Nigeria-South Trade & Economic Relations: Way Forward, By Sonny Iroche 

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Nigeria-South Trade & Economic Relations: Way Forward, Sonny Iroche 

Good news that the South Africa government, under President Cyril Ramaphosa has worked assiduously hard, with appropriate financial Engineering to put its National career, South Africa Airways (SAA) back in the skies from December 2021, after of few years of comatose and disengagement of thousands of its staff and beneficiaries business linkages and stakeholders.

My personal foray into South Africa, started in May 1992, two years after the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and two years before its democratically elected majority black president in 1994.
I was fortunate to have been a member of the private sector delegation of the defunct OAU (now AU) Observer team, led by the then Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA 2).

The delegation lodged at then 5- Star Calton Hotel, down in Johannesburg City for the 4-day visit. Historically, that hotel had during the apartheid days, sadly, been for whites only. We happened to be amongst the first few set of blacks that were allowed to stay at the hotel at that time.
Other members of the OAU delegation were, Ambassador Segun Aina, Prof Alaba Ogunsanwo later Ambassador to Botswana, Major Obi Odu (Rt), later Ambassador to South Korea, Prof George Obiozor, who was then the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Professor Ukandi Damachi and a few Senior Staff of the OAU.
Dr Emeka Anyaoku, was in attendance in his capacity as the Secretary General of the Common Wealth Organization.
During the four- day CODESA 2 conference, we were hosted and interacted with such great ANC leaders like Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Thabo Mbeki (who was then like the Foreign Affairs charge-d-Affairs of the ANC), he was with us practically throughout the duration of our trip. The delegation also met FW D’Klerk and Mangosuthu Buthelezi

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Essentially, Nigeria played a key role in the fight and dislodgment of apartheid in South Africa (detailed story for another day).
Subsequently, that initial visit to South Africa, spurred my business and commercial interest in the country.

The level of the development in first world infrastructure, education, medical and health management and banking and finance, were quite alluring to me and our company. In fact, one of our companies was about the first to trade with South Africa, when, as early as 1993, it imported containers of Wine from Capetown.

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With the election and inauguration of President Nelson Mandela as the leader of both the ANC and South Africa, the country opened up to flurry of activities from all over the world. Nigerians from all works and business interests flooded the country. Later on, the Nigeria-South Africa Chambers of Business/Commerce were established on reciprocity. As business relations developed between the two countries, so did the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) kicked in, albeit that Nigeria Airways was already long defunct and therefore, there wasn’t really bilateral on the Nigerian side.
As a result of this heightened business activities, and new opportunities, the very lucrative Lagos-Johannesburg-Capetown routes, almost became a South Africa Airways (SAA) monopoly.

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On a bilateral trade relations, South African businesses clearly outclass their Nigerian counterparts. Huge Corporates in key economic sectors from South Africa, quickly identified yawning gaps in such businesses like telecommunications, banking, ICT, breweries, supermarket chains. Even our big Nigerian banks have found it difficult to carve a niche or compete in South Africa. First Bank Plc and Union Bank Plc, who earlier established Representative offices in Johannesburg, have since closed shops. Hardly, were Nigerian companies in a position to reciprocate, except for few individual efforts of small scale traders in corner shops in places like Hillbrow in Johannesburg and other cities.
Nigerian medical doctors and lecturers in tertiary institutions have made some modest incursion into the South African economic space. But nothing, in comparison with the other way round.

There is no gainsaying, that for Africa, with a population of about 1.4 billion mainly youthful population to develop and be relevant in the world ecosystem in the 21st century, Nigeria and South Africa, must come to the table, take governance to a sublime level, critically ensure that AfCTA works and issues concerning other bilateral relations between the two leading Afican countries are addressed, without hold backs or grandstanding.

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The upcoming visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa to Nigeria later this November, provides a most auspicious opportunity for both him and President Mohammadu Buhari, to agree on far reaching earth shaking bilateral Trade and Commercial decisions.
If I were to draw up a Meeting Agenda for the two brother presidents, it would look like this:
1. Free Movement of citizens between the countries. That is, expansion of ECOWAS treaty to include ALL African countries on Free Movement and Visa on Arrival, if necessary. Britain gives Nigerians 10- year visas. Whereas Nigeria-South Africa give citizens of each countries 90-day visas. British citizens, get visa on arrival in South Africa. Africa!!!!! Does this make any sense ? How will Africa grow?
2. Implementation of AfCTA recommendations
3. Railway and super road network linking the two countries and cutting across other African countries along the way. And possibly development of Nuclear Plants to power the two countries and if possible, sell and provide power to other African countries.
4. Create employment for the youths, women and the disabled of the two countries. Also educate both the Youths and Adults.
5. Building of human capacity, as an elixir to discourage and stem xenophobic attacks and mutual suspicion.
6. AOB to be highlighted and included by other Pan Africanist, who may share my views.

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This Agenda could be longer, but since the presidents are very busy people and swarmed by ever pressing demands and pressures from varied interests, let us just start with these 6 Agenda items.

British Airways (BA) flights between Lagos-London-Abuja and return are always full. As a result, revenue generated by BA on the Nigerian routes form a very high percentage of that airline’s revenue, which keeps BA solidly in the air. Clearly, the shopping and tourism centers of the United Kingdom, are the better for it. This simple business case, of ease of issuance of visas by the High Commissions of the two countries have for years, been my message to friends and officials of the two countries. If movements between the two countries are facilitated by either free movements or the issuance of longer tenured visas, then both countries would witness increased business and tourism activities.
Nigeria and South Africa, as the two leading economies of the continent are duty bound to provide leadership for Africa, in order to unleash the hidden potentials of the African continent.

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Note: Iroche is a seasoned Finance Executive with over thirty years’ experience in Banking, Power and Public Service. He has served on various boards such as the International Glass Industries Limited and GTBank Sierra Leone.

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Hamilton Nwosa is an experienced, and committed communication, business, administrative, data and research specialist . His deep knowledge of the intersection between communication, business, data, and journalism are quite profound. His passion for professional excellence remains the guiding principle of his work, and in the course of his career spanning sectors such as administration, tourism, business management, communication and journalism, Hamilton has won key awards. He is a delightful writer, researcher and data analyst. He loves team-work, problem-solving, organizational management, communication strategy, and enjoys travelling. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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