IMO STATE- NIGERIA–––On Friday, November 10, 2017, Imo state governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, unveiled a statue built in honor of visiting Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In welcoming the gesture of the state governor, President Sirleaf said she has never before received such an honor in her life. According to the Liberian leader, she has a statue in her honor at her alma mater, Harvard University, but the size of the statue at Harvard cannot be compared to the one built and funded by Imo State local government under the leadership of Governor Rochas Okorocha who has not paid the wages of struggling civil servants, teachers and pensioners for months.
President Sirleaf, who is in Imo state, Nigeria for a two-day visit at the invitation of Governor Okorocha’s private business interest, the Rochas Group of Companies Limited and the Rochas Foundation Inc., was also honored with a Chieftaincy title of “Ada Di Oha Nma” (the Daughter that is Cherished by All) of Imo State by the Chairman of the State Council of Traditional Rulers, HRM, Eze Samuel Ohiri at the Eze Imo Palace Owerri. Awarding the Chieftaincy title on the Liberian leader, Eze Ohiri said she had done Africa proud especially the women folks and deserved to be honored.
But Sirleaf is not the first and only African leader that the governor of Imo State has given such an honor to as part of expanding his private investment in Africa as well as in doctoring and elevating his domestic political appeal and foreign policy credentials among Nigerians in his quest to become president of Nigeria one day.
Last month, Governor Okorocha, in the face of massive condemnations and outcry, unveiled a statue in honor of South African president Jacob Zuma during his two-day state visit to Imo state at Okorocha’s request. Zuma, whose 30-feet statue allegedly cost a whopping N520 million to Imo state taxpayers, was also conferred a traditional chieftaincy title by the state governor, a road was named after him and then, a statue of him unveiled in Owerri city. Before Zuma, Governor Okorocha gave a similar honor to current Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo.
It is, however, important to note that President Sirleaf has received more honors and awards in human history than anybody, both the living and dead. These honors and awards, which range from a fiercely lobbied 2011 Nobel Peace Prize (allegedly given to boost her chances in the 2011 presidential election) to placards from masquerading motorcycle riders, have made the Liberian leader unmatchable amongst award recipients in world history.
But the latest honor and award bestowed on the Liberian leader, the character from whom it comes, as well as the stalemate in Liberia and in Imo state in Nigeria raise more questions than clarity as to why the honor and award are granted. First, why is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf being honored by Imo state and in particular, the governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha? Second, does the reaction and circumstances in both Liberia and Imo state support and justify this event at all? To perhaps adequately provide some serious answers to these two questions requires contextualizing the perspective behind everything being done as well as do a surgical review of the award donor and the recipient with respect to their respective governments.
In context, it is fair to say the Liberian leader likes honors and awards because she has an increasingly over-amplified ego and a persona for internationalism, all of which recognition outside of Liberia can indirectly project. Besides, she, to her credit, understands the workings and the psychic of the international community and western nations such that she knows what to do to keep them in slumber regarding Liberia’s domestic chaos and the drastic human needs there are. In addition, she does not only know the tremendous power of international public relations, she is also utilizing that very well.
And, although Liberia under President Sirleaf’s administration since 2006 has always been in residual chaos for a variety of reasons––including high unemployment, poor infrastructure, deplorable health care and messy educational system as well systemic corruption––history proves that the Liberian leader seem to always receive an award when her leadership as president of Liberia is facing a major crisis and when the Liberian people have lost faith and hope in the international community due to an uncompelling inaction involving its blind support for what appears to be a failed African president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
With the exception of Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo who some will say, somehow, truly deserves the Imo state award even though the intent of the donor is circumspect, the governor of Imo State has no compelling reasons for bequeathing such honors to President Zuma and President Sirleaf. In South Africa, there have been swift reactions to Zuma honoring. Many in South Africa wondered why Okorocha would choose to honor Zuma, ignoring South African anti-apartheid icons such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Thambo, and Walter Sisulu.
Some time ago, a South African Court ruled that Mr. Zuma violated the constitution by using public funds to upgrade his private residence, leading to the president apologizing to his countrymen. Mr. Zuma has also faced allegations of infidelity and rape – he fathered a child with a woman who was not among his four wives even though he was acquitted of the rape charges. The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Mr. Zuma must face prosecution over almost 800 charges of corruption relating to an arms deal in the 1990s.
A Nigeria-based civil society group known as Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) described as “embarrassing” the visit and honor of South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma by the Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha. CSNAC’s Chairman, Lanre Suraj, said in a statement on Sunday the honor bestowed on Mr. Zuma would embolden the president to tell his people he is celebrated abroad.
Well, from all credible sources, Okorocha does not honor the dead and the politically non-influential. He is said to be using his position and status as governor of a state to advance his private business interest as well as his public political standing. His critics accused him of spending huge money from the Imo State budget on meaningless projects in a state that had not been able to pay workers and pensioners when and as due.
