Mr. Rochas Okorocha, Governor of Imo State is one of the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The APC’s signature tune is anti-corruption. Okorocha has just shot himself in the foot. He rolled out a red carpet for a man who doesn’t deserve it; he named a street undeservingly after him; he erected a multi-million naira statue to honour a man to whom honour is not due. He gave Imo State’s highest award to him as well.
Many governors in Nigeria do whatever they like because they have sycophantic houses of assembly who have a rub-my-back-I-rub-your-own, avaricious and gold-digging symbiotic relationship with them. It is a shame that the Imo State House of Assembly could have the temerity to defend Okorocha’s ignominious awards and rewards to a man whose countrymen and women hold in absolute contempt.
The excuse that Okorocha offers for his royal treatment of President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma of South Africa is “to strengthen socio-economic relations and further deepen existing cooperation in the field of education.” Yes, Okorocha had shown considerable passion in matters of education even before he became the governor of Imo State. Yes, Zuma also has a Zuma Foundation which sends many children to school and also builds houses for poor people. But that tenuous connection is not a justification for the relationship. Zuma’s South Africa is engaged in regular xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, many of them Igbos. Early this year, the Federal Government of Nigeria had to summon the South African High Commissioner for a conversation after a wave of xenophobic attacks in that country on Nigerians.
Secondly, as an important element in the APC administration Okorocha’s relationship with such a corrupt leader under any guise, for any reasons whatsoever is a disgrace. Here are the facts: Zuma has just been indicted for corruptly allowing an Indian family to influence the appointment of his cabinet members. On June 14, 2005, Zuma who was the Deputy President of South Africa was sacked from his post on several allegations of corruption by President Thabo Mbeki. Last year the Supreme Court of South Africa ruled that Zuma had failed to uphold the Constitution by using state funds to build a swimming pool and a cattle ranch at his Nkandla home. He was ordered to pay $500, 000. He apologised profusely for this misdemeanor. Recently, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal ordered that Zuma must face prosecution for almost 800 charges of corruption relating to an arms deal in the 1990s.
The man’s sins are many. In December 2005, Zuma who has six wives and more than 20 children was charged for rape. He was accused of raping a 31-year old woman who was HIV positive. He claimed that the sexual activity was consensual. But the shocking aspect of the sexual transaction was that he admitted that he did not use condom when having sex with the woman even though he knew that she was HIV positive. Another shocking revelation in court: He stated that he took a shower after the sex bout to “cut the risk of contracting HIV.” HIV educators carried out a major campaign to inform the public that no bath, warm or cold, could prevent HIV transmission. The court acquitted him because it believed that the sexual encounter was consensual. But it blasted him for his recklessness.
That is the man Okorocha was treating like a hero. He is not. He is just one of the dirty fellows to whom Africa has wittingly or unwittingly entrusted its destiny simply because he is a liberation war veteran. But the worst disservice that Okorocha did to the young children of Imo State was to have asked Zuma to address them. Okorocha assembled some secondary school students and asked Zuma to speak to these kids. What could Zuma be expected to talk to the kids about? Integrity, fidelity, incorruptibility? If he spoke about these his words would be aflame with dishonesty. It would have been the equivalent of Elizabeth Taylor’s thesis on marital stability or Donald Trump’s doctoral dissertation on factuality.
Zuma simply had nothing to tell them on character building. Well, he could speak to them about war and the liberation struggle and his 10 year tenure in Robben Island prison with Nelson Mandela. But Imo State, I am sure, has many war veterans and many others who believe in the ideology of liberation. This ideology may be called IPOB or MASSOB or simply Justice or Equal opportunity or Gender Parity or Level Playing Field or the Ideology of Symmetry or Evenness. There would be no shortage of such apostles in Imo State if Okorocha wanted them to speak to his young minds.
If these young fellows turn to Wikipedia and see the listing under Jacob Zuma, the fourth President of South Africa, they would wonder why Okorocha saw him as a role model, as someone after whom they could pattern their lives. They will be deeply disappointed. They will wonder whether their governor is like him and if he is not why he would choose to celebrate him.
Okorocha’s defence for his decision is that the only industry in Imo State is education. To him investment in education, from anyone is welcome. It is not. There are more than 200 leaders of countries in the world who share the ideology of liberating people from the shackles of illiteracy through education. A careful search would have yielded dividends that his people would not feel angry or embarrassed about. Despite his well-known activism in the education sector Okorocha has, by the Zuma controversy, put his people, if not his party, to shame. Now, can I ask him a question. Has he a statue for Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe or Dr Alex Ekwueme, two Igbo leaders who have through their exertions over the years brought honour to Ndigbo? And these two men are actually very honourable men whether in Igboland or in Nigeria.
This honour to a corrupt man who is roundly despised by his own country men and women is a dirty business. The man is dirty but may not even be dirtier than many Nigerian politicians. But that is not why we should be asked to celebrate him here: The difference between Nigeria and South Africa is that in South Africa a sitting President can be prosecuted and sent to jail. In Nigeria he cannot be investigated or prosecuted. He is fenced round by an all-encompassing immunity. Besides, Nigeria’s security agencies have a mandate for regime maintenance. No attempt to change this has succeeded.
No sitting President in Nigeria has been investigated while in office since 1999. So any anti-corruption attempt by any Nigerian government must necessarily focus attention on the opposition and the perceived enemies or potential rivals of the president, not on officials of the government in power. If any of Nigeria’s Presidents had ever been investigated there would have been ample evidence that huge elephants may have been passing through the needle’s eye. We would have discovered that some of them are as dirty as Zuma if not dirtier.
Governance in Nigeria is pure thievery, thievery by any and every means, seen and unseen, subtle and blatant, moveable and immoveable property. The immoveable properties can be registered in various names including names of children yet unborn or wives not yet married. The moveable assets can be hidden in roofs or soak-away pits, or farmlands, or cemeteries so as to confound the most intelligent search agent. Each of these discoveries takes us to the point of unshockability about corruption and its corrosive properties. Probably Okorocha is shocked that Nigerians are shocked by his tango with Zuma?
The reasons people steal massively in Nigeria are (a) to be able to maintain and sustain a fraudulent lifestyle till eternity. That way their children and grandchildren will have no reason to raise a finger in honest labour. (b) to be able to escape by hook or crook from corruption conviction by corrupting the anti-corruption process. They take care of the defence lawyers, the prosecuting lawyers and the witnesses and judges if they can reach them. Nigerians have apparently been conditioned by the massive looting of the country to begin to regard it as “one of those things.” I did not see Imo State citizens carry placards, just placards, to demonstrate their outrage. It is apparent that we have reached a tragic point in our journey as a nation where we have lost the sense of shame.
I ask Okorocha to remember the words of Mark Twain as he frantically tries to find a justification for his affair with Zuma. “It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not deserve them.”