SA-Nigeria relationship to ‘warm’ after election

2015-04-07 09:09

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Relations between South Africa and Nigeria could change with the west African country’s historic peaceful transition to a new administration this week.

Nigeria’s elections commission last week formally announced that Muhammadu Buhari had unseated Goodluck Jonathan as president in an election that was hailed as mostly peaceful by observers and the international community.

President Jacob Zuma, who was one of the first leaders to congratulate Buhari on Tuesday night, hoped to attend his inauguration on May 29, said his spokesperson Mac Maharaj.

“[The election] was a very important event for the Nigerian process and the continent. I think the process went very well,” he added.

He said there was already a “stable framework for the relationship” and both countries were committed to strengthening their relations.

Maharaj, however, reckoned relations would have been stronger even had Jonathan obtained a mandate for another term in free and fair elections.

“It is not like it’s a new chapter, but a continuation of a historic relationship. But we now have the opportunity to take that relationship forward and make it more meaningful,” he said.

Adetunji Omotola, a Nigerian businessman and political commentator from Johannesburg, said “there will be a marked improvement in relations”.

He said “Buhari, being an upright person, would want warm relations with South Africa as Africa’s [second-biggest] economy”.

He said Buhari, who beat Jonathan with 15?million votes to 13?million, had a clear mandate to govern. “He unseated an incumbent, and he has applied for the job [when he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency] three times before, so it means he will have more respect from his peers in government,” he said.

Omotola said, even though South Africa’s relations were cordial with Nigeria before – Jonathan attended Zuma’s inauguration for his second term in May last year – there was some strain last year with the church collapse in Lagos in which 85 South Africans were killed.

There was also tension after South Africa froze millions of dollars from Nigeria earmarked for buying arms in South Africa.

Relations could only improve.

Buhari’s running mate and vice-president elect Yemi Osinbajo has visited South Africa several times in recent years.

Ghanaian pastor Daniel Awusanya, from the House of Revival Church in Brakpan, said he had a long-standing friendship with Osinbajo, and the law professor had visited as recently as October last year for confessions at the church.

“Some people have gone to Nigeria to negotiate with him to visit again,” Awusanya told City Press. “The visit could be as soon as the end of this month, or else in October.”

South Africa’s failure to take sides ahead of the Nigerian elections – the United States and the United Kingdom had nailed their colours to the Buhari mast – could place an initial strain on relations.

A Nigerian diplomat, who did not want to be named, said South Africa should have taken a stand.

But South African officials said the country was bound by the African Union principles of noninterference in the affairs of other countries, except under strict conditions.

The diplomat said it was likely Buhari would visit South Africa soon because of the importance of the relations between the two countries.

There are also links between South Africa and some brokers in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC).

Former Nigerian vice-president Atiku Abubakar, who has a close friendship with Zuma, has defected to the APC, while former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who has also left Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party for the APC, is close to former president Thabo Mbeki.

Former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu also has close ties to the ANC.

“It is not only Buhari who will drive Nigerian foreign policy, but there are other actors around him,” said the diplomat.

“They have an international outlook and many believe Nigeria should play a more international role than before now that domestic problems such as Boko Haram are reduced.”

Last month, a paper by the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria projected that Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, was the only country in Africa with the potential to become a player with global significance.

To date, however, the country had been punching below its weight and it needed “far-reaching changes in its current domestic stability, governance capacity and political leadership,” according to the paper.

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