There were several crucial outcomes from the three-day state visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Republic of South Africa, October 2nd – 4th, 2019, and here are some highlights from the historic journey.
The President, who was accompanied by Governors of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Plateau State, Simon Lalong, seven cabinet ministers, head of the National Intelligence Agency and that of the Diaspora Commission was on a dual mission to undertake a State Visit and Co-Chair, with President Cyril Ramaphosa, the inaugural meeting of the elevated Bi-National Commission (BNC) between Nigeria and South Africa.
In 2016, the two countries had agreed to lead the BNC at the level of heads of state, which was the first-ever by Nigeria.
In focus during President Buhari’s visit was a wide range of bilateral, regional, continental and global issues of common interest.
For the first time, in the very historic relations that bind the two countries, this visit sought to, and successfully, established an equation between the two and their leaders. The result seems positive with both leaders acknowledging how the meetings reinforced the historic and strategic relations that exist between them, and the need to strengthen the ties of friendship and cooperation. They both proclaimed a perfect meeting of minds.
The meetings took place against the overarching backdrop of the sporadic xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals including Nigerians, which had threatened to rupture the cordial and brotherly relationship between the two countries.
When some countries in the sub-region recalled their ambassadors and threatened to cut ties with South Africa following the xenophobic attacks, Nigeria under President Buhari, chose to act wisely by not taking rash actions. There were doubts in many quarters on the continent, if the South African state understood early enough, the magnitude of the consequences of attacks on their own nation, and Africa as a whole. So for President Buhari, the approach was one of engagement, to assist the government and people of that country to overcome their problem, which by now had become our own, and Africa’s challenge.
President Buhari set the right tone by sending a Special Envoy, Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), to obtain first-hand facts concerning the condition of Nigerians and to sensitize the South African leadership on the concerns of Nigeria and of the continent as well the implications of the attacks.
After receiving a brief from the envoy, the President decided to proceed with an earlier planned visit, rather than abort it as some had suggested. With the visit, he saw an opportunity to put Nigeria/South Africa relations on a fast track; that if the two largest economies can come closer and work together, they can help one another, and the continent at large to overcome the many problems confronting them. Where there is development, prosperity and jobs among Africans, the backward habits as embarrassingly witnessed in South Africa and reprisal attacks, including Nigeria, would have been avoided. President Buhari did not, therefore, see “an eye for an eye” or a tit-for-tat as a solution. In appreciation of this approach, many in African leadership, including the African Union have sent messages to the President, thanking him for his enlightened leadership and wisdom in dealing with the matter, and in particular for speaking for Africa.
Arising from their discussions, both leaders condemned xenophobic violence and the reprisals. A solution to the typical violence, in their various pronouncements, lies in poverty eradication, jobs creation, crime prevention, observance of rule of law and lawful migration. The two Presidents directed their Foreign Affairs Ministers to give practical expression to the Early Warning Mechanism for prevention and monitoring platform.
Closely linked to this is the issue of the large number of Nigerians incarcerated in South African prisons, their number still undetermined, and lack of communication from the authorities regarding the process and the status of these arrests. The President requested relevant authorities to alert the Nigerian High Commission and the Consulate-General whenever a Nigerian is arrested, in line with Geneva Convention on Consular matters.
Nigeria and South Africa agreed to exchange a list of frequent travellers, notable business people and academics to facilitate the issuance of long term multiple entry visas for 10 years. There was also an agreement to re-establish the Nigeria/South Africa Consular Forum, with departments equivalent to our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Co-Chair), Ministry of Justice, the Nigerian High Commission, the Consulate, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking of Persons, Immigration Service and the Police. The forum will meet two times each year.
The two countries agreed to cooperate in geopolitical matters affecting the continent, on such matters of human rights, reform of the United Nations, migration and security issues, the fight against corruption and terrorism, nuclear disarmament and Western Sahara.
