The testy relations between Nigeria and South Africa due to the xenophobic attacks in the rainbow nation and the reprisal in Nigeria may affect the volume of trade between both countries currently put at over $60 billion, THISDAY checks have revealed.
The Consul-General of the South Africa High Commission, Mr. Darkey Africa, had put the official trade volume between both countries at $60 billion.
Also, the National Bureau of Statistics First Quarter 2019 Foreign Trade Statistics also revealed that South Africa is one of Nigeria's top five export destinations as the country exported goods with total value of N325.5 billion or 7.2 per cent to South Africa within the period.
THISDAY obtained the data just as the two countries struggled yesterday to douse rising diplomatic tension, which has spilled into the streets with reprisals against South African interests in Nigeria.
In a pre-emptive move, the country Thursday announced the closure of the Lagos and Abuja offices of its High Commission in Nigeria over fears of attacks.
However, Nigeria said it had not been officially informed about the shutdown of the embassy just as the federal government alerted Nigerians to the spread of fake videos and news, which it said was soaking tension. It also warned against a resort to self-help over the killings of Nigerians in South Africa.
Amid the diplomatic tension, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) joined the fray yesterday, pushing for the nationalisation of the local arm of the South African telecoms giant, MTN Nigeria Limited, as well as calling on Nigerians to boycott all South African businesses in Nigeria, including banks.
But the search for solution continued yesterday as President Muhammadu Buhari's special envoy to South Africa was said to have departed Abuja to consult with the South African government on the current crisis.
On another front yesterday, the Lagos State Police Command charged 83 people before a Lagos State Magistrates' Court, sitting in Yaba, for attacking and looting outlets of South Africa-owed grocery chain, Shoprite, in Surulere and Sangotedo-Ajah, Lagos. They were also accused of stealing goods and damaging properties worth about N500 million.
Experts, who spoke to THISDAY, have, however, called for an earnest resolution of the diplomatic crisis between Nigerian and South Africa, given the huge bilateral trade between them.
They stressed the need to seek diplomatic solution to the current spat between both countries, which appears to be degenerating.
A reprisal against South Africa's business interests in Nigeria, according to the experts, is not the way to go as it might lead to further job losses in the country.
There are over 120 South Africa-owned businesses in Nigeria operating in different sectors.
But some of the leading companies in Nigeria are Stanbic IBTC, Rand Merchant Bank, MTN, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB miller), Multichoice, Shoprite, PEP Retail Stores, LTA Construction, Protea Hotels, Critical Rescue International, South African-Nigeria Communications, Global Outdoor Semces, Oracle and Airtime and Power Giant,
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY on the issue, the Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, said South African investments were quite huge and significant to Nigeria.
"So, I think they should be able to resolve this matter amicably. We have about 14 flights between South Africa and Lagos weekly and that is a lot of business. It is in the interest of Nigeria and South Africa to resolve this issue so that it doesn't deteriorate," Rewane added.
Also, Chief Executive, Global Analytics Company, Mr. Tope Fasua told THISDAY that Nigeria might currently not be able to reciprocate the actions of the South Africans, "for obvious reasons."
He said: "Unfortunately, we are feeble against them, we don't have any strategic way to reciprocate what they are doing.
"However, if you look at the companies here, if we decide to go after the companies that are here, a lot of them have been farmed out to Nigerian owners who are the suppliers, who are subletting a lot of things and so on."
Similarly, economist and former Director General, Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), Dr. Chijioke Ekechukwu, said retaliation might not be the most appropriate response from the Nigerian government as this could hurt the economy particularly in the areas of jobs and taxes.
He said: "To show good faith, they should be compensating the victims of such attacks. I do not support any reprisal attacks on South African companies because these companies are providing employment to our citizens and paying taxes to our internal revenue."
To a Senior Lecturer at the Lagos Business School, Dr. Bongo Adi, "hurting South Africa's business interest would not be in favour of Nigeria.
"South African investment makes up significant portion of Nigeria's FDI inflow. MTN is the largest FDI business in Nigeria, and so many others like that.
"In the infrastructure space, I understand that for the past few years, South African pension fund has been the largest chunk of infrastructure investment into Nigeria."
South Africa Shuts Embassy in Nigeria
In a pre-emptive move yesterday, South Africa announced the closure of its diplomatic missions in Nigeria on the fears of possible attacks on his personnel.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation said while there had been "no direct physical threat" to any diplomats or staff, the situation remained "somewhat unpredictable" and there were sufficient safety concerns to close the offices in Lagos and Abuja on Tuesday.
