You never know the next foolish thing from any of our governors in Nigeria. You think you’ve seen the worst until a new decision or action completely unsettles one’s sense of propriety and you are left rationalizing that after all the previous one is somehow better than the new one.
Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha went higher on the infamy index of the present crop of state governors when he unveiled a statue of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa over the weekend. The welcome party at the Sam Mbakwe airport in Owerri on Friday when Mr. Zuma landed include former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former governor Saminu Turaki and Maurice Iwu, the professor who superintended, perhaps, the worst heist called election in modern political history of our country. With Okorocha in tow, Zuma definitely was in good company.
Even if we pretend to forget that South Africa is more known now for xenophobic attacks on foreigners, especially Nigerians, with another person killed by the police just last week, Okorocha proceeded to serenade and garland him. For what Nigeria did to help in the fight against apartheid as seen in our financial contributions to the anti-apartheid struggle, scholarships for many south Africans at our universities and sanctuary to many of their leading political figures including Thabo Mbeki, it is painful and sad that Nigerians are frequently targeted and killed in the country.
Yet, that is the same country whose leader our self-styled billionaire governor decided to honour. We must also remember that Zuma still has 783 charges including corruption, fraud and money laundering against him since 2009, which the South Africa Supreme Court recently ruled that the country’s prosecutor is free to continue with.
He has also been asked to refund $500, 000 stolen from the public treasury under the guise of renovation of his house after apologising to his people. Yet, Okorocha did not deem any Nigerian, alive or dead, worthy of such honour.
The same governor, in one of his megalomaniac actions, gave Imo citizens a Christmas tree said to cost N600 million and about 30 feet tall in December 2015, the same year he erected Obama handshake billboards in Owerri upon return from Washington DC after being part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s delegation on his official visit to the United State.
A few weeks ago, it was an obscene sight of cakes by women from all the local government areas of Imo State that assaulted citizens’ sensibilities. Okorocha also caused a chieftaincy title Ochiagha Imo – meaning Warlord of Imo to be given to Mr. Zuma. What an appropriate title as both Okorcha and Zuma are warlords waging war against their citizens. He also name a road after Zuma to make it a complete honour. As at today, Okorocha owes workers’ salaries and pensioners too have not received their entitlements. Sometimes you suspect our political leaders often plot together to concoct grandiose schemes or projects to cream us off.
I mean, what use is a statue to a hungry person? Will it give him Ofe Owerri and akpu? True, Okorocha is a warlord probably not in the mould of Charles Taylor of Liberia or the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda with their menacing limbs’ amputation tactics, but he is a warlord impoverishing his people further.
This is where sometimes journalism in Nigeria depresses one further: it is not enough to report the statue as odious, even an infant knows that, but relying on a release from the South African government alone that Zuma’s visit was to “strengthen socio-economic relations and further deepen existing cooperation in the field of education” is not enough. The obvious gaps in our reportage must be corrected.
Are there any business ties between Zuma and his chief host? Why the tripod representation of the welcome party with Obasanjo, Turaki and Iwu? The Halliburton allegations are still fresh in our memories than for any link to be dismissed as tenuous. How much was spent to put up the statue? Figures ranging from half a billion naira to a little over a billion have been bandied around, will Okorocha or any of his aides tell Imo citizens and Nigerians how much exactly was spent on it? These are issues that journalists should examine further.
Some mischievous Nigerians have been pillorying Imo people on this, but no state is exempted. Nearly all governors are guilty of embarking on gargantuan projects without corresponding benefits to their people. From cargo airports to bridges leading to nowhere, big school buildings without students, and bus stops, our governors are engaged in a competition to outdo one another. If these are projects with lasting impact on citizens, no problem but most are not. By the way, what is it with APC governors and statues now as our governor in Lagos unveiled another one in Lagos over the weekend?