South Africa’s testy relationship with Nigeria has come into sharp focus with President Jacob Zuma’s official two-day visit to the West African country which ends later on Wednesday.
Zuma’s visit comes in the wake of the debacle surrounding South African telecommunications giant MTN which faces a multi-billion-dollar fine imposed by the Nigerian Communications Regulator.
This is after MTN failed to meet a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered subscribers to enable the Nigerian authorities to improve security.
The initial fine was reduced by 25 per cent to 3.9 billion dollars in December.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday fuelled the inferno when he accused MTN of increasing the Boko Haram threat in north-east Nigeria by failing to disconnect unregistered users.
Buhari told a joint news conference that the concern of the federal government “was basically on the security, not the fine imposed on MTN”.
In an interesting twist, the Nigerian media is speculating that Pretoria has set its sights on Boko Haram, and will be helping Abuja in its efforts to combat the Islamist militant group.
According to the report, Nigeria and South Africa are to collaborate on war on terror.
This followed a press briefing delivered by Nigerian Defence Minister Dan Ali after a meeting with his South African counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nquakula on Tuesday.
However, political analyst Simon Allison suggests that any collaboration between Africa’s two power houses is fraught with political, diplomatic, legal and financial difficulties that would make it very difficult to implement.
Writing in the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick, Allison said there is a very low chance South African special forces will be involved directly in fighting against Boko Haram.
“In other words, no matter what the Nigerian media might be saying, South Africa is not joining a war.
Even a deployment of South African special forces as trainers seems unlikely, given the personnel and resource constraints under which the South African National Defence Force is operating,”he added.
Zuma, who is accompanied by 30 business leaders and seven Cabinet Ministers, said South Africa and Nigeria have signed over 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding in areas including trade, industry, security and immigration.
Zuma used his platform to note that from the mid-1970s‚ Nigeria hosted some of the exiled freedom fighters from South Africa‚ with numbers increasing after the Soweto Student Uprising in 1976.
He said the 40th anniversary of that uprising is being commemorated in South Africa as Nigeria marks 40 years since, “the passing of one of the illustrious sons of Nigeria and Africa‚ General Murtala Mohammed”.
“His tenure only lasted 200 days but it had a profound impact‚ particularly on the struggle against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa‚” said Zuma.