By Gerald Nwokocha
IMO State recently witnessed the visits of two African heads of state, from Ghana and South Africa. First, the Ghananian President, Nana Akufo-Ado, came for the graduation ceremony of the Rochas Foundation College as part of activities marking Rochas’ 55th birthday celebration. The South African President, Jacob Zuma, came to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Zuma Foundation and Rochas Foundation. But, the most disturbing aspect of all the jamborees was the unveiling of a bronze statue of President Zuma.
That singular act has painted Rochas in a bad light. He has been accused of insensitivity to the plight of the people. While I would not want to toe the line of condemnation as many have done, as a scholar of Diplomacy, I chose to analyze what has transpired from a different angle, looking at the short-term and long-term implications.
Sometimes, it is said that political patronage is a terrible phenomenon, especially its Nigerian version, which has a mixture of sycophancy, hypocrisy and stomach-infrastructure-driven actions by fair-weather politicians. I may not be one of Rochas’ very many devoted pen warriors who defend every of his deeds but, I still think that Rochas deserves to be placed under fair logical reasoning in the course of our trying to always condemn his actions.
Rochas may have succeeded in placing his name on the lips of everyone, whether they are talking ill of him or not. He’s gotten people to discuss him at every setting.
In a nearly cohesive political setting like ours, it’s almost impossible to contain longstanding perceived grumbling about any political figure. With a glimmer of kindness, he could as well be winning everyone’s support back. Some politicians would make you discuss them for no meaningful reason sometimes. In due course, that same political leader would float a scheme that even a blind man would call him a “god”… good enough for all to forget the past, and once again, push him on.
Many have even said, if Rochas so liked statues, that it would have been better he erected a statue of Nelson Mandela, the African nationalist or Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria, instead of Jacob Zuma who is facing a backlash and legal trials in his country. Jacob Zuma may not be one of Africa’s most loved leaders but to a governor, who is dining with foreign leaders, and who is looking for avenues to attract foreign direct investments into his state, erecting statues for fallen heroes will not make sense but with a living Zuma, it will bring in dividends.
In 1998, Rochas Foundation was established to give succour to the underprivileged by way of free education. President Zuma shares a similar vision for his Foundation. Both had a rough past growing up and wouldn’t want anybody from a poor background to suffer the way they did in trying to access education. This is what brought the two men together in the first place.
Aside the erection of his statue in Owerri, President Zuma received the state’s highest traditional title- Ochiaga (Great Warrior). A street was also named after him. While Governor Okorocha may not claim to be unaware of the controversies over the Zuma statue in North-West South Africa, and the corruption allegations against the man he chose to honour, he saw beyond all that and has no regret for his action.
People have asked, “Why honour a man under whose watch Nigerians were killed in South Africa?” On a critical analogy, many things could come to mind. Could it be that Rochas made a statue of Jacob Zuma and named a road after him as a way of lobby to ensure commitment from the SA president? I have also considered why most kings (Igwes, Emirs, Obas, and Olus) give traditional titles of the highest order to non-indigenes of their land in a bid to attract financial or infrastructural assistance to their communities. Also, higher institutions sometimes give honorary doctorate awards to people of questionable character and moneybags. What were they thinking? Universities are broke, so they think the way to attract aid from individuals and company owners is by honouring them. Sometimes, drug barons are among the award recipients.
As a scholar, I see all these moves by Rochas as part of his own strategy of attracting investors with incentives and charting a new relationship between Nigerians and South Africa. It is a fine example of Para- Diplomacy i.e bilateral relations conducted by sub-national governments with a view to promoting their own interests. Although, this has been given a broader interpretation because for Rochas, the motive may be many. We saw a bit of that between Kwara State and the Zimbabwean white farmers.
Rochas has shown to Zuma that he’s accepted in Nigeria despite his flaws. Zuma should equally show to Nigerians in SA that they are accepted, by protecting their lives and property. This is why Rochas does everything to protect the Hausas in Imo, just because, they have shown to him that they accept him in their land, so he had to reciprocate the gesture.
Rochas, upon assumption of office as Imo State governor, visited some countries including China, signing MoU in a bid to woo investors. All that may not have transformed to something meaningful hence, one may not be wrong to conclude that, he resorted to using his foundation (which has gotten international recognition since he became governor of Imo state), to influence the visit of two countries’ leaders (Ghana and SA).
Aside the signing of MoU between the Rochas Foundation and Zuma Foundation, Rochas used the occasion to appeal to the South African leader to persuade SA airlines to establish an operational base at Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, to help local farmers export their farm produce from Owerri through direct flights to South Africa without hitches. He also appealed for SA companies to invest in gas exploration in Imo State and help in industrializing the state.
It was also learnt that President Zuma met with some businessmen including Leo Stan Ekeh of Zinox Computers, Dr. Pascal Dozie of Diamond Bank, etc. A release by the state government, said in parts “… at the meeting with South African delegation, it was agreed that the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport would partner with South African Airlines; approval was also extracted for the setting up of a South African Consulate in Owerri, which would entail travelers to South Africa now processing their visas in Owerri; and a Payment Centre also to be established in Owerri for easy business transactions; and partnership in the areas of power, gas, agriculture and hospitality.”
President Zuma, at the event for the first time, said, ‘No South African must kill a Nigerian and no Nigerian must kill a South African. The relationship between Nigeria and South Africa should be stronger than any other part, for the sake of the continent of Africa. Africans must come together to address African problems. We are the same people’.”
That’s laudable. But, what happened to the perpetrators of the xenophobic attacks on foreigners and Nigerians in SA? Why has the government not brought anyone to book?
Of course, there is no doubt, Rochas is aligning himself with international politics as power is identified as the currency of international politics.
If Rochas’ wishes are met, then there shall be better cooperation between Imo State and South Africa, which will strengthen the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, which has been soured over the years. Imo citizens and by extension Nigerians in SA facing trials for different offences will be revisited and possibly repatriated.
Nwokocha is a postgraduate student of Diplomacy and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos
It is also expected that the South African government would clear all barriers to ease of doing business in SA and also ensure they protect Nigerians businesses in SA.
SA is the most industrialized country in Africa. Nigeria just has the market because of her population. Nigeria needs SA just as SA needs Nigeria.
Rochas perhaps, might have been doing both the “good and bad things”, with the same level of enthusiasm, which might have made Imolites, lose confidence in him. It is also very possible he means well for Imolites with the recent happenings but the past events (like, owing workers salaries and pensioners) will not let anybody see any good in him. So long as it is Rochas, people will definitely misread and quote out of context any gesture from him. Rochas may not have performed as expected but he’s not a dummy to have built a statue without a motive either for self or public aggrandizement.
Performance is not measured arbitrarily… you measure against a reference point.
The difference between Rochas Okorocha and some of the governors that have ruled Imo State is that, Rochas is no longer throwing money to the Royal Fathers, godfathers, stakeholders and youth interest groups like other governors before him were doing.
Other state governments should identify their states’ needs and challenges; look for ways to boost revenue by looking beyond the regular subvention, which is now sourced from foreign loans.
Sometimes we just have to pause, think and analyze things.
I just want to think differently.
Nwokocha is a postgraduate student of Diplomacy and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos
This post was syndicated from The Sun News. Click here to read the full text on the original website.