Members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) of the Nigerian economy have welcomed the strengthening of the economic and diplomatic ties between Nigeria and South Africa that led to the signing of 32 bilateral agreements between both countries.
South African President, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa and President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on a state visit to the rainbow nation, yesterday signed 32 trade and cooperation agreements, weeks after a wave of violence against immigrants, particularly Nigerians, in Johannesburg and Pretoria strained relations between Africa's top two economies.
In September, mobs armed with makeshift weapons attacked businesses and homes owned by foreigners, leading to at least 10 deaths, dozens of injuries and up to 400 arrests.
In response, the federal government repatriated some 600 Nigerians living in South Africa.
Buhari and Ramaphosa said they regretted the violence and subsequent retaliation in Nigeria against South African businesses, pledging instead to deepen trade ties.
"As the government of South Africa, we have expressed our deep regret at the attacks directed at foreign nationals and our condemnation of all forms of intolerance and acts of violence," Ramaphosa told journalists.
He said the two countries had sealed 32 bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Understanding covering trade and industry, science and technology, defence, agriculture and energy.
Reuters reported that Nigeria accounts for 64 per cent of South Africa's total trade with the West African Region and is one of its largest trading partners on the continent.
Buhari said beyond the economic partnership the anti-foreigner violence had to be addressed quickly.
"We decided to take concrete measures to prevent the recurrence of such unacceptable incidents in the future," he said.
Open up Your Economy for Nigerians, Buhari Tells Ramaphosa
Meanwhile, Buhari has tasked the South African government to open up its economy to accommodate Nigerian businesses with guaranteed safety.
The president also emphasised the need for both countries to reciprocate moves to promote trade and investments between both countries.
The president, who spoke at the inaugural meeting of the ninth Bi-National Commission at the Union Building seat of power in Pretoria, South Africa, told his host that South African companies in Nigeria enjoy unfettered access to the market with protection and enabling laws.
He, therefore, urged the South African government to design policies that favour investments from Nigeria in its country.
A statement by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said the president co-chaired the inaugural meeting of the Bi-National Commission at the level of heads of state.
He quoted the president as saying, "We are pleased to inform you that our government has made doing business in Nigeria easier through the Ease of Doing Business Initiative to open up more opportunities for investors in Nigeria.
"We call on the Government of South Africa to also take steps to ease the doing of business in the country, and open up its market space for Nigerian businessmen and women.
"In this context, we are gratified that a Nigeria-South Africa Business Forum has been organised in the frame work of this state visit."
Shehu said Buhari assured South Africa that Nigeria would continue to value its relationship with the country, which he described as the second largest economy in Africa.
According to him, Buhari noted that 32 agreements and MoUs had been signed between both countries.
The president also said Nigeria placed values on its relationship with South Africa.
He advocated the need to implement some of the agreements that have taken effects and also ratify the seven outstanding agreements that are yet to come into force.
"We in Nigeria value the warm fraternal relations binding our two countries and cherish our special relationship. We consider South Africa an ally and a strategic partner.
"We need to implement those that have come into force, as well as to expedite necessary action to ratify the seven outstanding agreements that have not yet been brought into force.
"I welcome the robust Defence Cooperation between Nigeria and South Africa, and call for more support and solidarity with us in our fight against terrorism and violent extremism. We also welcome the increased collaboration against arms and drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking," the president was also quoted as saying.
He also condemned attacks against Nigerians and other African nationals living in South Africa, the looting of their shops and businesses and burning of their assets.
Buhari canvassed the need to strengthen and implement all necessary measures that could forestall a repeat of the attacks.
According to the president, such hostilities threaten the bilateral relations between the two countries.
"We call for the strengthening and implementation of all the necessary measures to prevent the re-occurrence of such action which threatens to undermine, not only our strong bilateral relations but also, what we stand for in the context of our vision for a strong and prosperous Africa we want," he added.
Besides, Buhari also condemned the reprisals in Nigeria, saying that "I am happy to report that we took strong and decisive measures to stop the attacks and prevent any recurrence."
Organised Private Sector Upbeat over Trade Deals
Reacting to the signing of the 32 agreements between Nigeria and South Africa, members of the OPS welcomed the strengthening of the economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries.
President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Babatunde Ruwase, described the agreements as a development that would enhance Nigeria's economic relations with South Africa.
Ruwase said it would be a great thing if the agreements would lead to an inflow of foreign direct investment from South Africa to Nigeria's manufacturing sector.
He said: "It will be good if the South African's can set up industries in Nigeria. It will create employment opportunities in our country and will also be far better than taking raw materials away from Nigeria of coming in with portfolio investments, which are hot monies that come in and go out.
"We hope that it will lead to domestic value addition and the South Africans can take advantage of our Free Trade Zones and access to our large market if they choose to manufacture in Nigeria.
"This is what we have been clamouring for all the time. That is how countries develop. There are a lot of American firms that manufacture their products in China.
"So, it is a good development Nigeria and South Africa, which are the largest economies to come closer diplomatically as leaders in African continent."
Similarly, President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. Mansur Ahmed, said the signing of the bilateral agreements showed that Nigeria and South Africa were on the right steps in strengthening their relationship.
"You know that Nigeria, South Africa are the strongest economies in Africa and should cultivate strong binding ties that will extend beyond economic relationships to social and cultural relationships, provided that these relationships are based on fair, equitable and mutual considerations.
"So, I think it is good to engage with South Africa in this manner because there is more to be gained by both countries. I would also emphasise that the Nigerian government must carry the countries private sector along in the consultations that led to the signing of these agreements. The private sector must be clearly in the picture."
On his part, the President of Nigeria-South Africa Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Foluso Phillips, said the renewed diplomatic engagements between Nigeria and South Africa had the potential to encourage more investments from South Africa to Nigeria.
Phillips said there was a business forum between the executives of Nigerians and South African companies that discussed extensively on attracting investments from South Africa into Nigeria's power, agriculture, oil and gas sectors.
According to him, Nigeria would benefit from the technical competence of South Africans when they start impacting Nigeria in areas they have superior technical abilities and transfer of skills.