President Jacob Zuma visited in Nigeria to strengthen socio-economic relations and deepen existing co-operation in education. Picture: Vukile Mathabela / Presidency
Johannesburg - Despite the controversy unleashed by the erection of a life-size statue of President Jacob Zuma in Owerri, the capital of Imo state, and the criticism it generated in Nigeria and South Africa, a group of businessmen there say the benefits of the visit by the president far outweigh any trouble.

A report by a local online newspaper quoted the Imo business community, under the aegis of the Imo Economic Development Initiative, describing Zuma's visit as a major boost to the economic blueprint of the state.

A key member of the business community and chairperson of the Germaine Group, Jerry Chukwueke, said there was robust engagement between the Imo business community and the SA delegation led by the president, with mutual agreements reached in the power and gas sector, as well as the agriculture and hospitality industries.

Read: #ZumaStatue causes uproar in Nigeria

"As part of the outcome of the engagements, the South African president has approved the setting up of a consulate in Owerri and this means people travelling to South Africa from the south-east can process their visas and other related business documents directly in Owerri with ease.

"He has also approved the establishment of a payment centre in Imo state... which can be used for business transactions in South Africa," Chukwueke said.

He noted that this would boost the internally generated revenue that would accrue to the state and swell the number of jobs.

The report quoted him as saying that in the course of Zuma’s engagement with the businessmen, who included Pascal Dozie, chairperson of Diamond Bank, Chief Leo Stan Ekeh, chairperson of Zinox Computers and former chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission Maurice Iwu, they agreed on a partnership between South African Airways and Imo International Cargo Airport.

"We will have our first meeting next month in South Africa. We are looking forward to further engaging the South African government to see how we can harness their huge expertise in agriculture, mining and the automotive industry," the businessman said.

Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha unveiled the statue of Zuma last week and named a road after him. He also conferred the highest title in Igboland on Zuma, the Imo Merit Award.

But many Nigerians accused him of insensitivity, asking why the governor would spend government money on a statue of the president of South Africa, which is said to have cost 520 million naira (R1.9m), while Nigerian civil servants and pensioners had not been paid.

They also castigated Zuma for looking the other way when many Nigerians in South Africa, particularly Igbos, are killed by the police and others when xenophobic attacks erupt.

Okorocha said he owed no one an apology for erecting the statue, stressing that it was done in honour of Zuma's visit.

Independent Foreign Service