THE recent erection of a monumental statue in Imo State by Governor Rochas Okorocha in honour of the South African President, Jacob Zuma, perhaps deserves the prize for the most abhorrent choice in the world of honour. It is certainly disturbing that Nigerians have to be confronted with a statue for a man whose financial adviser is currently serving a jail term and who is battling a salad of allegations ranging from rape to corruption in a state that has defaulted in welfare issues for its citizens. Indeed, not only was the statue found abominable by the citizens of Imo State who reacted violently during its unveiling, some South Africans with a wry sense of humour have even suggested that Nigeria should keep Jacob Zuma but should send the statue to South Africa for them to mess with. The statue has generated global opprobrium for the country because of the poor taste which it certainly reflects. But Okorocha even named a street after Zuma.
Apart from the various allegations against President Zuma, the recipient of this monstrous honour, the fact that he is the president of a country where many Nigerians, including Governor Okorocha’s kinsmen, have suffered xenophobic attacks, undermines the rationale behind his choice as the honouree. It is even mind boggling trying to fathom what in the resume of President Zuma enthralled Governor Okorocha to the point of deifying and idolising him. Was it his indictment for corruption, spending state funds to upgrade his personal home, riotous domestic life, having multiple s3x partners outside marriage, or lack of circumspection? Accused of rape, President Zuma once admitted to having s3x without protection with a woman living with HIV/AIDS, offering the ridiculous explanation that he proceeded to have a warm bath afterwards.
There are some fundamental questions thrown up by the sordid affair. Did the governor appropriate the money spent on the statue in the 2017 budget of the state? Was the issue debated on the floor of the state House of Assembly? If the honour was strictly a private matter between the Zuma Foundation and the Rochas Okorocha Foundation, why was it elevated to an Imo State affair? If Governor Okorocha spent his personal funds on the project, is the land on which the statue stands his private property? Quite curiously, the global opprobrium generated by the action was targeted at the country generally and not Imo State government which specifically made the gaffe.
Surprisingly, Governor Okorocha’s political party which ought to have reined him in, the All Progressives Congress (APC), rose in defence of his action. According to media reports, the party, speaking at a meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC) through its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, hailed Governor Okorocha for making the effort to attract Jacob Zuma to Nigeria because of the potential foreign investments. But what kind of foreign investment should task and compromise the sense of judgment and pride of the governor against those who voted him into office? How many of Nigeria’s statesmen have been similarly honoured in South Africa despite Nigeria’s active moral and financial support in the country’s agonising fight against apartheid and white minority rule? Have Nigeria’s values been so debased that pecuniary considerations hold sway over the sublime?
The decision to erect a statue in Imo State in honour of President Zuma was obviously ill-advised and in poor taste. Sadly, Governor Okorocha is obdurate and he erroneously thinks that the criticisms are fuelled by the opposition, claiming that he owes nobody any apologies for the statue. But our indignation actually derives from the plethora of evidences of a faulty sense of judgment in the polity and the absence of any reasonable voice of admonition either in the political parties or even the establishment.
The choices of the type and the recipient of the honour have indubitably worsened the already sullied global image of the country and it is certainly painful that a reprieve, in any form, is so hard to find. The grotesque statue of Zuma in Imo State will certainly remain what it essentially is; a monument to poor taste and poor judgment.