The statue in honour of President Zuma is ill-conceived

The erection of a statue of the President of South Africa, Mr Jacob Zuma, in Owerri by the Imo State Governor, Mr Rochas Okorocha has continued to generate harsh reactions from both Nigerians and South Africans. Although the governor has lashed at his critics, saying the gesture was meant to ‘’encourage business relationship and attract investment to Imo State’’, not a few Nigerians consider the justification as a mere afterthought.

What gives the excuse away was the earlier statement by the governor, who also named a road for Zuma after railroading a traditional ruler to honour him with a nebulous traditional title. According to Okorocha, the South African President was in the state principally to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Jacob Zuma Educational Foundation and the Rochas Foundation College of Africa, a private education foundation of the governor. The implication is that the visit was purely to promote a personal cum business deal between the two of them.

Aside the issue of conflict of interest that is so blatant, even if the governor may not see it, the decision to honour Zuma in Nigeria comes at a time the South African President is facing serious charges of corruption in his own country. In fact, he recently lost bid at the country’s apex court to dodge a 783-corruption charge against him in South Africa where he is now to face a proper trial.

Meanwhile, we are sure many readers may have seen the video footage of the rain of stones on the convoy of the governor and his visitor from ordinary bystanders that is circulating on the social media. That literally sums up the infamy of the Okorocha/Zuma dance. The questions that therefore arise are: why would a state governor foist on his people the statue of one of Africa’s most advertised serving icons of corruption? What is the historical link between Imo people and South Africans? Why should the private visit of a foreign leader be given such a lavish treatment at public expense?

That a governor who mindlessly demolished a market on which many of his citizens depend for livelihood should spend almost half a billion naira of state resources, according to many of the reports that are yet to be denied, just to massage the ego of a foreign leader with questionable character is impunity at its highest. Although Okorocha and his minders have, in defiance, said they owe no apology to anybody for the action, what they forget is that the power a governor holds is in trust for the people. It is not something that should be used to further personal interest.

What is more unfortunate is that the social media barrage, essentially from South Africans has further damaged Nigeria’s image. The common line in most of the commentaries is that of a very corrupt leader coming home to a very corrupt country!

We need to state here that we are not against bestowing honour on great men and women who have contributed positively to the development of the country or, as in this case, a state, in order to fire them to do more. We are not even opposed to the federal government or a state giving honour to a foreign leader or citizens of another country. But there must be genuine reasons for such honour.

We are not aware of anything that President Zuma has done to advance the cause of our people. Even in his own country, Nigerians have for some years now been at the receiving end of xenophobic attacks. And while Zuma may have helped the person of Okorocha, there is no evidence that he has done anything for Imo people to merit such an obscene gesture in the state capital.