On the global arena, there has been an unceasing battle for supremacy between two super power – the US and China – both states trying to strengthen their influences not only in economics but also in the field of politics. This supremacy battle is also playing out on the African continent, between the first and second largest economies – South Africa and Nigeria respectively – are in a budding struggle for supremacy. The most populous country in Africa and indeed the black race and the fourth most populous within the continent, are undeniable hegemonic powers in their respective sub-regions and both account for half of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic might.

The relationship between both countries can be examined in four parts: firstly, during the ‘independence boom’ sweeping through Africa in the 1960s to the latter stages of the infamous apartheid epoch in 1993. This period saw Nigeria playing a prominent role in bringing to an end apartheid rule not only in South Africa, but amongst the southern African countries; secondly, from 1994-1998, saw sour relations of both countries, under the administrations of Nelson Mandela and late Gen. Sani Abacha,; thirdly, from 1997-2007, during the presidencies of Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki, saw improved but lopsided relations amongst both states; and lastly, the period from 2008 hitherto, now under the administrations of Jacob Zuma and Goodluck Jonathan, is further witnessing lingering bilateral tensions. These periods of relationships have been fraught with a minimal mix of co-operation and largely of competitiveness, evident in rivalries between regional hegemonies, not only limited to Africa but to other regions within the comity of nations such as China and Japan, Brazil and Argentina, Germany and France, etc.

Topical reports that Nigeria’s economy could overtake South Africa’s as the largest in five years have rendered many nationalistic South African analysts livid. The rivalry between both countries can be traced to South Africa’s criticism and backing of Nigeria’s expulsion from the Commonwealth in 1995 after late Gen. Sani Abacha executed human rights campaigner Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 of his Ogoni followers, infamously dubbed the “Ogoni nine.” Mandela previously believed that he had established personal reassurance from Abacha for clemency for the Ogoni nine. Feeling betrayed he called for oil sanctions and Nigeria’s expulsion from the Commonwealth. Hence, Nigeria responded in 1996 by boycotting the Africa’s Nations Cup which was held in South Africa, having previously in 1994, won the competition in Tunisia and was thus unable to defend her title.

During the Obasanjo and Mbeki administrations, bilateral trade increased and Nigeria became South Africa’s largest trading partner. However though, South African companies in Nigeria began assuming predatory behaviors, profiting from the vast Nigerian market – three times larger than South Africa – while refusing to open up their own markets. Culpable South African companies includes: MTN, Multichoice, Woolworths, etc. Also, at the turn of the 21st century, xenophobic attacks began being meted out to Nigerian nationals residing in South Africa. Furthermore, exasperated by the ignominy visited on Nigerians trying to obtain visas to South Africa, Nigeria imposed stricter visa requirements on South Africans. Media reports in South Africa consequently began disseminating negative stereotypical reports of Nigerians as drug-traffickers and criminals.

With the ascension of both former vice-presidents – Jacob Zuma and Goodluck Jonathan – to the helm of affairs in their respective countries, saw the continued rivalry and burgeoning “special relationship” between both countries. The election of Zuma in 2009 saw South Africa’s increased cooperation with Angola, having identified it as a foremost strategic ally. This consequently created tension with Nigeria, as it appeared to relegate its special relationship between both countries. Also exacerbating both countries rivalry is the fact that South Africa is the only African representative in the Group of 20 (G-20) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) groupings.

Both countries also disagreed via disparate approaches in tackling the post-election conflicts in Ivory Coast. Nigeria adopted a belligerent posture towards Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede defeat after losing the country’s election. South Africa provocatively sent a warship to the Gulf of Guinea in Nigeria’s traditional domain/stronghold where she is the hegemonic power. South Africa however belatedly recognized Alassane Outtara’s victory during the polls.

Also, the opposing stance of both nations over the embattled late Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi and the recognition of the government of the Transitional National Council (TNC) during the Libyan revolution, was also an attestation of the burgeoning feud between both nations. Nigeria had backed the (TNC) rebel-controlled Libya, based on the African Union’s Constitutive Principle listed in Section 14 of the Constitutive Act. The Act cannot be implemented in isolation of other principles like democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and social justice amongst others. The Nigerian government had maintained that Libya under Ghaddafi has never been ruled under any known constitution since he took over power in 1969, and thus, the Constitutive Act cannot apply to Ghaddafi who had never run a constitutional government. This stance was further backed by 34 member-states of the AU.

However, South Africa claimed that the AU’s Constitutive Act does not allow the Union to recognize the TNC because it is an illegal force, maintaining that the government can only be removed through constitutional process. They were backed by the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe and Uganda’s, Yoweri Museveni, both of whom have been in power for 32 and 26 years respectively. With Zuma having enjoyed good relations with Ghaddafi over the years, South Africa thus delayed recognition of the NTC and even accused NATO of having abused its mandate in Libya.

In 2012, there was a salient diplomatic clash between both countries at the AU summit in January, over recognition of the government in Guinea-Bissau which Nigeria was supporting and South Africa opposing. That same year, Nigeria and South Africa were embroiled in another diplomatic feud after the authorities at Oliver Thambo Airport in Johannesburg deported 125 Nigerians (including legislators) alleging that their yellow fever vaccination cards were fakes. The Nigerian government responded by deporting 84 South Africans in 2 days, forcing South Africa to apologise.

Also, the same year, Nigeria’s continental battle with South Africa suffered a great blow when South Africa triumphed over Nigeria in a keenly contested election, as Dlamini Zuma of South Africa was elected Chairperson of the AU Commission, thus becoming the first woman to lead the continent. More recently, lingering bilateral tensions were again evident when Abuja ignored Pretoria’s recent invitation to join part of the BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa.

Another evident tussle between both countries is the jostle for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Nigeria and South Africa have both been non-permanent members on the Council, and Nigeria is poised to begin another 2-year term on the Council beginning in January next year, a record 5th time, a feat parallel to none in the continent, and there is increasing prospects that a single slot would be allocated to the continent on permanent basis, when the Council is reformed and expanded.

From the afore-mentioned extractions, it is evident that there is a growing superiority feud between both nations. Nigeria having played the “big brother” role over the years in the emancipation of South Africa and other southern African countries from apartheid rule, earning her the title of “frontline state”, South Africa should ordinarily be reverent  to Nigeria. However with consistent successive bad governance, ubiquitous leadership deficiency, prevalent corruption and impunity, an overly dependent economy on a single sector inhibiting diversification, and lack of articulate economic and foreign policies, South Africa today can also lay claim to being the giant of Africa. In 1993, when Nelson Mandela was elected president, 33 years after Nigeria’s independence, Nigeria presently trails the economy of South Africa as the largest economy in Africa.

Nonetheless, Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust needs to be articulately appraised to Nigeria and Nigerians’ interest as being the centre of her foreign policy objective, especially in conformity with major developed countries foreign policy thrusts. Also, the policy of reciprocity needs to be adopted by the Nigerian government, so as to serve as deterrence to other nations taking hostile actions against Nigeria and her nationals. More importantly, the criteria of appointing Ambassadorial positions needs to be overhauled, as over the years it has largely been used for obsequious partisan patronage instead of taking into cognizance such qualities as qualification, professionalism, integrity and competence.

With such a foreign policy stance, a viable economic base, an adept purposeful political leadership and viable governance structure, Nigeria would indeed be able to assert her indelible footprints once more across Africa, effectively making her the undeniable giant of Africa.
 
Article Written by Hannatu Musawa
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