuma Foundation. This is what brought the two men together in the first place. President Zuma visited Nigeria to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the Zuma Foundation and the Rochas Foundation. He spoke about the need to support the African Child.

Between 2011 and now, the Rochas Foundation has established a total of five colleges – 2 in Imo state, one in Ibadan, one in Jos, and one in Kano. Tagged Project #55555, this free education programme, targeting orphans and the displaced, has reached about 15, 000 children from 55 African countries. The students’ population at the Rochas College in Kano alone is over 500. In the course of his visit to Nigeria, President Zuma interacted with Rochas Foundation students. Both men claim that they are determined to give to the African child, the same privileges and opportunities that they could not have, in the belief that it is better to use one’s achievements to raise the underprivileged. Zuma is a man of little education. Okorocha used to sell second-hand clothes while his mates attended school. He got to where he is by practically hustling through life. On the surface of it, both men can be said to mean well.

But the tragedy of their recent meeting in Nigeria is that nobody believes the nice statements they both made. Africans no longer trust their leaders even when they openly profess good faith. They have learnt to suspect every move that they make. Across Nigeria, it is not surprising that the question is being asked: what is Okorocha’s next game? In South Africa, the same question is being asked of President Zuma. The people are no longer as stupid as African politicians assume. They are tired of being used as stepping-stones. I put myself in their shoes and I share their pain. Let Zuma and Okorocha stay away from funny billboards, the casting of bronze statues and castles of personal glorification. When in doubt, let them read Percy Shelley’s sonnet – Ozymandias. Statues will crumble, brought down by the opposition or ruined by the vagaries of weather and the ravages of time. But good deeds will endure and history will speak.

  • kalu9909

    Whose money was used to erect the Zuma Statue in Owerri? Was it the state fund or Okorocha fund? The citizens of Imo State have every right to know who funded the project. Was it funded by the Rochas Okorocha Foundation or by the state government? It is very sad that our so called leaders have lost focus and do things as they pleases. There is no justification for Okorocha to spend tax payers money to erect a statues of Zuma in Nigeria, when Nigerians are being killed in South Africa by South Africans. This action of Okorocha is a misplaced priority, where there are other programs the N520 million would have been invested in that would affect Imo citizens. it is on record that many roads in Imo State are not motorable. If Okorocha has used the money to build low cost houses,it would have at least erected over 100 2 bed room blocks that would accommodated over 100 families in Imo State. What has Jocab Zuma done to Nigerians or Imo indigenes that would attract such an honour. As Rochas Okorocha honoured the former leaders of Imo State, igbo nations and Nigerians, who performed creditably in developing our lands. What has Okorocha done to immortalize Samuel Mbakwe? What has he done to immotalize Dim Ojukwu? What has he done to immortalize Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Micheal Okpara, Akanu Ibiam, K. O. Mbadiwe, Alex Ekwueme, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and host of others? What pains me mostly is the abandoned Zik Mausoleum, being constructed over his burial site at his Onitsha home (Anambra State) remains uncompleted and abandoned 21 years after his death. if Okorocha had used this fund to complete this abandoned Zik Mausoleum, he would have received wide applause from both friends and foes. Okoroacha has been thwarted as someone who cares about the education of his people. Whatever he says about free education is just to gain political advantage. When he spent about 3 years in office, he proclaimed free education up to university level for indegines of Imo State. Has he kept to his promise. My daughter gained admission in Imo State University and paid N70,000 tuition fee for the first year. From her 2nd year, the free education commenced. We all applauded Okorochas gesture. She did not pay school fees in her 2nd year, 3rd year and 4th year. But when she graduated and was about to do her clearance, a circular came out saying that they must pay all the fees unpaid. This was a serious problem for most parents. We thought it was a joke, but it was true. We had to pay all the fees not paid from 2nd year to 4th year. Okorocha is doing all these things because he knew he will not request the mandate of Imo indegines for any elective office after 2019.

