The Nigeria-South Africa relations may be facing the cadillac of its existence since the end of apartheid in 1994. It showed recently in the decision of the South African government, promising to return the $15 million arms deal money it earlier seized from Nigeria, though no timeline of when the seized money will be returned has be given but they assured that it will be very soon. Myakayaka Manzini, South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, who featured in a programme on African Independent Television, AIT, “Matters Arising”, promised that South Africa is making plans to return the $15 million arms deal money it earlier seized from Nigeria. “Both countries have decided on a political solution to the issue. Nigeria is a big ally and a brother.” Manzini said.
According to Manzini, South Africa will do everything to maintain genial relations with Nigeria and would not do anything to hurt her national interests. He added that South Africa had been selling arms to Nigeria and that his country was prepared to sell arms to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.
South African authorities had earlier seized $5.7 million and $9.3 million arms money from Nigeria of which the Nigerian government, however, through Doyin Okupe, Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Communication argued that both transactions were legitimate arms deals to procure armaments for the Nigerian intelligence services.
The recent stretch of events brought to fore, the unhealed wounds in the Nigeria-South Africa relations. Investigations revealed that the Federal Government of Nigeria was cynical that the South African government was carrying out a deliberate action to derision the country’s thriving international image with the two botched armaments deals. This must have led to the action of Manzini.
However, the intent of the South African government is what is of concern. There were pertinent questions that the Nigerian government was said to be asking the President Jacob Zuma-led government; in several occasions he has addressed Nigeria as a sister-country, then why was his government frustrating Nigerians armaments deals with his country? When he knows what is at stake. Some see the armaments deal frustration as sabotage of the current insecurity situation in the country.
Not long ago in 2010, the South African government was accused by several Nigerians of not doing anything to avert the October 1, independence bomb blast, which rocked the nation’s capital, Abuja. There were conjectures that the South African government had early intelligence information of the blast, which led to them arresting Henry Okah afterwards. But the Nigerian government never released any official statement about the conjectures.
According to David Aworawo, Senior lecturer, Department of History and Strategic Studies, University of Lagos, UNILAG, it is plausible to make such a conclusion, looking at the struggles of both countries; for a chance of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, UNSC, cumulative competition for positions at the African Union Commission, AUC, and claims of who is the political, economical, and military powerhouse of Africa. “It is plausible, it makes sense to draw such conclusion. In any international relationship between two countries national interests comes first. So it is logical that South Africa will want to play along with the US so as to be on the same pedestal with the west as regard the permanent seat in the Security Council to be allotted to Africa.” Aworawo enthused.
Aworawo pointed out that following the end of apartheid much of South Africa’s benevolence towards Nigeria for supporting the country’s freedom movements ceased due to the unlawful activities of Nigerians in the country between 1994-1998. He further said: “It is unfortunate that when South Africa became independent, as it is called, when multi-party democracy came in after the fall of apartheid and the installation of Nelson Mandela. The truth is the whole world thought Nigeria and South Africa will be collaborators to lift the whole of Africa, but unfortunately it was not after three years. The struggle by Obasanjo and the rest to see multi-party democracy installed in South Africa saw them becoming our archrival. Rivalry has become the centre of our interaction.” Aworawo accuses South Africa of being insensitive to the struggle of Nigeria during her hard times. “Is it that they have so short a memory? Once upon a time there was a US president, left to his position the Mandela they celebrate today would have been long dead. But for Nigeria’s intervention he is being celebrated. What shocked the whole of history is that the US president was at his burial and he spoke, not minding if it is Obama. But the Nigerian president was not given even a second to talk. They have forgotten the position of Nigeria in their country’s history.” He said.
During the apartheid era in South Africa, which saw Nelson Mandela imprisoned for 27years and several South Africans killed and jailed, Nigeria was one of the principal allies of the liberation movements, supporting the African National Congress, ANC. At the culmination of apartheid the Nigerian government issued more than 300 passports to South Africans seeking to travel abroad for safe havens, granted scholarships to them to school in Nigerian universities, contributed an estimated $61 billion towards the anti-apartheid movement, and in 1994 after the abolition of apartheid, South African businesses which sought for professionals got a large number of Nigerians travelling to help the budding country.
The rivalry, which has become the bedding of both countries relation, has seen government officials hint a possible reciprocal harsh action from the federal government to address the lingering aggression of South Africa towards Nigeria. A top government official who spoke with the PUNCH newspaper, name withheld, on October 7, said: “Look, what I can tell you is that this country will not allow the South Africans who have benefitted so much from us to continue to act this way for ever without a response. I think it is now time to call their bluff. How can you seize the money belonging to the Nigerian firm in the deal between two companies? I think that is absurd and we have started gathering information. If this situation is not handled with maturity, it could affect diplomatic relationship between the two countries.”
Adekunle Karounwi, special assistant on media, office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, in a statement said the transaction is legitimate. He noted that the South African government had a responsibility of providing Nigerian companies, just as Nigeria does for South African firms in the country, an auspicious business atmosphere. “We want to state clearly that a business transaction actually took place between a legitimate company in Nigeria and another legitimate one in South Africa through the bank. In the course of events, the South African company could not perform and decided to refund the money. What is illegitimate in this transaction done through the bank? Nigeria provides the enabling environment for South African companies like MTN, DSTV and a host of others to do business unhindered. It is our hope that South Africa would reciprocate this noble gesture.” Karounwi said.
According to Aworawo “If the United States, US, didn’t deny us the arms when we requested it, we would have had no reasons to go to South Africa, stating that the Nigeria government should have envisaged the hostile South African government actions if they had carefully studied the pattern of budding events involving the US, south Africa, and Nigeria. Whether US directly influenced South Africa, am not sure. But as to whether South Africa has done this to tow the line that US have and to gain favour from the west is logical. Because South Africa has always been in support of western ideas.”
Aworawo believes that the yellow fever issue of two years ago was sorted out easily because it was sort of a trivial issue but suggests that because of the permanent seat at stake the present which involves the death of South Africans in Nigeria and arms dealership, proved difficult to resolve.
This permanent seat on the UNSC is conjectural at present, as United Nations reform is still been long awaited. But when it ensues, at least one seat in the Security Council will be for Africa, and it will be the African country with the strongest economy, international influence, military power, and the most of western allies.
South Africa once prides itself as Africa’s biggest and most developed economy, attracting many western investors as a hub for western companies wanting to invest in Africa; Nigeria on the other hand, was a mere Africa’s most populous country with so much potentials that lay untapped due to bad leadership.
However, Nigeria’s exposure to Europe in recent time has turned around the table for South Africa. Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa after a Gross Domestic Product, GDP, rebasing was done in 2013. The implication is that Nigeria now prides as a hub for Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, in Africa, leading South Africa. Economic growth is slowing drastically in South Africa, hit by several industrial actions in key business sectors leaves Nigeria a key benefactor, as investors in South Africa mine and automobile industries seek greener pastures in Nigeria. And the FG of Nigeria is making policies to attract more investors.
The causal agent of diplomatic tension in South Africa-Nigeria relations’ is who leads Africa. The reality is, according to Aworawo, the whole world seeks Nigeria and South Africa collaboration to lift the whole of Africa.