Zuma’s visit to Nigeria: resolving discontent, to strengthen relations

-as President Buhari slams MTN as aiding B/Haram
-Zuma promises to refund seized $15million arms deal

As has been speculated to be a strategic move to clear the increasing bubbles that may hinder businesses between two of Africa’s lion States, President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Nigeria with a large business delegation, coupled with the granting of 10 year multiple entry visas for African businessmen are just some of the steps SA aims to resolve obstacles threatening the smooth running of bilateral business relations between the two countries.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa arrived into Nigeria on Monday, and on Tuesday while responding to questions from journalists at a joint press briefing held by Buhari and visiting South African President, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Buhari, however, admitted that MTN’s decision to go to court to challenge the N780 billion fine slammed on it by the industry regulator disarmed the government from intervening in the matter’.
Buhari pointed out that what was important to the country was not particularly the fine but the security implications of MTN’s action on the country. According to him, ‘The concern of the federal government was basically in the area of security and not the fine imposed on MTN. You know how the unregistered SIMs was used by terrorists and between 2009 and today, at least 10,000 Nigerians were killed by Boko Haram, at least 10,000’.

In his remarks, Zuma said Nigeria and his country were working together to sort out the controversy over the $9 million cash impounded by the South African authorities from an aircraft belonging to Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

At the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2014, the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration illicitly flew in $9 million to South Africa to procure arms from the black market, but the cash was impounded by the authorities in that country.

Two weeks after the first fiasco, another $6 million, which was wired to a company in South Africa, was also impounded by the country’s authorities. Ever since, Nigeria has not been able to recover the $15 million from South Africa.

Nevertheless, according to BolajiAdebiyi, hope for the improved ties first surfaced when Zuma announced, shortly after the first meeting with his host, the signing of 30 bilateral agreements between the two countries, noting that both leaders had committed to improved trade and economic ties between Nigeria and South Africa. He also indicated that thorny issues, like the seizure last year of Nigeria’s money for the purchase of arms, that had strained their relations had been resolved. Except, however, he hinted that the eventual return of the money would await the resolution of some technical details.

Zuma’s speech at the joint session of the National Assembly yesterday struck a similar cord with Buhari’s expectations. The South African president told the session presided over by the President of the Senate, Dr.BukolaSaraki, that the two countries needed to strike a more rewarding business partnership by diversifying their economies to notable sectors such as agriculture, electricity, infrastructure development and manufacturing. This, he said, would create job opportunities for their citizens and improve their living standards.
In several ways, the renewed efforts to repair fractured relations between the two countries could not have come at a better time than now. Faced with severe headwinds buffeting their respective economies, both countries need to set aside their rivalries and rather cooperate with each another for mutually beneficial assistance.

Both, according to Bloomberg, have witnessed slowing down of growth at 1.3 per cent for South Africa and 3.3 per cent for Nigeria. With the South African economy facing stress and recession as demand from China, its main trading partner, weakens, and commodity prices plunge; and as Nigeria on the other hand is hit by a collapse in oil revenue, both countries need closer trade and investment ties to survive the global economic storm.

To achieve this, both nations’ leaders whose meetings continue today would have to quickly clear all those thorny diplomatic issues that bedevilled the countries’ relations in the past four years. For Nigeria, its concerns partly centre on the harassment of its citizens living and doing business in South Africa, hallmarked by the xenophobic attacks last year; seized arms money and visa restrictions. South Africa might, on its part, complain about the perceived targeting of its companies in Nigeria by regulators and the imbalance in trade between it and Nigeria.

However, there ought not to be any major difficulties clearing these outstanding issues and moving forward to more mutually rewarding trade, economic and diplomatic ties. After all, as both Buhari and Zuma have said at different times, Nigeria and South Africa have a historic relationship that has, in spite of recent disagreements, been essentially cordial, leading to incremental growth both in terms of trade and investments.

