President Jacob Zuma just like Thabo Mbeki before him are familiar with Nigeria, particularly Lagos and Abuja. The two statesmen were their country's representatives in Nigeria in the early 70s when Nigeria led the world in the fight against apartheid and the eventual liberation of South Africa, with every citizen making a contribution in cash and kind. Yet Jacob Zuma's return to Nigeria this week is that of a colonial master, come to see the extent to which his country's expertise buoyed by the colonial experience has held a firm choking hold on the Nigerian economy.
From Banking to Oil and Gas, media, entertainment, tele-communications, aviation, tourism, fast foods, property, retail and to the arts, over 120 South African companies thrive in businesses in Nigeria, taking advantage of a lacking in management capacity, corruption and outright indiscipline and unpatriotic nature of the Nigerian citizenry, engage in sharp practice to aid the pillage of the nation's economy with impunity.
The South African brand is distinct. Laws you dare not break in the South African business climate, appear nonexistent in Nigeria, where as it seemed, you can get away with anything. South African companies in Nigeria meanwhile, enjoy bogus tax heavens, yet dodge and evade taxes through the wide open loopholes that abound over and above what palm greasing of greedy Nigerian officials could offer. The South African flagships Multichoice and the GSM Carrier MTN though Nigerian registered companies, operate obnoxious foreign exchange repatriation practices detrimental to the Nigerian economy. Bulk of earnings from DSTV the satellite TV giant, operates the highest tariff in a policy that charges clients whether they watch or not. Together with MTN the sister GSM conglomerate, sales are repatriated through all ways and means that require scrutiny more now. To imagine that for years, the scratch recharge card was imported alone tells you how much damage was possible under the guise.
Watching from a far thus, many Nigerians who recall with nostalgia how their country embraced the war against apartheid, and now only to be economically colonised by the "liberated" South Africa, albeit by proxy, can not have been enthused by Zuma's late hour visit.
Until President Muhammadu Buhari took charge in Abuja, South Africa had impounded over $10m ferried in a private jet to that country, ostensibly to pay for an order of military ordinances and hardware, but clearly in contravention of that country's currency control laws. South Africa held on to the cash but let the criminals return to Nigeria, probably in hope that more dollars would come from where this cache originated. This was at a critical time when Nigeria was prosecuting and losing a war to a home-grown insurgency. Was this not a time for South Africa to have reciprocated the counter apartheid gestures of Nigeria and her people? The government took an aloof stance and mercenaries cashed in to further make the counter insurgency effort, a business opportunity for South Africa. President Jacob Zuma all unpatronising, was disrespectful of President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed part caused the latter's failure to win a reelection bid in which progress in the war against Boko Haram was crucial.
Then suddenly for no apparent reason, Nigerians in South Africa suffered xenophobic attacks that claimed their lives and their properties. Thriving ordinary Nigerian traders and menial work migrants were targeted and annihilated while Jacob Zuma did not warm up to returning a hospitality of many years that he had savoured in Lagos and Abuja in the 70s. That Zuma came now is mainly because the MTN, a South African concern is in some bad, and has a case to answer, having flouted the simple process requiring by law, that SIM cards it was selling be registered, even as a crucial counter insurgency step! By failing to do so, the company afforded insurgents untraceable communication and prolonged the counter effort. This was criminal negligence that undermined the security of Nigeria. The Nigerian Communications Commission last year slapped a $3.9bn fine on MTN Nigeria after the mobile network failed to disconnect five million SIM cards it had failed to register. MTN has argued that the fine is too high, but Nigerians feel that gains it had made on those five millions lines ought to shore up for the fine. Since that sanction, MTN clients have noticed a rise in frivolous debit and charges on airtime and data, and suspect that in effect, MTN has fleeced Nigerians to even profiteer on the sanction.
Elsewhere, Etisalat is in court with MTN over the latter's purchase of Nigerian internet provider Visafone Communications, a purchase Etisalat is worried, was not transparent and could create a dominant data services market player in Nigeria, harming competition.
If President Muhammadu Buhari lifts his carpet, he might find swept underneath it, that the same MTN and Stanbic IBTC, a South African banking interest have been embroiled in a reported $8b Money Laundering Scandal in which it was alleged that MTN made illegal remittances to several Directors and Share Holders in safe havens abroad, hurting the economy badly, we now find.
South African companies are also currently embroiled in not so clean practices as Nigeria struggles to meet the June 2017 new deadline for Nigeria's Digital Switch Over (DSO), compromising many local competitors who have taken to the courts to secure redress. Jacob Zuma needs to be told. MTN must pay that fine. Nigerian businesses in South Africa should expect retaliatory sanctions and brace up as well. South Africa is the new unwelcome colonial master. But Nigeria let it happen.