Analysis:Nigeria-South Africa Diplomatic Row-The PDP Connection



By Jim Pressman, Abuja

The raging diplomatic row between Nigeria and South Africa just might get worse, as it is also capable of getting so much better that it might signal the beginning of better, mutually self-respecting diplomatic ties between the two African sister – nations, Nigeria being the rightful elder sister. It all depends on a number of conditions, but more about those, shortly…

The Genesis:

Nigeria, under the leadership of Generals Murtala Ramat Muhammed (late) and Olusegun Obasanjo, spear-headed the struggle to liberate South Africa from the evil apartheid regime. So much was the effort appreciated in and outside South Africa that Nigeria, though geographically far removed from the apartheid enclave, was internationally acclaimed a ‘frontline’ state.

Notable African National Congress (ANC) leaders such as Madiba Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki never missed an opportunity to recall and appreciate the Nigerian sacrifice, material and otherwise, for the eventual political freedom South Africa. However, the same cannot be said of others, especially the present-day citizens of free South Africa, more so since Mandiba stepped down from office.

South Africa is not the only African country Nigeria has helped immensely, in the spirit of being their brothers’ keepers: Angola, Zimbabwe and more recently Sierra Leone and Liberia can be counted in this category of beneficiaries. Yet, Nigeria and Nigerians have not really reaped much positive benefit from all their sacrifice, and South Africa, in particular, has been most guilty in recent history of this diplomatic ingratitude, even as they qualify to be graded as perhaps the most indebted to their Nigerian brothers and sisters for their liberation.

The latest source of friction between Nigeria and South Africa, arrogant mistreatment of the former’s citizens by immigration officials, is not really new, nor is it an isolated case. Notable Nigerians including Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka have been have been victims of recorded disrespect and public humiliation in the hands of South African immigration officials. There is therefore understandable indignation in Nigeria and among genuine friends of the Giant of Africa, albeit sleeping or with feet of clay.

Against this backdrop, we can understand the Chairman House Committee on Diaspora, Abike Dabiri, when in clear terms expressed her bitterness on the independent Channels Television in Nigeria, regarding the deportation by the government of South Africa of 125 Nigerians back to Nigeria “and the reason given is that the deportees have no Yellow Card or the cards were faked.”

Many other Nigerians home and abroad have express similar indignation, some arguing like Hon Dabiri-Erewa, that “Reciprocity is needed in all aspects of dealing with South Africa such as the requirement of Yellow card from all the South African citizens visiting Nigeria, as well as regulating the number of flights and the size of aircraft flying into Nigeria from South Africa…” Nigeria, they argue, must treat South Africa the same way they do Nigeria.

“The underlining problem is the attitude of the ordinary South-Africans to Nigerians,” Nigerian Foreign Minister and former envoy to South Africa, Olugbenga Ashiru, told the House Committee Chair Nnenna Ukeje, in answer to a question as to whether the recent face-off between Nigerian and South Africa over the recognition of the National Transitional Ruling Council (NTC) in Libya, was a factor to the diplomatic crisis. .  “They have a xenophobic attitude towards Nigerians.” You would recall that Nigeria was amongst the first nations to recognize the NTC during the Libyan uprising that led to the fall of former Libyan leader, Mummar Gaddafi. “South Africa declined to recognize the NTC,” Ambassador Ashiru emphasized.

To these and many who feel the same way,  news of the ‘retaliatory’ deportation of 28 South Africans denied access to Nigeria last Monday night/Tuesday morning for similar reasons [no Yellow Card?] must have come as cheery news and the beginning of the kind of Citizen’s Diplomacy Nigerians expect.

There is, however, one little detail which many seem to  have ignored, are ignorant of or are simply trying to sweep under the carpet for convenience: the following story appeared in the Nigerian press March 4: PDP wants MTN license revoked

Claims N150bn in damages for allegedly distorted data given the court by the company in some election petitions. The article stated, inter alia, that: “‪The People Democratic Party (PDP) has approached a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja praying it to revoke the license of MTN Nigeria Communications Limited. In the suit filed by former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the Osun and Ekiti chapters of the party, the plaintiffs alleged that MTN supplied incomplete call logs containing alleged conversations between Justice Ayo Salami and leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria to the National Judicial Council (NJC) during the 2010 Appeal Court contest of gubernatorial elections’ results.”

‪It would be recalled that Salami, the then Justice of Appeal Court, nullified the elections of Oyinlola and Olusegun Oni as governors of Osun  and Ekiti States respectively, prompting both chapters of the PDP to write separate petitions to the NJC, alleging foul play in the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

An NJC panel was consequently inaugurated to investigate the petitions but it found Justice Salami and other members of the Appeal Court guiltless.

‪The plaintiffs are reported to have accused MTN of “deliberately misleading the NJC panel and perverting the course of justice in contravention of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act, and asked the court to order MTN to pay the sum of N150 Billion as compensation for general damages.” In the words of  the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Adebisi Raimi, in a statement of claim, “ MTN deliberately frustrated the work of the panel by providing inadequate and incomplete call data records and thus manipulated same.” The claimants added: “The action of MTN to deliberately frustrate the work of the NJC panel by providing inadequate and incomplete call data records constituted gross professional and ethical misconduct (as) MTN forwarded call data containing only the originating component but deliberately withheld the terminating components, leaving the NJC with no option but to declare the call logs as lacking evidential value.”

MTN, they further argued,  “deliberately omitted the months of September, October and November 2010 from the call data records forwarded to the NJC panel, to effectively obliterate records of the period of communication between the following individuals: Hon. Justice Ayo Salami; Tunji Ijaiya; Tunde Folawiyo; Lagos State Governor; Gbadegesin Ademola; Mohammed Lai; and Kayode Fayemi, thereby blanking out the period immediately preceding the judgments of the Governorship Election Appeals in respect of Osun and Ekiti States.”

They contended that: ‪“If the recommendations of the panel and the committee had been different, necessary legal action and steps would have been taken to ensure that their candidates in the 2007 gubernatorial elections, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State and Chief Segun Oni of Ekiti State, were reinstated,” concluding that that “the two candidates have been suffering unimaginable losses of integrity, prestige, image, finance and politics since their removal.”

The discerning public needs to take into account this significant development, taking cognizance of the import for South Africa, if the application of the PDP litigants were granted. It seems that the former apartheid-ridden country is fighting the litigation using a diplomatic offensive, in the spirit of ‘the best form of defence is an attack…’

It would seem now that the PDP did not envisage the diplomatice row that may ensue in its battle to deal with MTN. And it is amazing that no one seems to be raising this blunder by the ruling party in Nigeria.Much as everyone agrees that the attitude of South Africans to Nigerians borders on xenophobia, it would be mistaken to think moving to revoke the licence of a multinational giant like MTN would be taken lightly without some ruffling of feathers.

 

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