Nigeria-South African bilateral Relations

When two of Africa’s most powerful nations decides to come together, the whole of Africa is bound to benefit.

“We appreciate the South African defence industry – they are well advanced. This is an opportunity to look at various areas to improve defence procurement.” — Nigerian Army Cheif of Army Staff GEN. Tukur Buratai

When two great and powerful country meets in disagreement, it’s a recipe for disaster and catastrophe, but when they unite, great things can be achieved quickly. Such is the case when the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff met with his South African Counterpart in Johannesburg.

Both countries are a  powerful hegemony in their various geological domain in Africa. Nigeria in West Africa while South Africa in Southern Africa.

Earlier this week, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Yusuf Buratai visited South Africa to promote bilateral relations. He was hosted by his counterpart Lieutenant General Yam Lindie SANDF.  He will also be hosted by the various South African service chief later this week.

The Nigerian CAS visited numerous South African defense companies such as Denel Land Systems, Rheinmetall Denel Munition facility. He hinted that Nigeria and South Africa should collaborate on developing its defense industry. He said specifically that;

“We appreciate the South African defence industry – they are well advanced. This is an opportunity to look at various areas to improve defence procurement.” — Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Gen. Tukur Buratai 

Both countries have been participating in training and exercises, such as Exercises Airborne Africa and Exercise Amani Africa, and will continue to do so – in April Nigeria will host the African Land Forces Summit 2018 along with US Army Africa.

He pointed out these areas that Nigeria is interested in;


National Rivalry 

As with major regional powers, South Africa and Nigeria have always been in major socio-political, economic and diplomatic battles for supremacy. Despite the quarrels and dispute, both countries usually stand on the same team when it comes to the interest of Africa. Such an example is when Nigeria provided financial and socio-political assistance during South Africa’s struggles to end Apartheid.

In 2012, there was a salient diplomatic clash between both countries at the AU summit in January, over recognition of the government in Guinea-Bissau which Nigeria was supporting and South Africa opposing.

Also, the same year, Nigeria’s continental battle with South Africa suffered a great blow when South Africa triumphed over Nigeria in a keenly contested election, as Dlamini Zuma of South Africa was elected Chairperson of the AU Commission, thus becoming the first woman to lead the continent.

More recently, lingering bilateral tensions were again evident when Abuja ignored Pretoria’s recent invitation to join part of BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa.

Another evident tussle between both countries is the jostle for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Nigeria and South Africa have both been non-permanent members on the Council, and Nigeria is poised to begin another 2-year term on the Council beginning in January next year, a record 5th time, a feat parallel to none in the continent, and there is increasing prospects that a single slot would be allocated to the continent on a permanent basis, when the Council is reformed and expanded.

Although as of recent, Xenophobic attacks by South Africans on foreigners has continuously caused a rift between the two nations.

Economy and Global Influence

Nigeria being an “emerging global power” country and a member of the economies of Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey (MINT), More recently, lingering bilateral tensions were again evident when Abuja ignored Pretoria’s recent invitation to join part of BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa.

In 2014, Nigeria took the top position as Africa’s largest economy after re-basing it’s GDP to reflect current realities thereby overtaking South Africa

As of 2015, Nigeria is the world’s 20th largest economy, worth more than $500 billion and $1 trillion in terms of nominal GDP and purchasing power parity respectively. The 2013 debt-to-GDP ratio was 11 percent. Nigeria is considered to be an emerging market by the World Bank.

Also, Nigeria is listed among the “Next Eleven” economies set to become among the biggest in the world. Nigeria is a founding member of the African Union (AU) and a member of many other international organizations, including the United Nations (UN), the Commonwealth of Nations and OPEC.

South Africa is also one of the founding members of the African Union (AU) and has the second largest economy of all the members. It is also a founding member of the AU’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

South Africa formally joined the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRICS) grouping of countries, identified by President Zuma as the country’s largest trading partners, and also the largest trading partners with Africa as a whole. Zuma asserted that BRICS member countries would also work with each other through the UN, the Group of Twenty (G20) and the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) forum.

Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Yusuf Buratai visited the South Africa to promote bilateral relations. He was hosted by his counterpart Lieutenant General Yam Lindie SANDF.

Both countries are Unaligned with any Global power bloc. And has contributed immensely in pursuing peace and development in Africa. Both countries have also committed troops, finance, and material in various peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Areas Nigeria could benefit from South Africa:

Collaboration in the area of Rooivalk attack helicopter, Guided missiles technology. Electronic Warfare and communication systems. Since it is known knowledge that South Africa produces world-class weapons.

Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter

SAAF Rooivalk

This is undoubtedly the best area for cooperation between both nations considering the circumstances both countries face currently. South Africa is in dire need of financial assistance in developing a newer, lighter and more deadlier Rooivalk II also known as Rooivalk Lite while Nigeria is currently neck-deep in internal crises such as Boko Haram insurgency, Tribal clashes. Not to mention a possible inconspicuous and obscured foreign interference.