Reliable sources have confirmed that the Imo state governor Okorocha have a business interest in South Africa, Ghana and Liberia as well as a number of other African nations, and the best way to penetrate these countries, he figured out, is to use his state-funded honoring program. The visit of President Zuma, according to Imo State government, was for the signing of a MoU between Rochas Foundation with the Zuma Foundation.
According to a sustained reaction from South Africans and Nigerians alike, Imo state and Governor Okorocha had no business honoring Zuma who has been accused and found guilty of corruption and other wrongs in South Africa.
On the other hand, it is rationally near impossible to honor President Sirleaf in any way and for anything at this time, especially referring to her as a champion of women. Rape and abuse against children and young girls, as well as poverty and prostitution among women, are not only happening under the watch of President Sirleaf, her administration indirectly condones these acts through indifference, cover-up etc.
Globe Afrique has learned that Governor Okorocha who celebrated his 55th birthday on recently, also use these occasions as part of his strategy to uplift his national status in Nigeria as he prepares to launch yet another far-stretched bid for the Nigerian presidency in 2019 against incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari.
In September the Imo State governor visited Liberia for the first time in his life. During that private business visit, according to s local Liberian daily, Governor Okorocha told President Sirleaf that on the occasion marking his 55th birthday on September 29, Imo State’s National Assembly approved to have President Sirleaf honored with the State’s highest honor (Grand Chancellor of the State of Imo).
Adding, “Madam President, I am the current Governor of Imo State as well as the Founder and President of Rochas Foundation.”
“I have run twice for the Nigerian Presidency and have been a successful businessman as well,” Governor Okorocha, said.
Ghana’s Akufo Addo and South Africa’s Zuma aside, what and why is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf being honored for? Presently, there is an economic gap and an evolving financial disaster in Liberia. The country is being looted and public funds are being laundered into the personal accounts of officials and people of influence in Liberia in collaboration with foreign criminal facilitators, some of whom registered and operate bogus businesses, including banks, in Liberia.
The Liberian financial sector is insolvent and heading for a meltdown, with thousands of Liberians and others in the crossfire of victimization.
The Sirleaf’s family, according to sources, allegedly has majority ownership into two of Liberia’s known financial institutions: the International Bank, formerly the International Trust Company (ITC Bank) established as a result of the country’s international maritime program and the First International Bank (FIBank). While the International Bank (old ITC bank) which President Sirleaf’s brother-in-law, Estrada Bernard, serves as board chairman remains relatively solvent and viable, the First International Bank (FIBank) is insolvent and crashing, thereby run the risks of leaving depositors––individuals, families and small businesses– on the hook.
According to Globe Afrique’s research, the president son, James Sirleaf was the president of the First International Bank. Then President Sirleaf encouraged the takeover of Robert Sirleaf as its board chairman. James allegedly opposed the idea on the ground that he could not be the bank’s president and his brother Robert served as the board chairman. President Sirleaf allegedly intervened prompting the resignation of James. At the same time, Robert was also the chairman of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) which went bankrupt. Suddenly, Robert resigned as board chairman of the bank and the former disgraced managing director of the National Port Authority, Matilda Wokie Parker was brought in as board chairperson.
In addition to the above events, the Liberian treasury is virtually running empty, and before the next Liberian president assumes office, it will be completely dry due to organized and widespread graft and money laundering activities by some government officials, well-connected individuals with political access, and their foreign collaborators. Institutions charged with fighting fraud and waste are subject to political intimidation and harassment as well as judicial bullying. Some judges in lower courts can routinely and allegedly issue a summons for frivolous cases just because the law says they can.
Instead of empowering the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) to investigate graft and hold accountable individuals responsible, the Sirleaf’s administration consistently undermines the process with the help of a few apples in the judiciary. One very disturbing scenario is the case of one Tony Lawal vs the LACC. Lawal, a non-Liberia with a Liberian passport and voter registration documents and other identifications, used several bogus construction companies he established in the country to obtain an estimated $18 million dollars in road construction contracts without fulfilling his obligation. Hence, short-changing Liberian taxpayers.
More importantly though, is that Liberia is in a serious politically life-threatening situation that derives from the unruly manner in which [October 10, 2017,] the presidential election was conducted, staged, manipulation and ruined. President Sirleaf’s unacceptable interference has positioned the country for a possible constitutional crisis under which there might be a caretaker president to conduct a credible and peaceful election which President Sirleaf has been unable to do.
There are few fundamental issues and questions from Nigerians, South Africans, Liberians and other Africans that require answers.
“Is Governor Okorocha not aware that Mr. Zuma has been found guilty of corruption by the courts in South Africa and has been ordered to refund the $500,000 stolen from the public treasury to expand his private house to accommodate his many wives?
“Is Governor Okorocha not aware that Mr. Zuma has also been indicted for allowing an Indian family to influence the appointment of his cabinet members?
“Is Governor Okorocha not aware that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is accused of leading the most corrupt and the most disorganized government in Liberia’s history?
So then, why is Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state unveiling the statue of another African president, weeks after a national outrage over the unveiling of a multi-million-naira statue of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, particularly when critics accused the governor of spending huge money on `meaningless projects in a state that had not been able to pay workers and pensioners as and when due.