As two of the strongest economies in Africa, co-operation between South Africa and Nigeria is pivotal to the growth of the continent - this is the message that came out of a dialogue co-hosted by the Financial Times (FT) and the Nigerian High Commission and supported by Brand South Africa.
There was keen interest in the high-level event, and guests included the Nigerian High Commissioner Sunday Samuel Yusuf; director-general of South Africa's tourism ministry Kingsley Makhubela; South Africa's minister of arts and culture Paul Mashatile; Charlotte "Chichi" Maponya, chairperson of Brand South Africa; and Lindiwe Maseko, speaker of the Gauteng legislature.
The purpose of the gathering was to discuss current and future trade and investment relations between the two countries, and to identify areas of opportunity for South African companies in Nigeria.
Guests stood for a moment in respectful silence to honour victims of the heavy floods which have killed 363 Nigerians and displaced over two-million, before proceeding with the eveningÂ's agenda.
"South African companies first moved into Nigeria about 12 years ago," said Nigerian Consul-General Okey Emuchay, "and they have thrived."
He named food manufacturer Tiger Brands, the Protea hospitality group, mobile provider MTN and retailer Shoprite as a few of those who have prospered.
But there are many more opportunities available today, in four main markets - agriculture, oil and gas, infrastructure and power, and solid minerals or mining.
The country is looking for creative ways to build its economy, said Emuchay, and South African companies should explore opportunities in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, especially.
"Tonight is the beginning of a mutually beneficial co-operation for South African companies and their Nigerian counterparts," said Emuchay. "The Financial Times and Brand South Africa have given us this platform to start thinking afresh, and I envision this as becoming an annual event."
"At a time when many developed countries are being downgraded," said keynote speaker Olusegun Aganga, the Nigerian minister of trade and investment, "our country is being upgraded. We are seeing generally low growth and returns in the developed world, but the opposite tends to be true in developing nations. There has been a shift in the global economy."
Africa's time has come, he said, and South Africa and Nigeria must work together to help the continent seize the moment.
As one of the world's fast-growing economies, Nigeria is an investor's dream, with policies such as 100% repatriation of profits, 100% foreign ownership in all ventures except for oil and gas, and a liberal visa regime all designed to make it as easy as possible to do business.
Aganga encouraged all African countries to look closer to home for trade and growth. "For more than 50 years Africa has exported its minerals and other precious resources to the developed world - those days should be over."
But there is more to be done - the continent must develop its industries. "Africa contributes just 3% to global trade, and 1% to manufacturing value-added services," he said. "We are not industrialised, but we should be. Aid won't get us very far in the global arena."
He described the financial crisis that has gripped many developed countries, including the Eurozone, as a "window of opportunity" for Africa.
Areas of opportunity
There are four important factors that investors consider - money, technical knowledge, a market, and raw materials. Capital and technology can be taken anywhere in the world, but raw materials and a market are immovable - and Nigeria has these two in abundance, said Aganga.
"We have a vibrant population of 167-million people and estimates show that by 2070 we will be the third largest nation in the world, after China and India. The average age at the moment is 18.6 years, and there is a fast-growing middle class."
The country has sought-after minerals in commercially viable quantities, is the seventh largest crude oil producer in the world and is in the top 10 in terms of gas reserves.
All these factors serve to make Nigeria a country that South African companies should buy into before the rest of the world knocks on the door, said Aganga.
He named several specific areas of potential - they include agriculture and food processing, such as maize production and the processing of sugar cane to sugar.
"Nigeria produces just 2% of all the sugar it consumes," he said, "but South Africa is a renowned grower of sugar cane."
The textiles industry is another potentially lucrative area, with opportunities existing in the processing of leather to leather products, and cotton to fashionable designs. Such operations would boost job creation too.
Mining and associated services such as the processing of iron ore into iron and steel, and bauxite into aluminium, hold good prospects, as does petrochemicals and its related industries of plastics, textiles and chemicals.
"Nigeria has the potential to become the continent's petrochemical hub," Aganga said.
South Africa is internationally known for its motor industry, which produces goods in vast quantities for domestic and international consumption, and Nigeria aspires to an equally healthy motor industry, said Aganga.
Another area where South Africa leads is in its services sector, and Aganga lauded the country for its progress in this area, saying that Nigeria can learn from its southern counterpart.
And as for the all-important question of whether such initiatives would succeed - "Just ask MTN," said Aganga. "Ask Protea, ask Shoprite."
To make it even easier for South African businesses to set up shop in Nigeria, the visa process for businesspeople has been streamlined, and a company can be registered in 24 hours, said Aganga.
"We extend the hand of friendship to South Africa - together let us transform our continent."
To finish off the evening, there was a panel discussion moderated by FT Southern Africa bureau chief Andrew England, and featuring Brand South AfricaÂ's research manager Petrus de Kock, as well as Nigerian businessmen.
"All 54 African countries together are a force to be reckoned with," said Chichi Maponya, introducing the panel, "and we should be setting our own agenda."
Maponya felt that the two countries' futures are "inextricably entwined".
The panel discussed the perceptions people from each country have about the other side, agreeing that South Africans should not be suspicious of Nigerians, and vice versa. Intra-African trade stands at 10% at the moment, they said - but getting it to even 20% within a reasonable amount of time will have a huge impact on continental growth.
The panel also advised local businesses to stake their claim in the West African country before the rest of the world takes an interest, and expressed their commitment to doing business in a corruption-free-manner, to the applause of the audience.