South Africa's International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Mr. Naledi Pandor, said Nigeria needs to address the fact that some Nigerians are, in fact, involved in criminal activities in South Africa.
"Ensuring such kind persons don't come to our country would be of great assistance to our nation," Pandor told local news station eNCA.
But the federal government said yesterday it was not aware of the closure of the South African High Commission in Nigeria.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, while fielding questions from State House reporters in Abuja, denied government's knowledge of the closure.
"We are not aware that the South African government has closed down its High Commission here in Abuja or its consulate in Lagos," he said.
When also asked why some governors are currently attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in South Africa after the federal government had announced a boycott of the event by the country, Onyeama said they might have arrived in the country before the decision was taken.
He also said WEF is not a South African affair but a global event only being held in the country.
Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasiru el-Rufai, and his Ekiti State counterpart, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, are participating in the event.
FG Warns against Spread of Fake News, Reprisals
In a bid to also douse tension in Nigeria, the federal government alerted public, especially Nigerians, about the activities of some suspected people, who are engaging in disinformation to inflame passion by using fake news and videos of non-related attacks to incite people over the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
It also reiterated its appeal to Nigerians, who are "justifiably angered" by the attacks on their compatriots in South Africa not to resort to self-help by carrying out reprisals against South African businesses in Nigeria.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja,Thursday, warned "naysayers and hoodlums" who might want to capitalise on the widespread disenchantment and anger of Nigerians over the attacks to foment mayhem not to allow raw emotions to guide their responses to the attacks.
He said: "Three of such videos come to mind: One video shows a man who has been set ablaze trying to escape, and those circulating the video identified the man as Nigerian. This is not true. The video shows Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a victim of xenophobic violence in South Africa in 2008, and it is not that of a Nigerian being attacked in 2019.
"Another video shows those said to be Nigerians jumping down from a multi-storey building that was purportedly set on fire by xenophobic attackers in South Africa. This is fake news as the video is that of a Suraj Coaching Centre in Gujarat State, India, that was gutted by fire on May 24, 2019, leaving about 18 people dead.
"The third video, purportedly showing the bodies of Nigerians who were burnt in xenophobic attacks, is the raw footage of those who were killed in a Tanzanian fuel tanker explosion in Morogoro that left at least 60 dead on August 10, 2019."
He warned those circulating the videos to immediately desist from doing so, saying that apart from inflaming passion, the videos are also complicating the efforts of the government to calm frayed nerves at home.
Expressing concerns over reports of these attacks, which have dominated the social and traditional media in the past two days, the minister said hoodlums had hijacked the peaceful protests by some Nigerians to loot Shoprite and shops at other malls in some locations across the country.
"A Nigerian lady whose shop was looted at the Novare Mall in Lagos said she lost millions of naira to the hoodlums who looted her shop. The offices of the MTN nationwide have either been attacked or threatened.
"South African firms have either shut their doors or are open under heavy security. As we said in our intervention on Tuesday, Nigerians own and run the shops in the various Shoprite malls across the country. Nigerians work there also.
"MTN is listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the investors in this company are Nigerians. The workers are mostly Nigerians. Same applies to other South African businesses in the country. By attacking them, we are hurting our own people. That is the blunt truth," the minister added.
According to him, some hoodlums have also targeted foreigners under the guise of protesting against the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, wondering if Nigerians are complaining that South Africans are attacking Nigerians in South Africa, how then can they tolerate Nigerians attacking Nigerians and foreigners in Nigeria.
FG's Special Envoy Departs for South Africa
Also yesterday, the federal government announced the departure of the president's special envoy from Abuja to hold a crucial meeting with South African President, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa.
Onyeama had on Wednesday said a special envoy was being sent to South Africa following violent attacks on Nigerians resident in that country as well as their assets.
A statement yesterday by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye, said the special envoy would be received on arrival by the High Commissioner of Nigeria to South Africa together with the Consul General, before proceeding for crucial meetings with high-level South African officials on all aspects of the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
"The special envoy and the High Commissioner will provide President Muhammadu Buhari with a comprehensive briefing on the situation in South Africa and on the outcome of their meetings," he added.
APC Fumes, Calls for Tough Sanctions against South Africa
But while the federal government was finding solution to the diplomatic face-off between the two countries, the ruling APC yesterday further stoked tension with its call for the nationalisation of MTN Nigeria and the boycott of South African businesses in Nigeria.
The party called on the federal government to acquire the remaining shares of MTN to make the company wholly Nigeria-owned.
It said taking over the remaining shares belonging to South Africans, in the company, which was recently listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), would automatically strip it of its South African content.
It also called on Nigerians to boycott South African interests and businesses in the country, urging the federal government to also review bilateral agreements with South Africa and their companies operating in the country.
