President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday departed Abuja with a 14-man delegation for a three-day official visit to South Africa.
President Muhammadu Buhari will on Wednesday embark on a three-day visit to South Africa to discuss the welfare of Nigerians living in that country.
The visit is at the instance of the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, following xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa by its citizens.
Spokesman for the president, Mr. Garba Shehu had said in a statement in Abuja that Buhari would use the state visit to discuss the “welfare of Nigerians and find common grounds for building harmonious relations with their hosts”.
He also said the president would be accompanied by three governors, seven cabinet Ministers and three other members of his government.
“President Muhammadu Buhari departs Abuja Wednesday on a three-day State Visit to the Republic of South Africa, following an invitation by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to discuss welfare of Nigerians, and find common grounds for building harmonious relations with their hosts.
“The visit comes against the background of recent xenophobic attacks, the evacuation of hundreds of Nigerians and the exchange of visits by Special Envoys of Presidents Buhari and Ramaphosa.
“While in South Africa, the Nigerian leader will hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians living in the country, with a view to sharing in their experiences and reassuring them of Nigerian government’s commitment to working for the protection of their lives and property and promoting peaceful co-existence.
“President Buhari and his host will preside over the South Africa/Nigeria Bi-National Commission, during which a progress report will be presented. At the end of the meeting, both leaders will sign a joint communiqué.
“The President and his delegation including Nigerian business representatives will also participate at a South Africa-Nigeria Business Forum with their host counterparts.
“President Buhari will be accompanied by Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State; Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State; and governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State.
“Others are Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd); minister of state, power, Eng. Saleh Mamman; minister of interior, Rauf Aregbesola; minister of mines and steel development, Arch. Olamilekan Adegbite; minister of police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi; and minister of state, industry, trade and investment, Amb. Mariam Katagum.
“Also on the trip are national security adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd); director general, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Amb. Ahmed Rufai Abubakar; and chairman/chief executive officer, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. The President will return to Abuja on Friday.”
The visit takes place after an orgy of xenophobic violence in South Africa which targeted Nigerians and their businesses.
The ugly development stirred tensions between the two countries.
Buhari and his South African counterpart Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa are expected to meet Thursday to discuss bolstering trade ties and political cooperation.
The xenophobic violence is also expected to dominate the talks.
The three-day state visit, the first by a Nigerian leader since 2013, was planned before mobs descended on foreign-owned properties in and around Johannesburg in early September.
The violence — in which at least 12 people were killed — sparked fury in Nigeria and saw hundreds of migrant workers repatriated to the country.
Some South African businesses in Nigeria were forced to close shop temporarily after they were targeted by revenge attacks.
The two governments dispatched special envoys to each other’s capitals as Pretoria offered “sincere apologies” in a bid to calm the anger.
Buhari is expected to urge Ramaphosa to pay reparations for the Nigerians affected by the violence but the South African authorities look set to reject those demands.
South Africa’s presidency did not mention the xenophobic violence at all in its announcement of the visit.
It instead focused squarely on attempts to bolster trade and business as Africa’s two largest economies both look to improve on tepid growth.
The leaders will attend a business forum and chair a meeting of the South Africa-Nigeria Bi-National Commission designed to boost cooperation between the two countries.
The relationship hit a high in the early 2000s when former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo worked together to take a leading role in continental politics.
Since then a string of legal disputes between South African mobile giant MTN and the Nigerian authorities has clouded ties.
The telecoms firm has now resolved most of the long-running wrangles and in May floated its shares on the stock exchange in the West African country.
Buhari, who won a second term in February, is looking to diversify Nigeria’s economy away from oil and South Africa could prove a key partner in boosting its agricultural and mining sectors.
But, despite signing up to a landmark African free trade agreement in July, he has been making protectionist moves by ordering increased restrictions on food imports and blocking the flow of goods from neighbouring Benin and Niger.
Analysts said that despite incentives to improve ties, Buhari’s visit appears unlikely to radically bolster relations between the two countries.
“What we are seeing in the relationship is years of bad management on both sides,” said Cheta Nwanze, head of research at Nigeria’s SBM Intelligence.
“That won’t change dramatically because of this visit — if it is to improve then it needs sustained commitment at the highest levels.”
With AFP report