President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday urged the South African government to repay Nigeria’s benevolence to its companies by opening up its economy for Nigerian businessmen and women.
Buhari, according to a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this in Pretoria, South Africa, during the inaugural meeting of the 9th Bi-National Commission of the two countries.
During the apartheid era in South Africa, Nigeria was one of the foremost supporters of anti-apartheid movements, including the African National Congress.
Besides issuing passports to many South Africans seeking to travel abroad, Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed – Olusegun Obasanjo regime, nationalised the British Petroleum for supplying oil to the apartheid South Africa.
Also after independence, South Africans companies, including MTN and Shoprite, were given an unfettered access to the Nigerian market.
At the ninth Bi-National Commission meeting, Buhari told the South African government to guarantee the safety of Nigerians. He also stressed the need for reciprocity in promoting trade and investments between the two countries.
President Buhari said South African companies had enjoyed unfettered access to Nigerian market and protection with enabling laws, urging the former apartheid enclave to design policies that would ensure investments from Nigeria.
He said, “We are pleased to inform you that our government has made doing business in Nigeria easier through the Ease of Doing Business Initiative to open up more opportunities for investors in Nigeria.
“We call on the government of South Africa to also take steps to ease the doing of business in the country, and open up its market space for Nigerian businessmen and women. In this context, we are gratified that a Nigeria-South Africa Business Forum has been organised in the framework of this state visit.”
The President, who said Nigeria would continue to value its relationship with South Africa, which is the second largest economy in Africa, stated that 32 agreements and memoranda of understanding had been signed by both countries.
He said, “We, in Nigeria, value the warm fraternal relations binding our two countries and cherish our special relationship. We consider South Africa an ally and a strategic partner.
“We need to implement those that have come into force, as well as expedite necessary actions to ratify the seven outstanding agreements that have not yet been brought into force. I welcome the robust defence cooperation between Nigeria and South Africa, and call for more support and solidarity with us in our fight against terrorism and violent extremism. We also welcome the increased collaboration against arms and drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking.”
According to the statement, Buhari condemned in the strongest terms, attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals living in South Africa, the looting of their shops and business and burning of their property.
He said, “We call for the strengthening and implementation of all the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such actions which threaten to undermine, not only our strong bilateral relations but also, what we stand for in the context of our vision for a strong and prosperous Africa we want.’’
The President also condemned the very few incidents of retaliatory attacks on South African businesses in Nigeria.
Buhari said, “I am happy to report that we took strong and decisive measures to stop the attacks and prevent any recurrence.’’
The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, apologised over the attacks on Nigerians and other Africans.
Ramaphosa said the attacks on foreign nationals were regrettable, assuring that his government would do more to protect lives and property.
“We will always be grateful to Nigeria for the support we received during the dark days of apartheid. We shall never forget the role you played to ensure that our people get the freedom we are enjoying today”, he stated.
Also during a joint press conference with Ramaphosa, Buhari called on Nigerians living in various parts of the world, especially South Africa, to adhere to the laws of the country they reside.
He also pleaded with Nigerians to ensure compliance with business laws in their countries of abode.
A statement by Nigeria’s President’s media aide, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as saying, “Like it is said, ‘when you are in Rome behave like the Romans’. Always be law-abiding.”
Buhari also called for more tolerance, vigilance and increased security to ensure safety of citizens.
According to him, competitions heralded by globalisation, especially with ease in migration, will only get more intense for businesses.
The President said authorities should be more pro-active in detecting early signals of violence between competitors, while migrants and companies should adhere to the laws of countries they reside. He added, “Police must be on the alert not to allow violence to escalate.”
Buhari said the business world had become more dynamic over the years, with foreigners competing with indigenes in businesses that were initially considered low.
He said the solution would only be for security agencies to show more interest in market operations, players and likely areas of tension.
The President, who compared the situation of Nigerians in South Africa to Ghana where competition at low levels of the economy led to intense competition, stressed that it would keep growing with population explosion.
Earlier, he had condemned attacks on Nigerians and the burning of their property in South Africa, describing it as “unacceptable.”
While assuring the South African government that its citizens and businesses in Nigeria would always be protected, he also condemned the reprisals in Nigeria.
“In my discussions with President Ramaphosa and the Bi-National Commission meeting, we reviewed a wide range of issues at national, regional, continental and global levels,’’ he added.
He said some of the issues were on trade, investment, mining, security, police affairs and environment.
Buhari said, “Our two countries have also agreed to unequivocally address the challenges in our relations including the recent people to people challenges that saw attacks against foreign nationals, including Nigerians, and their properties, which we strongly condemned.’’
In his remarks, Ramaphosa said the attacks on foreigners in South Africa, including Nigerians, were regrettable, assuring that his government would work hard to see an end to such attacks. He also condemned the reprisals in Nigeria describing them as condemnable.
“We will work together to promote cohesion and best values. What happened did not reflect our values. We both condemn the attacks and the reprisal in strongest terms. We will set up mechanisms for early signals”, Ramaphosa said.
He said South Africa would also create a more enabling environment for Nigerian businesses to thrive, acknowledging that more South African companies operated in Nigeria, while Nigerians were mostly in small and medium scale sectors in his country.
Ramaphosa said, “We have large corporations operating in Nigeria while you have small and medium enterprises from Nigeria here in South Africa”, he stated.
He promised to deepen the reforms in his country to open the space for more Nigerian business to “address the imbalance”.
“The rule of law must be obeyed by all citizens. Nigerians in South Africa must obey the rule of law, while South Africans in Nigeria must obey the rule of law”, he said.
The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, and South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr. Naledi Pandor, signed agreements on the minutes of the 9th session of Bi-National Commission.