I am still trying to figure out the moral lesson behind Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha’s gift of N2 million to the winner of the just-concluded reality television programme Big Brother Nigeria (BBN). Okorocha also pledged that the BBN winner would receive a plot of land in any part of the state to facilitate construction of his own house.
When people say we have lost our values in Nigeria, Okorocha has given us one reason to agree with that statement. By honouring the BBN winner and another contestant, Okorocha has devalued hard work and rewarded laziness. What he has done fits in nicely into President Muhammadu Buhari’s demonisation of Nigerian youth as lazy, idle, and unwilling to work.
What moral message did Okorocha convey to the BBN winner and youth in Imo State? Did he imply that what is appropriate and cherished in other cultures must be accepted and valued in our society? Did he mean it was all right for youth to be locked up in a house for months, where they put on display indecency, morally laxity or licentious behaviour, nudity, shrieks, and other socially reprehensible performance? Was Okorocha transmitting the message that indolence should be valued and rewarded more than hard work? Why would the winner of a reality television show be elevated and consecrated to take on the character of a role model?
As state governor, Okorocha should serve as the shining light of Imo State. He should be seen and respected as a credible opinion leader who is driving the bus of socio-economic development in the state. However, in Nigerian politics, what you see is not always what you get. Appearances can be deceptive. How disappointed Imo citizens would have been with Okorocha’s performance since he was elected governor.
Okorocha was not under any obligation to receive or honour or give cash gift to the BBN winner and the other participant. The money should have been channelled to development projects that would have positive impacts on citizens. Citizens of Imo State are more deserving of financial assistance than the BBN winner who had already pocketed a large sum of money for prevailing in a make-believe competition in which brain, personal initiative, skills, talent, and power of invention were not required.
By honouring the BBN winner with a stupendous cash gift for no justifiable reason, Okorocha has shown admiration for work-shy youth. For the period the BBN winner was ensconced inside a house, he was not engaged in any serious work. The programme was meant to teach youth the art of being indolent. Is the BBN winner the kind of man Okorocha wants us to regard as a role model in Imo State or Nigeria?
Although money has no marginal utility, I would argue that the BBN winner does not need the money given to him by Okorocha. Winning the competition has transformed him overnight into a rich man. He has already said he would offload a good part of that money as tithe to his church.
Okorocha’s gesture provides compelling reasons to reinforce the view that our society is still well and truly weighed down by state governors who do not yet know what priorities to focus on, and the projects the citizens want them to undertake.
We must view Okorocha’s action as erratic, unsound, incomprehensible, and not properly thought through. Someone has suggested that we must see Okorocha’s action from an entertainment point of view. The problem with that thesis is that Okorocha was not elected to perform as a comedian. He cannot appropriate the role assigned to people who earn their living through public entertainment. There are many important challenges that require the attention of the Imo State governor. If he is truly committed to enhancing the welfare and wellbeing of people in his state, Okorocha would not have approved the cash gift of N2 million to the man. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Priority attention should be accorded to priority needs of the people of Imo State. It would appear that Imo State governor is done with erecting effigies of some African leaders and he has now shifted attention to rewarding youth who have achieved nothing. In keeping with the governor’s renowned way of honouring people he adores, the BBN winner can expect his own statue to be mounted soon somewhere in the Imo State capital.
When a governor privileges a man whose popularity was constructed on the basis that he outfoxed other contestants in a scandal-soaked reality television programme, he sends the message that low lifestyle should be respected by everyone. Thankfully, Okorocha will not be governor beyond the maximum two terms the constitution allows.
I would argue that the honour conferred on the BBN winner should never have been done because the young man did not contribute anything of significance to the development of Imo State. The man made no major productive impact on the lives of less privileged people in Imo State, except perhaps Okorocha wants to argue that he would like to see Imo State youth emulate the BBN winner by offering to be locked up in the BBN house, where they would eat, drink, and be merry for 24 hours of camera scrutiny without contributing anything to the development of the country.
In the book, Australia’s Commercial Media (1983), authors Bill Bonney and Helen Wilson observe that one of the reasons why the rich and the powerful make headline news is the notion of media star. They state: “The news does not create stars, but the weddings, divorces, affairs, attempted suicides and deaths of stars are always news.” This is perhaps the reason why the BBN winner has continued to dominate the news. Bill Bonney and Helen Wilson clarify further that, “The more visible and familiar the star, the greater the degree of newsworthiness, and the greater the news coverage…” It is in this context that we must understand why everything the BBN winner says or does is quickly picked up by the media and accorded notable coverage.
Okorocha has demonstrated naivety in the way he honoured and granted cash gift to the BBN winner and another competitor from Imo State. Honours conferred on Imo State citizens must be transparent and merit-based. The intention should be to recognise and reward citizens who have delivered exceptional services to their fatherland in their various careers.
Unfortunately, Okorocha has diminished the value and importance of honouring citizens of the state who recorded significant achievements and helped to enhance the conditions of ordinary people in the state. Across the state, there are citizens who sacrificed their lives, wellbeing, and security to help other people to be alive and to achieve their noble goals in society. These are the people who deserve to be recognised and honoured by Okorocha.
I must end on this note. Okorocha was elected to solve problems in Imo State, not to engage in self-promotion. Every state governor has the duty of care to provide for the welfare and safety of citizens.