Notes following Joint Media Briefing on Conclusion of Discussions between Deputy President Baleka Mbete and Nigerian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan
Presidential Guesthouse, Pretoria Tuesday 9 December 2008
Remarks by Deputy President Baleka Mbete
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, in particular ladies and gentlemen of the media. We are here simply to give you some feedback on how we have been proceeding on the issues before us in relation to the Binational Commission (BNC) since this morning.
We have had a very businesslike, and what we consider a very productive meeting and we must express our gratitude to the senior officials of both governments for the groundwork that they have done, on the basis of which we have been able to review the ground that has been covered especially since the 7th session of the BNC in Nigeria in May this year. We looked at any progress or challenges that might have been experienced under each of the working groups that exist under the BNC. We have actually agreed on a review council which is a structure that would help us to review progress. We decided also, on the need for a permanent secretariat. We also finally decided on a preparatory committee that would help us to prepare for the 10th anniversary in 2009 – ie. the 10th year since the inception of the BNC.
We believe that through these brief discussions, we are going to be able to provide a lot more energy and therefore yield a lot more progress that would indeed, in the end, be more meaningful to the people of Nigeria and South Africa.
That is briefly how we used the opportunity of meeting this morning to exercise our responsibility of political oversight over the work of the BNC. I was very happy and I think it was a first good meeting between myself and my colleague, my brother, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan.
Remarks by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan
Your Excellency the Deputy President of South Africa, senior South African government officials, my brothers and sisters, it is a pleasure to be able to address you very briefly. My own brief, in concurrence with the words of the Deputy President who has summarised the key outcomes of the meeting, this is the first time we are reviewing the activities of the BNC. The BNC was implemented on 10 October 1999. In October 2009 we will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the BNC between our two countries. There are years that are important in the life of a human being or organisation – 10, 15, 25 and 50 years – if you go beyond 50 then 500 years is quite significant. A decade is therefore an important point.
One of the key things we have decided is that we cannot still be holding meetings that do not translate into economic gains that can be shared by our people and we must ensure that our meetings are fruitful. If people in South Africa and Nigeria know that the countries are meeting through the Deputy President of South Africa and Vice President of Nigeria, they will expect some positive deliverables. We agreed that our meetings will not be rituals. BNCs will not be sessions where people meet, drink coffee and go. We must look at things critically and give ourselves timelines so that when we talk about the 10th anniversary in 2009 we will be able to tell the people of South Africa and Nigeria that is what we have achieved in the past 10 years.
We have worked out a number of areas, reviewed these areas and indicated progress in a number of areas. The BNC has achieved some significant strides. Today’s meeting is quite commendable. I am quite impressed with the Deputy President of South Africa – I am surprised especially if one if familiar with her profile. I am indeed happy that South Africa is blessed with such a lady and Africa is blessed with such a lady. What we have achieved today enables me to assure you that Nigeria and South Africa will have very warm and progressive relations that will translate into meaning economic gains by the citizens of South Africa and Nigeria.
Once again, I thank you.
Questions and answers
Question To both Deputy President Mbete and Vice President Jonathan, you spoke of achieving significant strides in your relations. Precisely what is it that you can point out has been achieved by the two countries?
Answer (Deputy President Mbete) Firstly, you will find more detail in a statement that will be circulated.
Secondly, there have been seven working groups that have existed over the years between the two countries. In other words, different departments, health, foreign affairs dealing with issues of co-operation which also cover issues of home affairs, visas, agriculture, etc. There have been discussions under those working groups over time and memoranda of understanding have been signed, agreements have been reached, some of them have been signed, others are about to be signed, so it is a question of tightening up and implementation.
There is one that involves the question of air services between the two countries to enable, for instance, some of the airlines from Nigeria to fly directly to South Africa – these are some of the issues to which we are referring when we say there has been progress because sometimes you can have engagements where there are discussions and no action to ensure that some of the things which have been under discussion between the two countries to be implemented. So that is the kind of progress to which we are referring.
(Vice President Jonathan) Deputy President Mbete has said it all but just to add, there are quite a number of things that we have been discussing from 1999 when the first session of the BNC was held. Regarding the bilateral air services agreement – South African Airways operates until Lagos. Lagos is like Johannesburg but the city of government is Abuja, like Pretoria. The arrangement now is that SAA can land in either Lagos or Abuja. This is a very significant development. In terms of flights – these will also increase because South Africa and Nigeria are key sub-saharan countries to which people like to travel. We agreed to increase the number of flights so that people will no longer be left stranded.