  • lord vuga

    Birds of a feather flock together. Europe and the west is no longer too safe to hide ones loot so we now look in wards to african nations that seem to have gotten their act together. The same rochas hosted ghana president not too long ago. Meanwhile i cant recall gmb who is also apc like him has never visited the state to commission a single project.
    The man is looking for where to secure his loot.
    He is clearly a megalomaniac and he deceived imo people with his so called philanthrophy. What he has stolen from the people is a zillion times all hus philantrophy put together.
    Well that is the igbo man for you.

  • ayo

    I hope IPOB can now see that Nigeria’s problem is a battle between the Have’s and Have-nots. It has nothing to do with tribe. Besides why is the statute still standing ?

    • NoPeaceInOurTime

      The class war you propound is only a subset of reactions resulting from the real problem which is the rotten foundation of the nation. The problem you defined as a battle between the Haves and Have-nots is really an outer display of an absent value system arising from the push-pull tensions between the occupants of the uneven structure. The tensions themselves derive largely from a lack of common national purpose. Everyone therefore, including your have-nots want to make hay while the sun shines because they are not sure of tomorrow in a nation tottering on uneven legs and which could crash like the Hindenburg in flames. It is in our life time that many of the have-nots including trade union leaders also became the “haves” and nothing changed.

  • remm ieet

    One common thread between Okorocha and the Kardashians is that they are both attention seekers. Attention seekers know the right thing to do, but they prefer to play to the gallery.

  • obinnna77

    As a denizen of the area designated in the current parlance as Imo, I can only say that Owelle did not disappoint the expectations I had, on his inception. This too, shall pass.

  • Lawrenece Ifo

    In as much as I don’t feel comfortable with some of the governmental defects of Zuma’so admisnistration, it will not deter me from boldly saying that it is hypocritical for many citizens of the zoo to suddenly try to use his perceived moral failing, within the context of their vibrant constitutional democracy to try and deny him the right to be appreciated by a people who may share some cultural affinity with him or be proud of his contribution to the liberation of his people. I am not a fan of Okorocha either.
    But the fact remains that,viewed from another angle, it is wise to createn a symbolism of cultural affinity with the people of South Africa.
    Especially the Ngunis which comprised the Zulus,Xhosas and others based on their factual historical affinities with peopen of Eastern Nigeria and Southern Cameroon. And on that note,there is no better person than Zuma not only because of his position but due to his passion for cultural advancement.
    It is indisputable that we have many Igbos who are eking out a living in South Africa and it will be a good move to starting finding a way to use a common cultural ground up deepen the relationship with their host community and according a title to Zuma is not wrong when viewed from that prism.
    It even can have the status

    • FrNinja

      You are talking out of your derriere. Compare and contrast South African relations with the rest of Africa under Thabo Mbeki and under Zuma. Mbeki has widely acknowledged the role of Nigeria in the South African independence struggle to the point where Emeka Anyaoku was given one of its highest awards. Mbeki pushed for mutual Nigerian-South African ties.

      Under Zuma on the other hand its government has displayed xenophobic and antagonistic foreign relations with its African brethren. At the Mandela funeral celebration, under Jacob Zuma, the Nigerian delegation was sidelined in the event proceedings. Jacob Zuma has also severally berated “foreigners” for bringing crime to South Africa even as the vast majority of crime in South Africa is committed by its own citizens. During the series of deportations, Zuma never formally apologized to Nigeria.

      • Lawrenece Ifo

        So you problem is acknowledging the so called role of Nigeria to massage the deflated ego of your zoo?
        Did your so called country play any actual role and even if,was it altruistic or self serving expedition to try to diminish the noble altruistic role of great men like Nyerere of Tanzania and Kuanda of Zambia due to the gallant role they played in stopping the zoo from carrying out its determined genocide against the Biafrans?

        Even apartheid treated blacks better than the way the Nigeria state treated and is still treating some of its citizens.

        So why should you not remove the speck in your own eyes before rushing to remove the one in another person’s eye and expect that person not to regard you as a BIG FOOL afterward??

        The South Africans are wiser and that is why they treat the zoo with contempt it rightly deserve and the zoo have no option than to keep mute so that it will not be exposed.

        If you are reasonable and rational in thinking,you ought to ask yourself Why your country with such monumental development challenges should embark on such spending spree to the detriment of their own immediate and future well being?
        That is the silent question from many other Africa countries to the zoo and the reason why they will never take you serious in the international fora these days.Even you humour yourself as much as you like.So leave Zuma alone!

