by GEORGE OJI, WOLE OLADIMEJI TORDUE SALEM, OMEIZA AJAYI and UBONG UKPONG on Oct 16, 2014
The confiscation by the South African authorities of two tranches of $9.3 and $5.7 million meant for the purchase of arms for the prosecution of the war against insurgency by Nigeria has sparked off a new diplomatic row, which implications may seriously jeopardise the relationship between the two sister African countries if not tactfully handled. GEORGE OJI, WOLE OLADIMEJI TORDUE SALEM, OMEIZA AJAYI and UBONG UKPONG take a lidistic look into the furore.
What began initially as a mere business transaction stand-off is gradually snowballing into a major diplomatic row between South Africa and Nigeria.
When last month the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, NPA, of South Africa seized $9.3 million belonging to the Nigerian government and meant for the purchase of arms in South Africa for the prosecution of the Boko Haram insurgency challenges, the reason provided by the South African authorities for the action was that the proposed transaction violated its domestic policy, which prohibits the movement of physical cash to and from the country to the maximum of $2,300 or its equivalent in foreign currency notes.A privately-owned Nigerian jet had ferried into South Africa $9.3 million in cash. The cash was confiscated at the Lanseria airport, north of Johannesburg. The jet, accompanied by two Nigerians and an Israeli, was later traced to the national President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
While the South African authorities said they suspected that the money was proceeds of illegal transactions, the Nigerian Federal Government, through the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, was prompt to counter such claims, saying that the transaction was legitimate.
The Federal Government also went a step further to support its claims by providing public documents, which showed that the NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, personally issued the end-user certificate for the transaction. This was also as the government supported its claims with an entire “shop list,” covering the transactions, which included helicopters, aircraft rockets and ammunitions.
There were expectations that with the interventions of the Nigerian government and the supporting evidences that it was in the full know of the arms transactions, the South African government would show some understanding, amicably resolve the issue in a matter of days and accordingly return the money to the Nigerian authorities.
Unfortunately, another subsequent arms transaction, this time, contracted through a South African bank, Standard Bank and Nigeria, regrettably also resulted in the South African authorities seizing another $5.7 million, belonging to Nigeria.
Sources revealed that the latest arms transaction was between Cerberus Risk Solutions, an arms broker based in Cape Town and Societe D’Equipment Internationaux, a Nigerian company based in Abuja.
The report further revealed that the Nigerian company paid the said $5.7 million or R6 million (N1.2 billion) into Cerberu’s account at Standard Bank and following the inability of Cerberus to deliver on its own terms of the arms supply, it made efforts to return the money to the Nigerian company. It said Standard Bank became suspicious and alerted the NPA’s Assets Forfeiture Unit, AFU, which subsequently obtained a court order in the South Gauteng Court to seize the money.
This latest action by the South African authorities has left more questions than answers concerning the real reasons behind their motives.
Amongst others, the action of South Africa has exposed the insincerity of the country to support Nigeria in the prosecution of the insurgency battle threatening to disintegrate Nigeria.
Besides, the South Africans have demonstrated that they are only paying mere lip service to the joint commitment of African leaders to the stamping out of terror within the African continent.
By frustrating the efforts of Nigeria to acquire arms to confront the menace of the Boko Haram insurgency, the South Africans have unwittingly demonstrated their unseriousness to global peace and security.
There is also a school of thought that believes that South Africa’s recalcitrancy and snobbish attitude in this whole fight against insurgency in Nigeria is borne out of sheer jealousy over the recent World Bank re-basing of Nigeria’s economy, which led to the country relegating South Africa to the background, as Nigeria over took South Africa and emerged the biggest economy in the African continent.
Since the botched arms deals became public knowledge, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, has come out to blame the Federal Government for not coming out clean on the deal, questioning the role and complicity of the CAN president in the whole deal, it also took a swipe at the involvement of the leader of the former militant, Mujahideen Dokubo-Asari in the transaction.
The party said the onus is on the Federal Government to let Nigerians know if the two Nigerians who were aboard the plane were secret service officials or pure civilians. While the CAN president has through two separate press statements distanced his involvement in the arms deal, Asari- Dokubo has also come out to deny his involvement.
Asari-Dokubo in particular said he was performing the 2014 Hajj in Saudi Arabia when the money was reported to have been intercepted in South Africa, saying that the last time he visited South Africa was in the 2002 and could not have gone to any country without a visa.
