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President Tinubu, Ramaphosa: Taking Nigeria, South Africa’s relations a notch higher

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had to cut short his Eid-el-Kabir celebrations in Lagos as an international duty beckoned. His South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, had sent a special invitation to him to attend his inauguration, following the election and successful coalition talks that ushered Ramaphosa into office for a second term.

It was important for President Tinubu to attend the inauguration for several reasons including South Africa being the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria. That country hosts not a few Nigerian businesses, with some quoted on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. It is also home to many Nigerians, spanning generations, and students in universities. This is mutual, as many South African companies also operate in Nigeria.

Additionally, attending the ceremony would offer President Tinubu an opportunity to deepen bilateral and trade relations, more so as South African businesses in Nigeria continue to thrive in telecommunications, Cable TV, banking, and hospitality, while Nigerian investors persistently seek to balance the equation. The Nigerian president seized the opportunity.

Interestingly, the IMF Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa, 2024, had predicted a shift of positions among Africa’s top economies, with South Africa, Egypt, and Algeria gaining more ground.

Ramaphosa was re-elected on Friday, June 14, 2024, after an agreement was reached by the African National Congress (ANC) to form a Government of National Unity (GNU) with the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition, Inkatha Freedom Party and other smaller parties. Constitutionally, the South African President had five days within which such an alliance should be consummated before the inauguration so that the country would not suffer a lacuna in government.

At 5.20 pm on Tuesday, President Tinubu arrived at the Waterkloof Airforce Base, Pretoria, to join 17 other Heads of State and Government who also honored the invitation. Former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and some prominent leaders of the country after Nelson Mandela, 1994-1999, were also at the ceremony, including Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Deputy President, Baleka Mbete. Jacob Zuma was absent.

The Union Building, South Africa’s historic seat of government, was a beehive of highly choreographed military and cultural displays on Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Both the state VIP stand, beautifully decorated foyer, and popular areas were filled with gaily dressed Members of Parliament, diplomats, traditional, religious leaders and citizens. The national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” translated in English: “God Bless Africa”, stirred emotions as the country celebrated 30 years of democracy.

The anthem was adopted after Nelson Mandela won elections as the first black president of South Africa in 1994, ending more than fifty years of apartheid. Ramaphosa’s inaugural speech was reflective of the times, emotive and full of promise for citizens earnestly yearning for a real change, after apartheid, especially in employment.

“On this day, we assert by solemn oath the will of the people of this land. We affirm our unwavering fidelity to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which is based on the enduring vision and values of the Freedom Charter.

“As the leadership of this diverse nation, we have a sacred duty to unite the people of South Africa. We affirm that history has placed on our shoulders the responsibility to transform our country into a non-racial and non-sexist society.

“We affirm our determination to build a more equal and caring society. We affirm our resolute quest to build a growing and inclusive economy that offers opportunities and livelihoods to all people. We rededicate ourselves to the task of democratic renewal and social and economic transformation so that no one is left behind.

“And so, as we enter another era in the life of our nation, the resilience of our democracy has once more been tested and the people have spoken loudly that they choose peace and democracy over violent, undemocratic and unconstitutional methods,” the South African leader said.

The oath of office was administered on Ramaphosa by the Chief Justice of South Africa, Raymond Zondo, making it his third inauguration, after completing Zuma’s term in 2018, and a first full term, 2019 – 2024, of five years.

After inauguration, an elated South African President sought a meeting with President Tinubu before his return to Nigeria. At 10 am, Thursday, Ramaphosa’s motorcade arrived at Radisson Blu Hotel, Johannesburg, where the Nigerian leader was staying, and both of them entered into a private meeting that lasted close to an hour. In attendance was Nigeria’s National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

“Thank you so much for coming for the inauguration. I was very happy to see my brother at the ceremony,” the South African President said.

President Tinubu noted that President Ramaphosa’s inaugural speech captured most of the challenges faced by African countries and the need for more collaboration among leaders and citizens to provide solutions.

“I enjoyed your speech at the ceremony. I was delighted to listen to you. We have lots of issues in common, and we need to work more closely together. It was a good celebration,” the President stated.

On salvaging Africa, President Tinubu said “collaborative economics” was needed to tackle the challenges of poverty on the continent. The President noted that the commonality of economic issues facing Africa would require more collaboration, and partnership, in providing across-the-border solutions.

“I am very much at home in South Africa. I am here to congratulate my brother for putting together a very, very impressive outing, particularly forming a Government of National Unity (GNU) to stabilize the polity.

“And that is coming at a very challenging time for the rest of us in Africa to really come up with collaborative economics that will help our downtrodden and vulnerable people. I am very much at home,” President Tinubu said.

President Ramaphosa thanked the Nigerian leader for making out time to attend the inauguration ceremony for his second term in office.

“Thank you very much, Your Excellency. It’s a great honor to meet with President Tinubu and I felt very honored to have him at my inauguration yesterday, Wednesday.

“It was a moment that lifted my spirit and gave a huge encouragement to us, the South Africans, that the President of an important country like Nigeria; the largest country by population on the continent and a large economy, could come and be in attendance at my inauguration.

“It is a great honor and great privilege and I feel at home as well to have this moment, to discuss with President Tinubu, on a whole range of issues,” he stated.

Ramaphosa reaffirmed that improving bilateral relations with Nigeria was a top priority for his administration, considering the strategic position of both countries on the continent.

“But for me, what matters most and most important is to be able to have very good economic links with Nigeria. The two countries, South Africa and Nigeria, are very important in our continent and when the two countries work together, which we are doing, and we do things together, it benefits Africa.

“It is the two countries that are among the pillars of our continent and I am particularly pleased that we support each other internationally at various fora. At the UN and multilateral institutions, Nigeria and South Africa are essentially joined at the hip. We want to engender good economic and trade relations between our two countries to address the challenges that our two countries face,” President Ramaphosa added.

The South African leader noted that his country would continue to sustain good relations with Nigeria.

“So, it’s been a great pleasure and honor to have you here, Your Excellency. That’s why I felt I should come and pay my respect to you,” he said.

After the ceremony, the South African President would have a few days to form his government and present the State of the Union address, which is expected to dwell on the entire country, its nine provinces, the various regions, the country’s economy, and its prospects, all signaling the start of the seventh administration.

Oche Echeija Egwa is an Assistant Director in the Office of the Special Adviser to the President, Media, and Publicity

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