It would be recalled that President Jacob Zuma arrived Nigeria six ministers and a huge business delegation which includes the Minister of Trades and Industry, Rob Davies, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, MaiteNkoana-Mashabane, Minister for Energy, Tina Joemat-Peterson, Minister of Home Affairs, MalusiGigaba, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, NosiviweMapisa-Nqakula and Minister of Mineral Resources, MosebenziZwane.

Zuma will be addressing a joint session of Nigeria’s National Assembly today, Nigeria’s President MuhammaduBuhari would also in turn led by President Zumato address the South Africa Business Forum.
And sources close to Zuma’s cabinet had speculated that talks are likely to centre on issues of discontent that are threatening to both countries’ bilateral relations and probably the fine on MTN communications by Nigeria as well as Nigeria’s arms money seizures by South Africa.

The Acting Nigerian High Commissioner to South Africa, Martins Cobham, said areas that were perceived to have created some concerns would likely be addressed.

It would also be recollected that in the past Nigerians businessmen and travellers have lamented the severe treatments from South Africa on the issues of visas, and last year some Nigerians fell victims to South African xenophobic acts.

In a related development, just before Zuma’s trip to Nigeria, statistics coming from the South African Airways (SAA) equally revealed how important it is for South Africa to maintain positive business relations with Nigeria, as the country holds “much potential for growth on the continent” for SAA. This is as SAA has revealed its African growth plan through its recently introduced flights from Johannesburg to Abuja, Nigeria.

In 2015 South Africa experienced its biggest loss of tourism from African tourists, where a decline of 7.3% was recorded, compared to 9% growth recorded during 2014, according to a Grant Thornton study. Statistics released by the department of home affairs in parliament on shows a slight recovery in the last quarter with an increase of 4.9% in African travellers from December 1 to January 7, 2016.

“Since adding Abuja as a second entry point into Nigeria our network team has been hard at work to capture more feeder traffic and source markets for travellers to and from Abuja,” says Aaron Munetsi, SAA Chief Commercial Officer (Acting).
It would be recalled that SAA launched its non-stop flights between Johannesburg and Abuja, Nigeria in January 2016, making it the 25th destination on the continent serviced by the airline and says load factors have been positive, “gradually increasing on each flight”.

“The Nigerian market is particularly keen on business travel with business class load factors between Johannesburg and Nigeria approaching 70% (for Lagos) and a steady increase for Abuja.

“By increasing our footprint in West Africa, we can also boost passenger numbers even on SAA flights from Accra to Washington as Abuja to Accra is an easy 1h15 minutes away by air and connects very well with SAA’s departure to Washington. This also means that passengers have a much more flexible schedule as SAA has 10 departures from Nigeria to South Africa every week,” says Munetsi.

Added to this South Africa’s department of home affairs recently approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas for African business travellers – the same visa is also available for BRICS business travellers, allowing executives to remain in the Republic for 30 days at a time.

“As we roll out our African growth plan we are focused on capturing markets which have previously been inaccessible due to regulatory and other constraints. SAA’s African Growth Plan focuses on adding to the airline’s existing strong presence on the continent and how destinations on the continent tie-in with the airline’s international route network,” says Munetsi.

In August 2015 the airline introduced flights between Accra, Ghana and Washington DC in North America, with convenient onward connections to the East coast of the US on SAA partners United Airlines and Jet Blue.

The introduction of the Accra-Washington route has seen a steady growth in the number of passengers using this route and has performed in line with expectations. “This has provided SAA with the confidence to invest further and enhance its footprint in West-Africa.”

“SAA’s introduction of a second entry point in Nigeria, besides the long-established daily flights to Lagos, forms part of the airline’s Long-Term Turnaround Strategy. A second gateway in Nigeria materially strengthens SAA’s position in West Africa, where it plays a significant role in enabling the movement of goods and people to and from as well as between Southern Africa and West Africa,” the airline said.

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