As Nigeria marked its 63rd anniversary of Independence Day, several diplomats, representatives of the South African government, members of the academia, local and international media gathered in Pretoria to celebrate the grand occasion.
The South African government was represented by Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga who also addressed the event.
In his keynote address, High Commissioner of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in South Africa, Muhammad Haruna Manta said the strong bonds of friendship between the two countries, which are not limited to economic transactions, are a testament to the enduring friendship and cooperation between the sisterly African nations.
“Your excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen - Nigeria and South Africa share a special bond that extends beyond borders. Our countries have a long history of collaboration and engagement, which has evolved into a thriving trade partnership,” he said.
“This partnership is not only beneficial to our economies and contributes to the development and prosperity of our people, but significantly reflects on the progress of the African continent.”
In recent years, Manta said remarkable growth in trade between Nigeria and South Africa has been witnessed.
“Our countries have become important trading partners, and the potential for further expansion is immense. Nigeria, with its vast human resources and robust economy, offers unique opportunities for investment and trade, while South Africa’s industrial prowess and infrastructure would complement to strengthen economic ties between the two regional powers,” he said.
The Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission, established in 1999, serves as a platform to enhance cooperation in various sectors, including trade and commerce.
According to the Nigerian High Commission, in the last 26 years, the exports from South Africa to Nigeria increased at an annual rate of 9.69% from $51.3 million in 1995 to $569 million in 2021.
In the corresponding period, Nigeria’s export to South Africa also increased at the rate of 24.7% from $7.25 million to $2.23 billion.
“Nigeria, and South Africa have witnessed productive engagements in energy, telecommunications, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors. The MTN telecommunication giants and the MultiChoice conglomerates are testimonies in this respect,” said Manta.
“We recognise that there is still untapped potential waiting to be harnessed. We must therefore explore avenues for increased collaboration, not only in traditional sectors but also in emerging areas such as ICT, renewable energy, healthcare, and Artificial Intelligence. Together, we can create an environment that would foster innovation and entrepreneurship for the benefit of our businesses and citizens.”
Manta revealed that Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has accepted the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa to attend the 11th Bi-National Commission in the first week of December.
“The two presidents would use the opportunity to rekindle the eagle and the springbok relationship. We cannot afford to fail the continent as Nigeria and South Africa remain the critical pillars in the full implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”
However, the top Nigerian diplomat said he could not conclude his speech without raising a few “irritants” which muddy the diplomatic relations between South Africa and his country.
“I cannot conclude my address without highlighting a few irritants noticeable in our relations, which include but not limited to the stereotyping of Nigerians as criminals; a view promoted by the activities and narratives of “Foreigners Must Go Campaigns” also known as “Operation Dudula”.
“Nigerians are daily experiencing delays in obtaining South Africa entry visas; students wishing to study in South Africa are denied visas, even after payment of school fees and those already here are denied permits to continue their studies. This treatment is also extended to bona fide residents and entrepreneurs,” said Manta.
On a positive note, Manta said the South African government has promised to address the challenges and has started by expanding its chanceries in Abuja and Lagos.
“We are waiting to witness the increase in the number of staff to enable faster service delivery,” said Manta.
“In conclusion, on this National Day of Nigeria, let us celebrate not only our nation's achievements, but also the enduring friendship between Nigeria and South Africa. Our trade relations are a vital component of this friendship, and I am confident that with continued cooperation and collaboration, we can achieve even greater success in the years ahead.”