To take full advantage of the Nigerian Presidency of the UN General Assembly, currently led by Nigeria’s Permanent Representative, Professor Tijjani Mohammed Bande, and the South African Chairmanship of the Security Council for October, 2019, they agreed to push for the implementation of Resolution 2439 of the Security Council passed 2017, that called for a High Level Visit to the Lake Chad Basin.
The leaders of the two countries agreed to come closer on defence matters and counter terrorism; to intensify military training cooperation and share intelligence, and to work closely in areas of space technology and cyber security. It is also important to note that that the leaders of the first and second economies on the continent agreed to establish a Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on Industry, Trade and Investment. The inaugural meeting of this council will hold in April in Abuja next year. The meeting reviewed and agreed on the terms of reference as well as the operating rules for the council.
President Buhari and President Ramaphosa also tackled the knotty issue of market access. While South Africa is expected to re-submit the items they wish to have removed from Nigerian import prohibition list and want identified legal and regulatory difficulties facing businesses from their country in Nigeria removed, this country equally wants to have similar obstacles faced by Nigerian companies in changed or taken out altogether. Nigeria expressed commitment to open a trade office in South Africa.
Both countries noted the non-participation of Nigerian banks in South Africa and requested such banks to define their interests for determination by the relevant regulatory authorities in South Africa.
The same thing would apply to the aviation sector where the South African Airways has free air space in Nigeria but airlines here say they have difficulties accessing the South African air space. South Africa indicated they will look into all the issues.
The two leaders also took note of the significant footprints of South African businesses in Nigeria in sectors such as telecommunications, mining, aviation, banking and finance, retail, property, entertainment and fast foods. They welcomed business activities of Nigeria’s small, micro and medium enterprises as well as the investment of the Dangote Sephaku Cement in South Africa.
In dealing with the unwanted tide of informal artisanal mining activities, a team from South Africa will undertake a study tour of Nigeria in January next year. Also in the coming year, there will be joint minerals investment road show as well as an in-depth research and study of coal in this country, with Nigeria gleaning from South Africa’s rich experience in the sector.
Nigeria’s proposal for knowledge sharing in the areas of policy, legal and regulatory frameworks in mining and metallurgy sector was also welcomed.
In another significant pronouncement to be welcomed by many, President Ramophosa expressed regrets again and again on the xenophobic incidents and contended that South Africa is an integral part of the African continent: “We should never forget that our fellow Africans have contributed to the development of our economy and that of the region, and that South Africans are helping to develop economies across the continent.”
In a speech that should calm many Nigerians, who daily accuse our African brothers of ingratitude, President Ramaphosa said at the State Banquet in honour of President Buhari that: “We owe our freedom to Nigeria and Africa.” He cited sacrifices made by the country and its citizens “in spearheading the call for sanctions against the apartheid regime in the 70s and 80s following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960,” adding that “without Nigeria, freedom for South Africa would have come at a greater cost and a later date.” He repeatedly gave strong assurances that xenophobic attacks will not be allowed to happen again.
On his part, President Buhari read one of his best speeches in the current times at the banquet, a speech that in no small measure, delighted Nigerians and South Africans.
When he met the Nigerians in Diaspora, the President spoke as a father and a true African leader: “Recent acts of xenophobic attacks on our compatriots and other Africans in South Africa are shocking to me, Nigerians and indeed Africa. It was an embarrassment to the continent. Let me again use this medium to condole the families of all those who lost their lives over the years in such tragic incidents. May their souls rest in peace. I also commiserate with all those who were injured. May God heal their wounds. My sympathies are also with those who have lost properties.
“During my visit here, we have discussed these attacks on foreigners and Nigerians. The authorities have expressed their apologies over the incidents and have resolved to take necessary steps to end this ugly trend in the interest of our relationship.
“We have just inaugurated the Nigeria/South Africa Bi-National Commission at the level of Heads of State with a firm determination to further bring our two countries together in a mutually beneficial partnership. Let us therefore give peace a chance and pray we have seen the last of this ugly violence”
President Buhari’s visit to South Africa has, without doubt, ushered in the process of healing of wounds that had festered overtime, and upgrading of good bilateral relations to special and strategic levels.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media & Publicity.