        As he rightly deserved to be honoured better than those who are honoured in the zoo. Even Mbeki tainted his reputation by honoring Awo memorial lectures,knowing fully well that Awolowo committed genocide which is against his professed idea of Africa renaissance and dignity of Africans.

        We have cultural affinity with them and it is my view that we should vigorously try to use and deepen our relationship with them. Even if it will amount that his son(Duduzuane) will invest to develop the proposed industrial park.

        Subjectively, I believe that our people are more safe with the Ngunis than some groups that litters the zoo!

        After all,Dangote invested in South Africa and we did not questions the moral foundation of his money.

        I hate hypocrites.

        • lord vuga

          If nigeria is a zoo. Then biafra is cerainly the jungle with creatures like you in it.

    • baba cool

      Your hate filled soul is actually doing a lot in eroding your intellectual objectivity. Since you see Nig as a zoo i guess that makes your families animals
      Purge your soul of hatred and give your life more joy. You definitely need a complete soul transformation

  • apinofiga

    They call themselves progressives,leftists pro -people,yet their actions are satanic and wicked.Can you imagine -520m and yet people are yet to be paid salaries.Reminds me of Dr.Fayemi,my former governor, who calls himself an awoist and built a 3.3b government house simply because Akwa Ibom did so.He also gave 150 jeeps to traditional rulers.Yet there is a town -Igbemo that produces rice but has no rice mill for production and many unemployed youths.Progressives…My foot!!!

  • KWOY

    1. That Okoroawusa is mentally deranged is since clear to all. But what should also now be clear to all is that even the so-called philanthropy are acts of sycophancy in pursuit of vain, personal glory! He wouldn’t be into it if it is not for the rewards he is pursuing with them. The interest is not about people’s welfare as it is about his personal ego – as is demonstrated with the situation where workers’ salaray cannot be paid & yet he is engrossed with false projections of personal philanthropy – even with state’s resources!

    2. The same sycophancy can be seen in the eulogization of Zuma as “a great leader who meant well for his people, who had to toil, struggle and fight for the liberation of his people, not minding the consequences thereafter. This to me is courage. This to me is strength of character…” only because Zuma’s cause has become victorious while Nnamdi Kanu’s is still not.

    • lord vuga

      Mugabe too toiled for his people but is now a nuisance.

  • Don Franco

    Dear Reuben,

    Was a people ever more cursed with criminally egregious leadership, than Imolites and South Africans are cursed, with the evil twins of Zuma and Rochas?

    Working with a corrupt immigrant Indian family, the Guptas, Zuma and his son, Duduzane, has enriched themselves to the tune of over $2.7 billion, ripping off their national electricity company, Eskom and other State owned entities in the transportation, mining, agriculture and IT sectors. He’s presently trying to install his ex-wife, Nkosazana, as president when he completes his term next year; unfortunately for him, Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be the popular choice.
    Criminal leaders across Africa somehow seem to attract each other; or else how will a Governor who was a 419 con artist turned philanthropist end up on the same podium as the president of the biggest economy on the African continent? A confederacy of vice, if I ever saw one!
    I recall what the Ota Ape told us after Emeka Offor successfully installed Rochas as governor in 2011; that, he presented us with a lesser criminal and “Pickpocket” in the person of Ikedi Ochikanwata Ohakim, but we opted for an “Armed Robber” in the person of Rochas Okorocha; that we’ll live to regret it….
    OBJ is right.
    Rochas has robbed us blind in Imo State, non of his numerous projects were ever completed, salaries are not paid, there is no cabinet of commissioners, his wife controls all our ministries; having rigged his former barber, Uwajimogu, into the Senate; he’s now busy with grooming his son inlaw to take over as governor, so as to prevent himself from being probed for the massive looting of our treasury. He awards contracts and mobilizes contractors without any written agreements or due process, you can imagine the rest.
    That statue of Jacob Zuma will surely be demolished after 2019, I wish Imolites good luck, in the meanwhile.

  • Mr. Wilson

    I blame imo state indigenes with their high level of education for consistently electing fraudsters into their government house.