There is no denying the fact President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is a newsmaker any day. Therefore, everything he does, whether good or bad makes news and hug headlines. Similarly, his host, Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a newsmaker as well. They had certain things in common. Both are politicians and orators. They struggled in life and achieved success and eminence.
Both of them are highly misunderstood individuals. They unduly attract controversies. They have passion for education, especially the education of the under-privileged people in the society. They are philanthropists. They are businessmen and entrepreneurs. The obvious difference is that one is a President while the other is a governor and an aspiring president.
It was no surprise, therefore, that the meeting of the two African brothers in Owerri and the unveiling of Zuma’s statue would make front page news. It did and dominated the front burner of national discourse and still counting.
Ordinarily, the two-day (October 13-14) official visit to Imo State by South African leader, President Jacob Zuma, would have come and gone without much fuss, undue media interrogation and unwarranted hysteria it had generated if not for the making of the imposing statue of the visitor at Ikemba Ojukwu Centre, Owerri.
Critics of the Rescue Mission administration, who had been waiting for an opportunity to hit hard at Owelle, found one in Zuma’s statue and they relished and feasted on it for days without end as if the statue was the main object of the visit. The critics said among other things that Zuma did not deserve being honoured with a statue they claim cost N520 million of taxpayers’ money, considering his poor leadership qualities, corruption of the statue allegations and sexual scandals in his country.
But some artists, who believe strongly that the cost of the statue was exaggerated have put it at between N2 million to N3 million. It may even be lesser than that considering the fact that Owelle does not easily part with state money.
The critics said also that the statue of Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Michael Okpara or Sam Mbakwe in Owerri would have been understood by the public. They also pointed out that the state government had not fulfilled some of its obligations to workers and pensioners.
They quarreled over the naming of a street after Zuma in Owerri, giving him a merit award and the conferment on him of a chieftaincy title of Ochiagha (Warrior). They said that the man under whose watch many Nigerians, including those of Imo descent, were killed in xenophobic attacks in South Africa is not worthy for such an honour. Some of their points are valid.
Beyond the erection of Zuma statue in Owerri, the naming of a street after him, giving him a merit award and a chieftaincy title, the visit has its good sides which the critics of Owelle administration unfortunately failed to acknowledge. They woefully refused to see the positive aspects of the visit just like those that are vehemently opposed to his politics.
Because of the imbalance in the critics’ reportage, some pundits are saying that the acerbic criticisms that trailed the Zuma statue have more to do with the 2019 politics in Imo than anything else. There is no doubt whatsoever that the opposition in the state may have exploited the situation to jeer, laugh and even mock Owelle to no end. In fact, much ado was made of the statue all in a bid to dwarf the import of Zuma’s visit. The critics could not even acknowledge that the statues of former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and others had earlier been unveiled.
In spite of the criticisms, the main purpose of President Zuma’s visit to Owerri was ostensibly the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Jacob Zuma Education Foundation and Rochas Foundation College of Africa. Also, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Rochas Foundation College of Africa, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was present at the occasion. Ms Dudu Myen, the Chairman of Zuma Foundation and Aham Okorocha, who represented Rochas Foundation, signed the MoU at Rochas Foundation College ground, while the two leaders stood behind them.
Besides, there were also business discussions with prominent businessmen from Imo and other states, on diverse fields such as ICT, motor manufacturing and banking among others. There was an agreement that Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport would partner with South African Airline. There was also approval for the setting up of a South African Consulate in Owerri.
When it becomes operational, Imo and other travelers to South Africa will process their visas in Owerri. In the same vein, a payment centre would be established in Owerri for ease of business transactions. Imo State will also partner with South Africa in areas of power, gas, agriculture, and hospitality industry.
Jacob Zuma was one of the freedom fighters that belonged to the African National Congress (ANC) during the anti-apartheid struggles. Zuma spent 10 years in prison alongside the iconic South African leader, Madiba Nelson Mandela and others. In Owerri, Zuma spoke against xenophobic attacks among Africans. He said that a South African must not kill a Nigerian and a Nigerian must not kill a South African, stressing that the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa should be strengthened.
Zuma wants all African countries to unite as a people to fight for the common cause of economic and political emancipation of Africa. The main theme of Zuma’s message is that “Africans must come together to address African problems. We are the same people. We cannot succeed if we handle problems as individuals. We need to recognize that we are one.”
The significance of Zuma’s message must not be overshadowed by the criticisms that his statue elicited. And nobody can fault Zuma’s assertion that “the only way Africans can confront challenges imposed on them by colonial masters is through education.” Zuma’s rise from little education to his present position in his country, despite his perceived shortcomings, is inspiring. Okorocha honoured Zuma because he is “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.”
Rochas regards these Zuma attributes as courage and strength of character. Okorocha said of Zuma: “Mr President, you are a man with uncommon history. One who never saw the four walls of a classroom and who in the course of struggling to liberate his people, landed in prison for 10 years.” It is Owelle’s conviction that a man who did all that Zuma did to achieve liberation for South Africa and his passion for education deserved to be so honoured. This gesture should not be used to diminish Owelle’s achievements in the state.