FORMER South African president Thabo Mbeki and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo both expressed concern over tension in the relationship between their two countries during a panel discussion on Thursday.
Relations between Nigeria and SA — two of Africa’s largest economies — have been characterised by competitive jostling for the pole position of “herald” of the “African growth story”.
Observers have noted an element of “bitterness” between the two countries in recent engagements. Nigeria earlier this year made hay of its newfound position as the largest economy in Africa in terms of gross domestic product, after rebasing.
The Nigerian government’s handling of Pastor TB Joshua’s Lagos-based Synagogue of All Nations church building collapse in September, in which 84 South Africans died, enraged South Africans.
Speaking to guests at the Wisdom Forum gala dinner in Johannesburg, Mr Mbeki said while “there is a sense that things are not right, there are attempts among South Africans and Nigerians to entrench a positive spirit”.
“I think all of us would be concerned about relations. I tend to think of it in positive terms. I know of many Nigerians friends who make efforts to correct what is wrong and I know South Africans who are of the same view,” Mr Mbeki said.
He said President Jacob Zuma and President Goodluck Jonathan were committed to preserving good relations between Nigeria and SA.
“President Jacob Zuma does care about this matter and is keen to have it resolved. We should not have an air of animosity. He is keen to have it resolved as is President Goodluck Jonathan. Our current leadership in both countries needs to work hard to ensure this relationship is sustained but the spirit and will to do so is certainly there,” Mr Mbeki said.
Mr Obasanjo said the two nations had a long-standing partnership dating back to his and Mr Mbeki’s presidential administrations, which yielded many positive results for the two countries and the continent.
“I am concerned about relations. There is no reason why relations between Nigeria and SA should not be the best. We were hoping that when SA was free Africa would have two strong handles and together we will carry the African basket high,” Mr Obasanjo said.
By Edos News