A drive around the city of Owerri, the Imo State capital will give you the feeling of a town going through some kind of reformation. Whether it is a positive or negative reformation is yet to be clearly stated by the reformers who insist that it is a positive one, while all facts point to a negative bend. However, one may be amazed by the new but poorly maintained and usually unoccupied structures that could become tourist attractions if well maintained. Example is the Heroes square and Akachi Statue, but if you don’t get to see those, you will probably see various old buildings being torn down and new structures being put up in their place. In the light of putting up new structures, last weekend witnessed the putting up of a new structure; the statue of the South African president, Jacob Zuma which aroused quite a harvest of disapproving tongues among Imo state citizens, Nigeria and South Africa at large, who lent their voices on social media to, as they say in popular parlance, ‘tear Nigeria a new one’. But I think that their vitriolic lampooning of Imo people and Nigerians is unfounded because in matters like this, the governor is a lone ranger who is averse to public opinion. The erection of this statue is highly reminiscent of that of the one time Military Administrator of Enugu State whose lone achievement was to embark on a project of fencing the entire perimeters of Coal City in the late 90s. Surely, we’ve seen greater things!
But what’s in a name, or what’s in a statue? The Imo state Governor wants to be seen as someone with a good taste of aesthetic value, which often leads to his misguided penchant of bestowing unmerited honour on his political allies. One is quickly reminded of his former Kwara State counterpart who named a street in his state ‘Sean Carter Avenue’ in honour of the rapper Jay Z who visited his state. Away from Nigeria, there are countries that put up statues in honour of people who may or may not have been indigenes, case in point, some years after the movie ‘Braveheart’ was released, a town in Scotland wanted to put up a statue in honor of the hero William Wallace, on who’s life the movie was based but since no one had seen ever Wallace, the residents had no option but to erect a statue of the actor who played William Wallace, Mel Gibson (who happens to be Australian) while in character; town in Austria erected a statue of ‘The Terminator’ to celebrate their son Arnold Schwarzenegger in his absence.
I hope in the ‘governors guidebook’, that there is or should be a chapter on statue erection which gives limits or extents to which one can erect a statue for another, be the person a resident of a particular place or not. Already, the question has shifted from the reason for President Zuma’s visit to the needfulness of the statue; news has it that the statue was erected with a whooping sum of N525million raising another question, “Was the N525m just for Zuma’s statue or did it include the other unveiled ones?” But let me not distract you with my rant, we are still talking about the sights in Owerri.
You should take a ride to Imo International Conference Centre (IICC), a truly befitting sight for an international conference center where people gather every day as if for an occasion but a closer look will tell you that those people are aged pensioners who queue up there every day for their pensions that remain perpetually elusive.
Still driving, take a trip out of Owerri and head to Okigwe, if your car can survive the numerous potholes just before Amaraku, you will notice several well-designed buildings that are near completion but has been abandoned. Enough said.
The Igbo culture has guidelines for bestowing chieftaincy titles, one of which being that if the person is a foreigner, he should have spent a number of years in the said community and should have achieved something worthy of note. Jacob Zuma, to date, has not stayed up to a week in Igboland and has not done anything worthy of deserving a chieftaincy title. This does not say that Jacob Zuma has no right to travel to any country or receive honour when bestowed upon him whether as a president or as a person but surely the honour givers should respect tradition in doing so.
Back to Imo State, N525m to create a statue? Let’s consult sculptors on that one, shall we? And while we are in the consulting spirit, let’s consult our tech guys on how much it costs to open an account on Facebook since a state in Nigeria allegedly budgeted millions of Naira to open one. Let’s also consult those in the waste disposal business since another state in our country allegedly spent millions to ‘throway dirty’ and please, can someone consult a pest exterminator with a specialty for rodents for a job in the nation’s capital. That being said, welcome to Imo State, the Eastern Heartland, home of heroes like Sam Mbakwe who modernized where would later become Imo, Abia and Ebonyi States (there is a road in his name); late footballer Sam Okwaraji (he has the stadium named after him), Chinyere Kalu the first female pilot in Nigeria, Sir Justice Chukwudifo Oputa, Alex O (popular pop singer in the 90s), Bright Chimezie, Sir Warrior, Claudius Eke, Lomaji Ugorji, Uche Ogbuagu, Tony Okoroji, Arch Bishop A.J.V. Obinna. They too deserve monuments just make sure we consult properly so the price of the monument won’t be too superfluous.