He said: “Can you enter any country without a visa? No person can enter any country without a visa. Presently, I am in Saudi Arabia performing my Hajj as the Amirul Hajj of Bayelsa State and this can be confirmed. I flew Flynass from Kaduna on the 27th. So, it is really a shame that Lai Mohammed who has defiled the name of Allah has become a pathological and award-winning liar.
“APC has reduced itself to a party of liars just the same way their presidential candidate, notorious liar and confirmed dictator, General Buhari, stage managed an assassination in order to gain cheap popularity, where more than 100 people were killed and he has not been put on trial. The evil they wish me will be visited on their homes,”
The Atiku angle
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is one formidable politician within the APC fold. He had on many occasions in the past threatened to deal with the Jonathan administration, in the same vein some folks in his party had vowed to make the country ungovernable were Jonathan win the last general elections in 2011.
Abubakar is known to have a very robust relationship with President Zuma of South Africa. This explains why even during the burial of Dr Nelson Mandela, the former vice president was given a prime position to sit while the Nigerian delegation were confined to an obscure space. Could it be that Mr Zuma is trying to boost the chances of his friend by rubbing mud on the image of the present administration? Well, time reveals all things.
Economic diplomacy as weapon for Nigeria
In the face of the on-going arms face-off with South Africa, observers believe that one covert instrument open to Nigeria to arm-twist South Africa to see reason to cooperate with her is deploying economic sanctions against South Africa.
Current trade relationship between the two African countries is largely tilted in favour of South Africa, with about 12 South African companies doing robust businesses and carting billions of US dollars away from Nigeria to South Africa.
These companies include MTN, Power Giant, Eskom Nigeria, South African Airways, South African Breweries (SAB miller), Stanbic/IBTC Bank of Nigeria, Multichoice, Umgeni Water, Refresh Products, PEP Retail Stores, Shoprite, LTA Construction, Protea Hotels, Critical Rescue International, South African-Nigeria Communications, Global Outdoor Semces, Oracle, Airtime, just to mention a few of them. In addition, 14 Southern African companies have been contracted to collect revenues for the Power Holding Company of Nigeria ,PHCN.
Through the activities of these companies, observers believe that South Africa literarily maintains firm footprints and foothold all over Nigeria’s economy. MTN alone, records annual profit in the region of billions of Naira, not to talk of the likes of Multichoice, which is the parent company for DSTV and GOtv, which provides terrestrial services in Nigeria and also declares huge profits. Shoprite, a trading and food supplies outfit is gradually running out Nigerian businesses in the same line out of business and continues to establish new retail outfits across major commercial towns in the country.
Observers believe that one way Nigeria can get South Africa to fall in line is to threaten the business concerns of these South African companies. Already, some of the South African companies are alleged to be jittery that the diplomatic offensives between Nigeria and South Africa could adversely affect their operations.
Some diplomats in Nigeria are also concerned that despite the leeway given to South African companies to thrive in Nigeria, there are still officials of the country who are determined to frustrate Nigeria. Already, concerns are being expressed by South African authorities that the recent row over the seized funds may trigger off retaliatory actions by the Nigerian government.
An official of the South African National Prosecuting Authority said: “The issue could affect bilateral relations between Nigeria and South Africa.”
He specifically mentioned MTN — a South Africanbased cellphone and internet provider with tens of millions of subscribers in Nigeria, as a company that could be targeted in a reprisal action by Nigeria.
“You cannot be making so much money from Nigeria and then turn around and embarrass the people,” a government official in Nigeria was reported as saying.
Other options open to Nigeria
Diplomatic analysts opine that since it has become obvious that South Africa has chosen to line behind the United States of America, USA, and its Western allies to frustrate moves by Nigeria to procure arms from them to prosecute the war on insurgency, it is high time the country looked elsewhere for such military support.
In this regard, Nigeria has been urged to re-enact the Sani Abacha foreign diplomacy era, which saw the country pitching tent and doing business with the Asian countries, particularly China when the West closed its doors to Nigeria because of alleged human rights violation and persisting military governance.
The believe that given the diplomatic and business relationships between Nigeria and China, which has been in the upswing in the past 20 years or so and the rivalry between the US and China, the Peoples Republic of China will be favourably disposed to opening its doors to Nigeria, not only to acquire the needed arms to fight insurgency, but to provide training and other allied support to the country.
Besides China, analysts believe that Nigeria can also look the direction of Russia, North/South Korea and other Asian countries to transact arms business.
