Media Interaction by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad on the State Visit to South Africa of Nigerian President Umari Yar’Adua, Union Buildings, Pretoria, Monday 2 June 2008
Good morning. We are hosting this press briefing to discuss President Yar’Adua’s visit to South Africa from tomorrow (Tuesday 3 June) for a three day visit.
For us Nigeria is one of the most important countries on the African continent. It plays a major role in the United Nations Security Council, and ofcourse more importantly in the African Union and in ECOWAS.
So this is visit is going to be quiet crucial because it comes at a time when several very important developments are taking place.
On the economic side, Nigeria is our biggest economic partner as our two way trade is R17 billion. Which is quiet substantial because Nigeria is the world’s 12th largest petroleum producer, the eighth largest exporter of petroleum in the world and is the tenth largest country with known reserves.
So in a time of economic and energy crisis, this meeting will allow our two teams to really look at how we can expand this relationship, especially in the energy field.
Nigeria is also absolutely vital in the agricultural area. It has one of the best agricultural lands in the continent. Until oil was discovered agriculture was the main GDP.
So we will also discuss with the Nigerians the energy sector and the agricultural sector, but overall how to increase our economic relations. As I’ve said previously, we believe that we have to intensify economic links with countries. Every visit to South Africa and outside of South Africa, whether it is by the President or by other Ministers has within that framework how do we do more trade, how do we increase more investment, tourism, how do we diversify the economy?
The 2007 election when President Yar’Adua won marked the first time when there was a transfer of power in Nigeria without the involvement of the military. So it is going to be very important to discuss with the Nigerians what their own assessment of the situation is in their own country, in the continent and indeed internationally.
We have many South African companies in Nigeria, MTN, Shoprite, Nandos, DSTV you can name them. We really believe that we have to use this opportunity with the Nigerian delegation, which for a while have not been effective in the continent or internationally because of the change of government and there was a challenge with elections results.
We believe now that Nigeria is stabilised. The courts have ruled that the elections were free and fair. We can together carry out all our tasks.
Nigeria is one of the architects of the Nepad programme. And we want to review the Nepad programme to try to see what we can do to accelerate the entire Nepad programme. Nigeria and South Africa are key contributors to continent’s infrastructure development fund. Which is a first time Africa has set up its own developmental fund with quiet substantial resources.
The recent events in South Africa of attacks against foreigners will be on the agenda. As you would have heard, there were lots of rumours about demonstrations against South Africa, though nothing really materialised. But given that we’ve had these attacks against foreigners, and we have many Nigerians in South Africa, we will also take the opportunity to discuss with the Nigerians the issue of undocumented citizens, the issue of how their citizens can integrate into the South African society.
While the President is here, he will also attend the South Africa – Nigeria Business Forum, our President will also attend that Forum.
We’ve just come back, our two Presidents, from Tanzania where the issue of the African government was discussed. As you know, there are two schools of thought within Africa. The one school says we must move immediately to an African government then quicker to a United States of Africa. Another school of thought, which I believe is a majority, says we are all for an African government moving eventually to a United States of Africa. But we need to build blocks.
So having just come from Tanzania we need to discuss with the Nigerian delegation how to take this process forward. ECOWAS with 15 African states in the West of Africa is one of the longer sub-regional economic groupings. We will now see how we can together as the two major economic powers in the African continent continue to accelerate the process of Nepad, and in the context of that, the African government debate.
So we look forward to this first ever civilian president of Nigeria coming to South Africa. He will interact ofcourse with the private sector because of the economic diplomacy policies.
I’m sure that out of this visit will come much more strengthened relations, and I think we can improve our economic relations which are quite high. R17 billion is not bad since our democracy which was only 14 years ago. But now they have a civilian president and we are 14 years into our democracy, we can work together as two major economic and political players in the African continent to influence things not only in Africa. If we are together we can influence things in the United Nations and indeed in the entire international arena.
Ofcourse international crime and international drug syndicates will be an issue which will be discussed because we have to cooperate to deal with these criminal elements which are becoming a problem, not only in South Africa but all over the world.
It is going to be quite an important visit. We hope that out of this will come much more initiative to consolidate our bilateral relations, Nigeria and South Africa.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question: A question on the foreigner attacks which are on the agenda as you say. We saw a demonstration, albeit a small one, at the High Commissioner’s over the weekend. You said not many threats of protests have gone anywhere but there have been these demonstrations. What are going to say to the President? How are you going to take this issue forward to assure him, basically to say we are working on this problem?
Answer: I think Africa as a whole has understood that the vast majority of South Africans have condemned attacks against foreigners, and that a vast majority of South Africans from government, civil society to the religious community, our sport people, cultural people and indeed ordinary people have really spoken out quite strongly against these attacks on foreigners.
We are quite convinced that criminal elements have exploited genuine frustrations of our people. And this will be a good opportunity for two major powers to discuss this. Nigeria has similar problems too in terms of people coming into Nigeria undocumented.
So we will explain to them the government’s strategy and tactics to deal with the phenomenon of attacks against foreigners.
When we met in Tanzania it was quite clear that African heads of state understood that this is not something that the vast majority of our people are involved in. Indeed they received a clear message that the South African government is totally opposed to this and will support our security apparatus to take all necessary measures.
I agree that the threats of retaliation against South Africans in other countries sometimes get overplayed. I think the vast majority of governments, and I assume even peoples in other countries, understand the South African people’s position.
We have responded magnificently to what has happened. This is not a phenomenon unique to South Africa. Last week similar incidents happened in Italy. A year and a half ago France went through the same processes. This is a phenomenon that we must tackle as a whole.
There is the second Review Conference of the anti-racism, anti-xenophobia and against intolerance in which South Africa and Nigeria played a major role. We still play a major role at the United Nations Human Rights Council to ensure that we have that second summit which will be held in Geneva. This will allow us to see the problem not in isolation with the whole international community.
I believe that others, at least at governmental level, understand how we are trying to tackle this element and how we are trying to isolate the criminal element.
Question: Minister you spoke about energy and about agriculture which are two of the main topics on the agenda. Are there any agreements that will be signed? Linked to that you said that the president is going to meet various business people while he is here, can you give some insight into that?
Answer: As I said we have many South African companies in Nigeria. But he must take this opportunity to interact with, because Nigeria is also keen to attract more people into its economy. Nigeria also has many other resources which are not fully exploited. South Africa has the technology, the machinery that we can take to other states.
We are looking at discussing the Memorandum of Understanding on the minerals sector. We will try to see now whether we can’t take this further. R17 billion, most of which is our import of oil from Nigeria, so energy has to be high on the agenda.
There is a working group on trade and industry, on energy, on foreign affairs, on science and technology, all those groups did report when the South African Deputy President visited Nigeria for the seventh Bi-National Commission.
So the two heads of state will review the progress we’ve made in the joint Bi-National Commission and see what we can do. There are too many obstacles in terms of knowledge of each other’s environment, misunderstanding sometimes of the opportunities that exist. It is up to the two heads of state to look at what obstacles there may be and unblock the obstacles so that the ministers and officials can accelerate this economic relation with Nigeria.
The message we want to give to our business people since 1994 is that there is so much business opportunity. Our parastatals quite involved in Nigeria. The private sector I see is there but still we are not exploiting the immense potential that a country like Nigeria provides.
And now, I must emphasise this, with the first ever civilian president things have to be different. And our private sector must understand the opportunities that exist.
We can’t deal with the many social problems that we have experienced in South Africa without a very successful economic diplomatic offensive.
Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152
2 June 2008