Akinboye: Nigeria does not deserve hostility from South Africa
South Africa Should Support Nigeria’s Bid For The Security Council’s Membership
Prof Solomon Akinboye is the Dean of Post Graduate Studies, University of Lagos. Speaking with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, the expert on Nigeria-South Africa relations said the two countries should do more of partnership than confrontation.
Upon the visit of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to Nigeria, how will you describe the relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, bearing in mind recent uncomfortable face-offs between the two countries?
it has been tensed. And the reason being that since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and up to 1994, South Africa had consistently and persistently maintained a policy of apartheid system and as a result of that Nigeria had also consistently and persistently developed an anti apartheid policy, which has been consistently maintained by the various regimes in the country. However, in the early 1990s, and as a result of the then President of South Africa, Frederik W. de Klerk’s effort to democratise the South African political system, Nigeria’s relation with the country started to become friendly.
On that score, Nigeria also started to develop a steady relationship with South Africa; a relation that was initially frosty, became friendly. Since that time Nigeria has been having steadier relations with South Africa.
Of course, there had been periods of frosty relationship between the two countries. It has not been totally friendly from that 1994 when apartheid ended and President Nelson Mandela-led ANC became the government of the day. The first in line of this love-hate-love relationship between the two countries post-apartheid was General Sani Abacha’s policies, particularly the execution of Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa at a time when President Mandela was begging that Nigeria should not be suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations.
At that time, there was the thinking that, as a result of the poor human right records of the military regime in Nigeria, the country should be suspended. As Mandela was still pleading the Nigerian case during the Switzerland meeting of Commonwealth Head of Governments’ meetings, the Nigerian junta ordered the execution of Saro-Wiwa. Mandela was the first person to move the motion that Nigeria should be suspended. So, the frosty relationship started and went on all through the Abacha’s regime.
Then General Abubakar Abdulsalam, who took over from Abacha, tried to kick-start a more cordial relationship with South Africa, but the administration spent too short a time to be assessed. But with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the President of Nigeria, the relationship started to be more friendly and cordial again, and that was the time South African investors started coming to Nigeria in large numbers. That was the time many Nigerians also started moving to South Africa in large numbers to do business. Generally speaking, there was cordial relationship between the two countries during this period. Then of course, that continued until the issue of the xenophobic attacks, which was so disgusting to many Nigerians, reared its head.
Disgusting in the sense that Nigeria did not think that South Africans could turn on them. One would have thought that the South Africans should have reciprocated Nigeria’s kind gesture to them during the apartheid era by encouraging cordial relationship with Nigerians and not doing any harm to them, but that was not the case. The xenophobic attack was more or less designed to humiliate Nigerians. That was the thinking of many Nigerians, maybe it’s perception, I don’t know, at least even if it’s perception something must have prompted it. But Nigerians were unnecessarily humiliated. I saw Nigerians in South Africa protesting in various parts of that country. There was a time some of them were killed, some in the eastern part and some other parts of South Africa.
I am sure the visit was part of the efforts to mend the frosty relationship because, whether you like it or not, the two countries are the most powerful on the continent, the most prosperous, economically and otherwise and there is need for them to cooperate. There is no need for them to be having frosty relationships with each other.
One would have thought that the South African government should have cautioned its citizens, but if it did, it was not obvious. In my own experience in South Africa, I discovered that White South Africans appear friendlier to visitors than the Blacks; and it is very alarming. I am very surprised. For me, the Whites were friendlier to me than South African Blacks. The thinking of the Blacks seem to be that we, Nigerians, are there to take their jobs; to replace the Whites.
How comfortable are you with efforts at governmental level to normalise relations
Apart from the xenophobic thing, there was also the issue of Nigerians who were sent packing from the South African airport because of allegation of inappropriate Yellow Card. Of course, Nigeria responded well at that time, which was during the time of Mr. Gbenga Ashiru as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He responded well by sending South Africans packing too, immediately they got to the Nigerian airport; that is the policy of reciprocity, which most of us supported.
So at the governmental level, I think tremendous efforts have been made in order to foster a cordial relationship between the two countries, both at the presidential level and at the vice presidential level and part of it is what brought President Zuma to Nigeria. I am sure the visit was part of the efforts to mend the frosty relationship because, whether you like it or not, the two countries are the most powerful on the continent, the most prosperous, economically and otherwise and there is need for them to cooperate. There is no need for them to be having frosty relationships with each other.
Having in mind the economic status and influence on the continent, could there be element of rivalry shaping the countries’ relations?
The rivalry could be part of it, in the sense that each wants to claim leadership of the continent. During the apartheid regime, Nigeria was known as the giant of Africa, and that was because South Africa was yet to attain popular majority rule, but since the dismantling of apartheid and the democratisation process in South Africa, that country has also become another giant and so you are bound to have a kind of rivalry between the two. So, rivalry is part of it and of course each of them wants to be permanent members of the United Nations.
One would have expected that one would give way for the other, but in spite of all efforts to bring that to fruition, it has not succeeded. They are still bent on going individually. Now, the advocacy is relaxed for the time being, but what we are saying is that if any country deserves to represent Africa, Nigeria should be that country. But as of now, none wants to step down for the other. As you know, South Africa used to be known as the economic powerhouse of Africa, but that has now shifted when Nigeria rebased last year, making her the largest economy on the continent. This is not be in interest of South Africa, because as far as it is concerned, it is still the most prosperous country in Africa. Yes, of course, there is rivalry between the two countries.
Specifically, which of these countries is more deserving of a permanent seat at the UN Security Council?
I will say that it is Nigerian, because Nigeria did a lot for South Africa during the apartheid regime, the country contributed a lot financially and materially. Many South Africans were sponsored by Nigeria or were given scholarship. They were in many universities in Nigeria to study free of charge and you have many of them that the government catered for. Nigeria maximally supported South Africa. Nigeria was in the forefront of anti-apartheid struggle, to the extent that the
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