South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is set to arrive in Abuja to seal a deal where Nigeria has accepted the deployment of South African special forces to fight Boko Haram insurgents.
The visit is also expected to firm up trade and investment relations between the two countries which are the largest economies on the African continent.
Nigeria’s Defence minister Mansur Dan-Ali and his South African counterpart Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula met on Monday in Abuja to finalise modalities for the special forces deployment ahead of the arrival of President Zuma.
Key events on the trip include an address to the National Assembly in the capital, Abuja, and a meeting with the South Africa-Nigeria Business Forum, Mr Zuma’s office announced.
Pretoria is putting a positive spin on the visit, talking up the pair’s “good bilateral political, economic and social relations” and potential new business opportunities.
But neither presidency made mention of tensions between the two countries, including most recently the massive fine imposed by Nigeria on South African telecoms giant MTN.
MTN’s Nigeria operation was handed a $3.9 billion penalty in October last year for failing to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards.
The company, which is trying to negotiate a settlement, has so far paid out $250 million but its headline earnings for last year have taken a hit as a result.
Other South African firms in Nigeria have reportedly complained of being targeted. There have also been official criticisms of Nigeria’s response to a deadly building collapse in Lagos in 2014.
Eighty-one of the 116 victims were South African nationals. Pretoria said their bodies were not repatriated quickly enough.
On the Nigerian side there have been complaints about South African visa restrictions while in April last year the pair got into a spat about the recall of Nigeria’s two top diplomats.
The return of the high commissioner to Pretoria and consul-general in Johannesburg came in the wake of anti-immigrant attacks about which Nigeria said it was “deeply concerned”.
Mr Zuma will be accompanied to Nigeria by his ministers of trade and industry, international relations, defence, home affairs, and mineral resources, as well as captains of industry.
Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan became Africa’s leading economy after a re-basing exercise of GDP.
But the global fall in oil prices has slashed government revenues, severely weakening the naira currency and driving up the cost of living.
Meanwhile, Mr Dan-Ali said after his meeting with Ms Mapisa-Nqakula in Abuja that the deployment would be a follow-up to an MoU on defence co-operation signed between the two countries in 2013.
“It is a very good thing that we are thinking that South Africa being our close ally should come and help us in developing our industrial complex, that is the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria.
“We are of the opinion that very soon, after the two Commanders-in-Chief meet, we will look into going deep on how the two countries will work together and come to an agreement on the MoU and technical expertise between the two countries,” he said.
“This is just like the special forces that have been discussed by the two Chiefs of Defence Staff; that one will come into being between the two countries as soon as possible.”
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula noted that the cooperation between the two countries would lead to stronger ties. She stated that the areas of collaboration would include the “transfer of skills, technologies, [and] processing development together between the two nations”.
However, she said the “areas of cooperation would depend on the decisions of the Chiefs of Defence Staff, who had identified the critical areas, including procurement’’, during an earlier meeting.
The South African minister said a committee on defence put together by the two countries would reach an agreement in June.
Meanwhile, the Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF), Gen Zakaria Shoke, has said that his country’s military was willing to work with their Nigerian counterparts.
He affirmed that SADF was also willing to support Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram.
Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Abayomi Olonisakin, has asked for “the training of more special forces and equipment that could be used against Boko Haram, which has been substantially decimated and degraded”.
President Zuma is due on Tuesday to hold talks with President Muhammadu Buhari on deepening military and trade relations between both nations.
The South African leader is expected with a large entourage of investors.
The Nigerian Foreign Affairs ministry has hinted the meeting would also discuss the “challenges” confronting Nigerians living in South Africa and tensions this causes in relations between the two countries.
“The meeting between both presidents is very timely. Nigeria and South Africa are the pillars of this continent. And moving forward, both countries have to work together, both presidents have to be close,” said Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyama.
Nigeria is host to more than 125 South African companies, including telecoms giant MTN, satellite pay TV channel MultiChoice, and mass retailer Shoprite.