14 November 2017
When Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state unveiled the statue of South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, the reactions from Nigerians were predictable. Anger walked alongside distaste, and the major sentiment on social media was that a country that allowed actions like this to flourish was speeding into the abyss.
Governor Okorocha’s choice of an individual to venerate was odd. Many pointed out that Zuma had stood by as several Nigerians felt the brunt of xenophobic attacks in his country. Some wondered why the money put into the statue’s creation could not be better utilized elsewhere.
When blogger and communications strategist, Omojuwa pointed out the absurdity of the entire affair, the governor’s Twitter handle replied with the words, “You’re very stupid”. When the tweet went viral, the official statement from the governor’s office was that the image was photoshopped.
However, Omojuwa’s counter showed that in this age of screenshots, actions to mitigate a public relations scandal better be smarter than a reactive tweet.
Some were certain this was the end of it.
They were wrong.
Last week, the governor unveiled the statue of Liberian President Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as she received the award of “Grand Counsellor of Imo State”; a very ambiguous title.
In an interview with The Nation, Uche Nwosu, Chief of Staff, Imo state Government house, defended the governor’s actions saying,
“I think people misunderstood the coming of President Zuma, the statue and the rest of it. Owelle Rochas Okorocha did not bring President Zuma to Imo State for a jamboree. What Okorocha brought was the South African economy. Some people do not know the importance of a sitting president visiting a state, not a country. By the coming of the South African President, Imo businessmen can now travel to South Africa and do business there based on our relationship with President Zuma”
“The President Zuma Foundation is working hand in hand with the Rochas Foundation College. Most of our children from Imo State who want to study in the universities in South Africa from the Rochas Foundation College can now go to South Africa easily to study. The South African cargo plane will land in Imo State very soon because the South African Airline has now signed an agreement with the Imo State Government so that they can be part of this Imo Cargo Airport when it becomes functional”.
However, Nwosu’s words and the possible validity of his points have not stopped the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, from requesting that the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, investigate what they call an “an abuse of office”.
According to the organisation, “the initiatives cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever, especially at a time when Imo state is unable or unwilling to pay teachers’ salaries and pensioners’ entitlements”.
SERAP’s push for accountability from public office holders is not new, but within it lies another element: the lack of proper communication between the leaders and those who elected them.
Politics in Nigeria has never been inclusive. Generations grow into the belief that their voices do not matter, so after a while, they stop using their voice. This is the Nigerian trajectory of public outcry: outrage, indifference and collective amnesia.
The Nigerian public loves to forget. One might even argue that it needs to forget, because as the saying goes, “we have better things to do”.
For now, all the public can do is wait and see if SERAP’s push will induce a domino effect or if Governor Rochas will unveil the other statues while the public, like in other cases before this, moves on to the next controversy.