APC National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, at a press conference in Abuja, listed the South African businesses Nigerians should boycott to include MTN, Standard Chartered Bank, Stanbic IBTC and Multi-Choice, owners of DSTV and GoTv, among others.
According to him, the recent turn of event offers the country an opportunity to reflect on why the federal government should continue to allow Multichoice to repatriate millions of dollars to South Africa every year.
He said having listened to all the explanations from the authorities in South Africa, the people were neither being accused of being irregular migrants nor involvement in illegal activities, adding that those who have business permits to set up businesses, whether they are petty traders or small manufacturers are operating within the letters of the law of the South African nation.
Oshiomhole said over the past one year, Nigerians were being killed in South Africa, lamenting that the escalation of the attacks on foreigners, many of whom are Nigerians, has reached a level that is no longer tolerable.
He called on Buhari to also bar South African Airways from flying to any part of the country, while also cutting off all diplomatic ties between the two countries until Pretoria explains and resolves the ongoing xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. .
Oshiomhole stated: "The best way to deal with these issues, I think right away, Nigerians in our individual capacities, this is the time to show commitment to our citizens and show sympathy to those our loved ones by boycotting South African goods and businesses; beginning with Nigerians refusing, from today, to use MTN services.
"South African companies are making billions of dollars from the Nigerian economy year-in-year-out and repatriating same out of Nigeria. MTN was recently listed on the stock market and some Nigerians bought shares in MTN but in a moment like this and in order to send a very strong message to South African authorities and South African people, the Nigerian government should take steps to take over the remaining shares of MTN that are owned by South Africans so that MTN becomes fully Nigeria-owned.
"Happily, we have indigenous networks like Glo, Airtel and I believe 9mobile is still standby. If Nigerians decided, at least for the next 30 days, as a first step to stop using MTN, it would have sent a clear message and pay befitting tribute to the lives of those that have been wasted in a very crude and barbaric manner by the South African authorities."
The current situation, he added, also offers Nigeria the opportunity to stop DSTV from repatriating million of dollars to South Africa arising from their activities in Nigeria.
Nigeria Mulls Legal Action against South Africa at African Rights' Court
It was, however, learnt that apart from the diplomatic efforts to make South Africa take steps to end the xenophobic attacks, Nigeria was considering filing a suit at the African Rights' Court against the government and people of South Africa.
According to an insider in the Federal Ministry of Justice, the federal government is set to formally launch a suit at the African Court of Human and Peoples Right in Arusha, Tanzania, in order to get justice for its citizens affected by the xenophobic attacks.
The source said the legal option was predicated on Nigeria's ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples Rights done on May 29, 2004.
"Following repeated incidences of killings, maiming and destruction of properties of Africans, especially Nigerians living in South Africa and since it appears diplomacy has failed to prevent the South Africans from committing xenophobic attacks on foreigners, particularly Nigerians, it behoves the federal government to exercise its duty under International law to protect the rights of its citizens in diaspora", the source said.
He added that it is an elementary principle of international law that a state is entitled to protect its subjects, when injured by acts contrary to international law committed by another state, from whom they have been unable to obtain diplomatic action or international judicial proceedings on his behalf.
According to the source, Nigeria is entitled to take actions in this xenophobic attacks on its citizens because South Africa has blatantly and with impunity failed to apply the "National Treatment" principle, treatment equal to that given by South Africa to its own nationals to foreigners within its territory and consistently encouraged gross violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Nigerian citizens living in that country.
However, when contacted, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN), declined comment on the latest move by Nigeria against South Africa on the legal option.
83 on Trial for Attacking, Looting Shoprite
Meanwhile, 83 people suspected of attacking and looting the outlets of Shoprite in Lekki and Surulere, Lagos, were arraigned yesterday by the police before a Lagos State Magistrates' Court, sitting in Yaba.
The police, in a six-count charge, accused them of conspiracy, riotous assembly, arson, stealing, malicious damage, unlawful destruction of property and conduct likely to cause the breach of peace.
The prosecution told the court that the accused persons attacked the Shoprite outlets and allegedly stole and damaged properties estimated at N500 million.
It said they committed the offences on September 3, 2019 in contravention of sections 50, 287 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015 and were liable to be punished under sections 339 (1) (2), 168 (d) and 411 of the same Act.
All the defendants, however, pleaded not guilty while the magistrate, Mr. P.A. Ojo, admitted each of them to bail in the sum of N500,000 with two sureties in like sum.
He said the sureties must be the defendants' parents or a paternal family member and adjourned the case till October 9, 2019.