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South Africa, Nigeria row: Interests beyond the surface

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By Richard Ihediwa

On Thursday, South African authorities sent an unreserved apology to Nigeria for the last Saturday deportation of 125 Nigerians from South Africa for allegedly being in possession of fake yellow fever vaccination cards.

Apparently apprehensive that it had bitten more than it could chew as diplomatic row from the action became larger than it thought, the country ate the humble pie by writing to Nigeria stating that it “humbly apologise” for the deportation.

“We wish to humbly apologize to them, and we have,” South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Ibrahim Ibrahim, said on Thursday. “We are apologizing because we deported a number of people who should not have been deported.”

The apology interestingly came hours after South Africa swanked that it would not apologise and instead was ready to deport more Nigerians from that country.

However, that grandstanding fell like a pack of cards following the decision of Nigeria  to bare its claws against all South African Interests within its territory.

To begin with, the Federal Government, in a tit-for-tat measure between Monday and Tuesday, deported about 84 South Africans on account of fake medical papers and commenced plans to deport more as well as to go against numerous South African businesses in the country.

To underscore the seriousness of the threat, the Senate empowered the executive to enforce all investment, immigration and expatriate laws with a view to close down all South African companies as well as send more South Africans packing.

Nigeria’s tit-for –tat measure came to the fore on Tuesday when the Senate through its Committee on Foreign Affairs gave the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that of Internal Affairs marching order to see to it that South Africans and their businesses in Nigeria were denied sleep.

The lawmakers also asked the Federal Government to consider immediate closure of Nigeria’s embassy in South-Africa showing that Nigeria was even ready to cut all ties with that country.

Many reasons are responsible for the hard posture Nigeria took on the matter. Before the deportation saga, Nigerian authorities had continued to harp on the continuous ill treatment of Nigerians in South Africa.

Speaking at the meeting between his committee and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the Senate committee, Senator Mathew Nwagwu said that Nigeria as a country was conscious of all the things South Africa was doing to her nationals adding that the recent deportation was the height of inhuman treatments to Nigerians.

On his own part, the minister, Amb. Olugbenga, said the recent experience was not the first time that country unleashed inhuman treatment on Nigerians adding that deportation of South Africans  was one out of the many diplomatic measures already listed by the Federal Government ."Nobody has the monopoly of deportation", he said.

The minister noted that most South African owned companies operating in Nigeria do not comply with the expatriate quota adding that the time to enforce the laws has come.

"The law requires the companies to return the management of the companies to Nigerians and send back the expatriates after two years. We are going to look at all these and we are discussing with the ministry of interior to enforce strict compliance of all immigration laws and practices to all nationals of South Africa.

"The south African companies are here in Nigeria making so much money, bringing in half baked graduates as expatriates to manage these companies. We will look at all these", he said.

Apparently jolted that Nigeria was already matching words with actions, it was gathered that President Jacob Zuma had ordered his officials to immediately find ways to end the row as the country was on the verge of losing billion of rands in income from South African companies in Nigeria.

This came on the heels of pressure said to have been mounted by some powerful lobbies in South Africa including top members of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), whose business interests were under threat in Nigeria.

South African business groups own Africa’s biggest mobile telecoms operator, MTN, which also has a very large investment in Nigeria from where that country earns billions of rands.

Also South African business men are behind Standard Bank Group, the parent of Stanbic/IBTC, all of which have profitable operations in Nigeria.
Reports on MTN financial result as at December 2010 showed that its total revenues globally for that year stood at N2.57 trillion (115 billion rand), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBIDTA) stood at N1.07 trillion (48 billion rand).

A break-down of the Group’s results showed that MTN Nigeria, which remains its biggest operations, contributed the most to its revenues and profits in 2010. MTN Nigeria made total revenues of N749 billion that year, which was 29 percent of the Group’s total revenues in 2010.

Toying with an offended nation like Nigeria would amount to blocking the inflow of revenue which is far beyond Nigeria’s internally generated revenue.

There were fears in South Africa that market rivals of the companies could cash in and use the opportunity to push them out of their flourishing business in Nigeria.

Though the row is over, there are many lessons that must be derived from the week-long friction. The first being the apparent lack of truism in the much orchestrated brotherliness between South Africa and Nigeria.

Many Nigerians appear to be of the opinion that South Africa is not really a brother or real friend but fair weather partner who thinks more of its economic interest than the issues of brotherliness with Nigeria. This is because it appears that that country would have gone ahead to continue to deal with Nigerians if not for its economic interest in Nigeria.

Deriving from this, critics opine that the apology might well be cosmetic and should not be swallowed line, hook and sinker by Nigeria.
On the other hand since it has become apparent that the relationship between the two countries has more to do with pecuniary interest than brotherhood, Nigeria should start pushing serious investments in South Africa as long as the tango lasts

Another lesson learnt is that of the enormous capital flight that has been going on as South Africa use MTN to pipe out trillions of naira gained from Nigerians.

Economic watchers insist that it is now time for Nigeria to wake up and asset itself and ensure that MTN is quoted in the Nigerian Stock Exchange to enable Nigerians buy into the company and become its part owners since the profit is generated from their sweat.

Be it as it may, the friction between the two countries has thrown up serious issues that might lead to serious economic rediscovery for the nation.



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