Regarding the area of security, there a number of discussions and training programmes that are being considered; in the area of education, we have worked out a number of programmes for exchange of academics; we have worked out a number of issues in the area of agriculture; in the area of mining and oil, we have also worked out a number of issues. We have also discussed immigration and how South Africans and Nigerians are received in each other’s countries. This matters a lot, especially to people who are conducting business. In Nigeria we have an investment group of Nigerians who are conducting business throughout the world who advise us on business matters. It took a South Africa, who had been invited to such a meeting four months to obtain a visa and when he received it, he realised it was valid for only three months. How will we as Nigeria progress in this way if we place restrictions on people who come to invest and help create wealth in our country. When I was involved, I instructed that visas be issued to participants for a five year period. These are the issues that matter to a businessman – the way in which visas are issued, waiting period, reception at the airport, etc. We are making good progress in this regard.
Question Your Excellencies, it is indeed very welcome news that these issues of protocol at the entry points are being fastracked because the very week following the last review committee preparations in South Africa, a former Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa and two Nigerian senators were given very degrading treatment at the airport in Johannesburg. So, this is a very welcome development.
You mentioned there was going to be a permanent secretariat – has it been decided where this will be hosted and who will fund it? You have identified, correctly, that the ultimate goal of the BNC is to benefit the people of South Africa and Nigeria. Do the people know about the BNC? Is there a strategy to involve the people themselves in the work of the BNC?
Answer (Deputy President Mbete) The issue of the permanent secretariat was discussed and the issue you are raising was raised in the meeting but we have said to ourselves that we do not have to finalise that kind of detail about the secretariat. We do already have a special implementation committee that exists which helps us to ensure we make progress. We said, it will therefore be for this structure to sit with these issues, work out the details, make recommendations to ourselves, and we in turn, at the level of the Review Committee that met today will meet again in Nigeria in March 2009 during which time we will look at what it is we are considering doing to mark the 10th anniversary of the BNC. So, the details have not been discussed.
The issue the people is a very very important one. This is a matter that is at the heart of what drives politics because if politics is not about the people, then we are doomed because it is the people who give us the responsibilities, who give us the mandate, that say to us occupy that office in order to deliver the following, so, it is a matter that we assume is being dealt with in each of the countries. When we politicians, receive the responsibilities we do, in the offices we occupy, it is based on some understanding between us organised in different political structures, political organisations that receive mandates having put before the people certain manifestoes promising deliverables. You do not necessarily, when in government, have to continually go to the people directly, you do that, you pursue what you pursue on the basis of the policies to which the people have agreed when they gave you the mandate to occupy the office you occupy. That is my understanding. But off course, this does not mean that we are prevented from including, within the activities of the BNC, a civil society element where there is ongoing input from that side of society but all I was trying to say is that you are not going to hold a referendum each time you do something in government but you do have to find innovative ways of ensuring input from civil society structures.
(Vice President Jonathan) First, you raised an issue of some parliamentarians and functionaries from Nigeria who were detained for two hours at OR Tambo International Airport. That was the first report I received when I arrived. The story is true, it was not an official action. There are similar incidents we will look at but this is an isolated case and these are some of the instances we have been looking at to ensure that these do not happen again. We are looking at ways in which holders of diplomatic passports and to some extent those with official passports from both countries could move relatively freely without submitting to visa regulations. It takes time to operationalise this. We anticipate that these issues will be sorted out by October 2009.
You also raised the issue of the permanent secretariat – its location and funding. This has also been discussed and we have agreed in principle that a permanent secretariat will have to be established. We have not agreed on the host country but we have set up a committee that will study this matter in more detail and brief us accordingly when we meeting in Nigeria in March 2009.
My sister has already dealt with your final issue regarding the input of the masses into the work of the BNC – we can hold a major meeting to ask people to submit memoranda which we can consider. We can also use the Embassies in either country to assist. Advertising is not the only way through which we can deal with people and communities because they know that the Embassies are their first point of contact.
The other means through which we can popularise the work of the BNC is through the media which is the sector you represent. You know the programmes of both government and the people and you can also advertise our work. We believe we can reach the grassroots through these means. I also challenge you to come to us with any shortcomings you may be aware of – through the Embassies or ourselves in such fora.
Question Deputy President Jonathan, can you elaborate on the progress made in aviation relations between the two countries?
Answer (Vice President Jonathan) I had said that before this time, what we call the bilateral air services agreement – as countries, aircraft cannot haphazardly fly into your country and land anywhere. SAA can at the moment fly only into Lagos and there are four flights a week. We are now saying that SAA and any other airline can fly into Nigeria, into any city. Instead of four flights a week, we have increased this to ten flights a week. If you have business to do in Nigeria, you can fly also to Abuja, not just Lagos. Two Nigerian airlines will also fly to South Africa and land in either Johannesburg or Cape Town.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
9 December 2008