Why Nigeria, South Africa Flex Muscles

Arms Deal, Church Building Collapse Reawaken Old Issues   PREVAILING underlying issues between Nigeria and South Africa may have influen...

Arms Deal, Church Building Collapse Reawaken Old Issues 
PREVAILING underlying issues between Nigeria and South Africa may have influenced the decision of the South African government to take the hard stance on the recent $9.3m cash for weapons scandal allegedly involving some Nigerian security agencies, according to diplomats and informed U.S. sources.

A top African official with connections to issues of global finance who has arrived in New York ahead of next week opening of the United Nations General Assembly said over the weekend that the South African government are persuaded that the arms deal was simply a money laundering deal gone back for which the South Africans could use to embarrass the Nigerian government.

Another diplomatic source said since the Nigerian rebasing of her GDP, which put the country ahead as the biggest African economy ahead of South Africa, some in the South African government circles have been irked by what they consider to be the “artificial claims” about the Nigerian economy compared to South Africa.

In the battle to curry foreign investors to Africa, some western economic analysts had warned that the rebasing of the Nigerian GDP which clearly raised the profile of the country would certainly deepen the cold war relationship between Nigeria and South Africa.

While Nigeria continues to deal with problems of insecurity and fears of political woes expected with next year’s presidential elections, South Africa which seems to fare better in those areas is also facing striking workers problems and budget deficits.

In the event, diplomatic sources said, the rivalry for economic space and opportunities between both Nigeria and South Africa deepens and such an occasion as the $9.3m cash scandal tilts the balance in South Africa’s favor.

A source said South Africa is taking advantage of the scandal to expose some of Nigeria’s weak points, citing in addition the propensity of bad building compliance issues, which has resulted into several collapses in Lagos including that of the Synagogue Church building which reportedly killed 67 South Africans.

Diplomats say it is well known that a frosty relationship has been existing between Nigeria and South Africa for a long time, and the Nigerian government may have played directly into the hands of the South Africans with the cash scandal. Unlike the expectation of the Nigerian official that the South Africans would play down the $9.3m cash scandal, the South Africans pressed the issue and actually was the source that confirmed the involvement of the Nigerian government to the shock of some Nigerian government officials.

The Guardian on Sunday learnt that while Nigerian officials were trying to establish some justification for the movement of such a large amount of cash, their South African counterparts clearly retorted back that their suspicions were that the whole deal is about money-laundering rather than weapons’ purchase.

US sources over the weekend said expectations from the Nigerian government that the South Africans will overlook the development and give Nigeria a pass, is “both unrealistic and naive,” at a time both countries are in intense competition as to where is the best destination for foreign investment.

“If South Africa gets the opportunity to expose Nigeria’s underbelly as corrupt just after the Nigerian government made a big deal that it is now the biggest economy in Africa, why would they not knock Nigeria on the head?, queries an international finance expert who works with several African leaders and government on development issues.


- Laolu Akande (New York)

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