President Cyril Ramaphosa said he could not run away from the “maze of challenges and difficulties” of doing business in Nigeria in his high-level talks with his counterpart President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday.
Speaking to South African businesspeople in Abuja, Ramaphosa acknowledged that the difficulties experienced were regulatory as well as arbitrary.
“This is what we’re going to address. We cannot run away from it,” he said.
Ramaphosa is leading a South African delegation of ministers and businesspeople to four West African nations, starting in Nigeria.
“We agreed as two countries that we will improve and create an environment for businesses to operate,” Ramaphosa said.
The good thing is that President Buhari and myself and his ministers are determined to improve the relationship between South Africa and Nigeria and do so at a very high and close level. There exists now a very warm and conducive and productive and make it profitable relationship between the two countries.
Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel told a Nigeria-South Africa business forum they acknowledged that there were restrictions in business between the two countries.
South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Thami Mseleku told News24 that South African businesses were exiting the Nigerian economy because of the hurdles imposed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said African countries should not act like former coloniser countries by imposing unscientific travel bans amid the discovery of the Omricon variant.
“The regulatory environment here creates problems for our businesses here. This is one of the things that the president want to engage President Buhari on. This is what’s making our businesspeople move out of NigerIa. We had 350 businesses at some stage, now we have about 250 that are here. The bigger actors are having trouble in repatriation of the funds and the tax framework that always changes,” he said.
Mseleku said South Africa wanted Nigeria to ease regulations and be consistent with its rules.
Patel told the business forum that the two governments were working to deal with visa regimes and economic regulations.
Mseleku said the visa regime dominated discussions in Nigeria.
“Every meeting, whether you are talking business, political engagements, prisoner exchange, whatever, the visa regime will always come on the table. They want us to review how we deal with that matter; how we provide visas to their people,” he said.
Mseleku said the Nigerians had called for a quick turn-around for visa applications and to extend visas for legitimate businesspeople.
“We raised issues on our part, the dominant applicants are fraudulent in nature. We have to be vigilant on how we scrutinise documentations,” he said.
South Africa was meant to roll out a pilot programme for e-visa applications like it had done in Kenya, but Mseleku said fraudulent applications created an issue.
He said they had to balance easing visa regimes with the protection of borders.
The president’s visit comes as many countries, including four African states, imposed travel bans on South Africa amid the identification of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
While the two African economic giants had been at odds in the past, all leaders conceded that relations had improved drastically.
Mseleku told News24 that the fact that the visit went ahead was a sign that Nigeria was standing with South Africa despite the ongoing travel bans.
“They said ‘we stand with you’. They may tone down certain things. Like yesterday we were supposed to have a state dinner, but we did not have that because of Covid restrictions. By and large, we have successfully had a bi-national commission, given the emergence of Omicron and the reaction of the world,” Mseleku said.