Already, there are indications that the Federal Government may have started considering such options. For instance, the Federal Government recently elicited the cooperation of Belarus for the acquisition of about 12 M135 helicopters and military training support to fight the Boko Haram sect.
The acquisition of the helicopters would be funded from the $1 billion loan recently approved for the Federal Government by the National Assembly.
Presenting the report of the Senate Joint Committees on Finance and Local and Foreign Debt before the Senate plenary a fortnight ago, Senator Ahmed Markafi said: “ Belarus has accepted to give helicopters on instalmental payment over a period of seven years and other hardware, armaments and equipment will be bought on same terms from other European countries.”
US’ double standards
Despite the initial assurances by the US government to support Nigeria in its fight against insurgency through equipment, logistics supplies and personnel training, there are however enough grounds to show that she was merely playing lip services to those promises, as efforts by Nigeria to acquire sophisticated arms on its own to effectively combat the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency has consistently been frustrated by the US.
The US does not only renege on its promises to Nigeria, but also goes the whole hug to use its global clout to impede efforts by Nigeria to acquire the necessary military equipment to combat the insurgents.
Even in the present case where the South African Government has continued to prove uncooperative with arms purchase from that country, analyst believe that the US must no doubt, be behind the insolence of the South Africans.
As Nigeria continues to wonder the reasons behind such uncooperative attitude by the US, analysts believe that there are more that meets the eyes here. A school of thought believes that the US’ attitude to Nigeria in this arms issue must not be unconnected to the fact that the Americans are determined to ensure that the US’ prediction of a disintegrated Nigeria come 2015 actually comes through.
There is also another school of thought that holds that the behavior of the Americans is geared at punishing the Nigerian government over its inability to halt the passage into law of the same sex marriage, which was strongly criticised by the West.
As these theories continue to find space in public discourse and Nigerians continue to spat at the US, her ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, while debunking the notion that his country was undermining Nigeria’s efforts to end the insurgency in the country explained that the US was worried about the report of human rights violation in the North-East by the Nigerian military authorities.
The Nigerian military has on its part made frantic efforts to explain that its troops were not responsible for the human rights abuses as claimed by the Amnesty International and foreign media. The military authorities have repeatedly insisted and given evidences to prove that insurgents dressed in military wares perpetrate the evil, but the explanations seem not to suffice as the US was alleged to have made up its mind to use human rights issues as cheap avenue to get at Nigeria.
The irony of the situation is that while the US continues to block all efforts by Nigeria to take delivery of arms to combat the insurgency, she continues to look the other way as members of the sect continues to take delivery of arms supplies, with which it uses to continue to destabilise Nigeria.
It is unfortunate that what has now become known as “Leahy Law” in the US only applies to Nigeria as a country and not to terrorists, else, how do the terrorists still procure arms when Nigeria as a country cannot buy arms to defend its citizens against terror?
Named after its sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy, the Leahy Law is a U.S. human rights law that prohibits both the US Department of State and the Department of Defense from providing any form of military assistance to nations whose military units may have violated human rights with impunity.
Interestingly, the US has refused to enforce this law in the case of some countries. That it has chosen to enforce it in the case of Nigeria points to its subtle desire to allow the prediction of one of its organisations, that Nigeria will disintegrate after the 2015 elections come to pass, despite that Boko Haram continues to behead defenseless citizens.
Perhaps, this might be very instructive. The 2011 Human Rights Watch report exposed how the U.S. “continued to aid and train Cambodia’s armed forces, including units with records of serious human rights violations such as Brigade 31, Battalion 70 and Airborne Brigade 911 – in violation of the Leahy Law.”
Also, despite criticisms of Israel’s policy and alleged high-handedness in Gaza, the US has never declined sending weapons to Israel. In any case, the law has never been enforced against Israel. This hypocritical stance of the US is more annoying considering that Nigeria is not even begging her for arms. Nigeria wants to buy arms from other countries since the US would not sell to her. The question is why would the US continue to block other countries like South Africa and Israel from selling arms to Nigeria? Perhaps, Nigeria may have to review her relationship with the US.
Nigerian War on Terror: Disturbing Tales of Conspiracy, Sabotage
Federal Republic of Nigeria currency the Naira.
October 15, 2014
By Kingsley Omonobi & Charles Kumolu
NIGERIA and South Africa have in the past three weeks been embroiled in a serious diplomatic and economic dispute over the twin arms purchase deals that would have seen South African Concerns playing the role of third party in the arms purchase transactions. Read in Full …