On Saturday October 15, 2017, outgoing Governor Rochas Okorocha stirred the hornet’s nest when he decided to mount statues of important personalities in the world. In a well marked area, formally designated as the new Imo Government House, but now called Ikemba Ojukwu Convention Centre, the governor erected the statues of no fewer than 13 notable personalities.
The list includes former heads of state, war heroes and notable human rights activists.
Among those whose statues adorn the landscapes of Owerri are former President Olusegun Obasanjo; late Nnamdi Azikiwe; late Martin Luther King Jnr; Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu; Second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme; first civilian governor of Imo State, Chief Sam Mbakwe, former Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and first governor of Eastern Region, Sir Akanu Ibiam.
Others include former Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; late Ghanaian president Kwame Nkuruma and his counterpart Nana Akufo Addo; Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Bishop Ajayi Crowther.
Okorocha had succeeded in erecting the statues of 13 important personalities, with the 14th being Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on the way. Of all these statues, none had attracted controversy as much as that of Zuma. The statues attracted a lot of opprobrium, derision for the state, with Imolites becoming objects of jest and ridicule. The derisive slogan – ‘Akpuola gi (have you been moulded)? became an instant sing-song in Imo.
The reasons for mounting the statues of these personalities are not quite clear but Governor Rochas Okorocha, while unveiling Zuma’s statue, said that he was motivated by Zuma’s love for education. For others, he said he was immortalising them for their immeasurable political achievements.
In an event witnessed by Mr. Zuma and other dignitaries, Okorocha while unveiling the statue, had said, “Today we have decided to honour you for your love for education, though you were deprived in your early days in life you are working hard to make sure that every poor child goes to school. Your love for education to us is the connection between you and the government and people of Imo State. The only industry we have and we can truly be proud of is education in Imo. This is another reason why we have chosen to honour you.”
Asides the statue, Governor Okorocha also named a road after Mr. Zuma in addition to conferring on him the traditional title of ‘Ochiagha Imo’ by Eze Imo, HRH Samuel Ohiri.
Since after the controversial Zuma statute, 12 other statues were erected by the governor, which cost has also been another source of controversy. While the exact cost of the statues are not yet computed, sources put the cost of each at between N400,000 and N500,000, thus suming the cost of the entire project at over N1 billion.
Many people had questioned the sense in honouring Zuma far away from home when he is facing corruption charges in his country. Apart from this, many Imo residents did not see the statue of personalities as important, especially in a state with poor internally-generated revenue and low income from the federation account.
However, beyond the cost of the projects, analysts are questioning the usefulness of the statues, especially in a state where pensioners and civil servants are being owed millions in arrears of salaries and allowances.
The question becomes more germane as the initiator is set to leave office in a few weeks. What is on the lips of Imo citizens is whether Okorocha’s successor will see those statues as necessary or priority projects and continue with them.
A former Commissioner for Commerce and Industry in the state, Dr. Geff Ojinika, said it is left for the incoming administration to prioritise its projects and know which ones to continue and which ones to abandon.
He said, “The essence of governance is continuation and leaving a lasting legacy. If the incoming administration finds the projects laudable, then they should continue, otherwise they should get their priority right and know which one to continue and which one to jettison. This is one of the ingredients of democracy; making choices for the good of the society.”
He added, “Emeka Ihedioha should look at all the projects and find out the ones that are beneficial to the people and those that are just elephant projects with no economic value.
The Special Adviser to Okorocha on Electronic Media, Dr. Ebere Nzewuji, sees all Okorocha’s projects as priorities and legacies he will be leaving for the people of the state. He said the concept of the statues is being misunderstood.
‘The question you will ask is whether the incoming administration will give kudos to Okorocha for all the laudable projects he has done. All the projects, including the statues, are for the good of Imo people and we expect the new administration to acknowledge the good road network, the bridges, the many monuments this administration has established and continue with them because they are all lasting legacies for Imo State and the people,” he said.
The same sentiments were shared by Okorocha’s Special Adviser on Electoral Matters, Steve Asimobi. According to him, all projects embarked upon by Okorocha are lasting legacies which any administration would be happy to embrace.
Media Aide to the governor-elect, Chibuike Onyeukwu, said such decisions are policy issues that would involve legislation and would be looked into after the government is formed.
He said, “It is too early to talk on individual projects. This is a policy issue and the whole projects will be looked at and evaluated holistically. We have not formed a government yet and this is the priority of the incoming administration for now. At the last press briefing, the governor-elect had promised to set up a transition committee. These are the issues that the committee will be looking at. There will be sub committees on various aspects and at the end, all of them will collate their findings, which will form part of the working document for the incoming administration.”