[Click to read more about the Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter

Guided Missiles Technology

It is not a secret that South Africa makes world-class military weapons, one of such domain they excel in is in the field of Guided Missiles Technologies like anti-tank guided systems (Mokopa) which Nigeria desperately require if the country would triumph over the high mobility terrorists rampaging the northern part of the country.


After years of enduring severe arms embargo from the West due to Apartheid, South Africa has managed to build and develop its aerospace industry to world standard. Such world-class design includes ARHLAC (Mwari), Sara, A400 Atlas transport plane sub-components and a host of them.

Nigeria’s attempt to build its aerospace industry is fraught with technical, financial and political bottlenecks. Although, the country has managed to build and manufacture several Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), warships, Infantry patrol Vehicles, and helicopter prototypes.

Air-Defence Systems

Nigerian skies are known for being notoriously unguarded. The most capable Aerial denial systems of the Nigerian Military is an almost obsolete Roland Surface to Air missile system which the country acquired in the 70s.

The Roland system’s maximum intercepting altitude is a mere 5.5km while it’s maximum range is 8km. Hopelessly inadequate for proper air defence duty. Nigeria acquired just sixteen (16) platforms mounted on the AMX 30 tank chassis. Furthermore, the operational status is currently unknown.

Umkhonto SAM

The second Nigerian air defense layer is serviced by 48 units of Blow-Pipe MANPAD built in Britain by Thames Air Defence Limited. The Blow-Pipe utilizes Manually Controlled Line Of Sight (MCLOS) aiming system which basically means the operator of the system would guide the missile from the initial firing to the actual intercept with two control joysticks. Imagine trying to control a missile flying at Mach 1.5  to hit a maneuvering fighter jet.

For comparison, South Africa uses the Starstreak MANPAD for the same role. The starstreak replaced the very successful Javelin MANPAD which in turn replaced the StarBurst MANPAD before the Blow Pipe in British service. The Blow Pipe was designed in 1975.

The Third air defense layer or Point defense in military parlance is under the control of the Soviet-made Strela II MANPAD which 100 units was acquired. The Strela II is mainly effective in dealing with low flying aerial threats such as helicopters, drones and light aircraft. It is mostly used in a squad, platoon or company level for low-level air defense.

Other Air Defence weapons in Nigerian possession include:
• ZSU-23-4 Shilka ( less than 30 units remaining)
• Bofor L/60 (12 units bought)
• ZSU -23-2  (350 units bought)
• ZPU (Unknown amount left)

South African Denel Dynamics has designed and built a sophisticated surface to Air missile system known as UMKHONTO which means spear in the local Zulu dialect. It is an all-weather system that can be launched using a Vertical Launch System (VLS). It can also be mounted on naval vessels or ground-based launchers.

A ZSU 23-2 Anti-Aircraft Artillery
Nigerian Army Roland SHORAD

Nigeria could collaborate with the South Africans on this area in view of the fact that it is a low-risk venture because there have been other countries using the system vis: Algeria (on the MEKO A-200 frigate), Finland ( on the Hamina class missile boat, Häneemaa minesweeper) and South Africa ( Valour class frigate).

Electronic Warfare and Communication

South African electronic warfare technology has, and continues to make its mark in the international military arena, with home-grown self-protection systems being used by numerous defense forces around the world.

“There is this assumption that Africa is not strong when it comes to technology and innovation, but this turns that view on its face,” says Chris Skinner, head of marketing and sales at Saab Grintek Defence.

He says Saab’s Integrated Defensive Aids Suite (IDAS) for airborne platforms provides users the ability to determine whether they are being observed by radar systems, warns the pilots when missiles are fired at the platform and when they are being illuminated by laser based threats, and then delivers appropriate countermeasures when fired upon – which requires keeping track of every type of signal out there.

MeerKAT Radio Telescope

The SKA project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with a square kilometer (one million square metres) of collecting area.

The scale of the SKA represents a huge leap forward in both engineering and research & development towards building and delivering a radio telescope, and will deliver a correspondingly transformational increase in science capability when operational.

MeerKAT radio-antenna array

Deploying thousands of radio telescopes, in three unique configurations, it will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence.

The SKA telescope will be co-located in Africa and in Australia. It will have an unprecedented scope in observations, exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope by a factor of 50 times, whilst also having the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel. With a range of other large telescopes in the optical and infrared being built and launched into space over the coming decades, the SKA will perfectly augment, complement and lead the way in scientific discovery.

South Africa has already demonstrated its excellent science and engineering skills by designing and building the MeerKAT telescope – as a pathfinder to the SKA. The first seven dishes, KAT-7, are complete and have already produced its first pictures. MeerKAT is attracting great interest internationally – more than 500 international astronomers and 58 from Africa submitted proposals to do science with MeerKAT once it is complete.

The technology being developed for MeerKAT is cutting-edge and the project is creating a large group of young scientists and engineers with world-class expertise in the technologies which will be crucial in the next 10 – 20 years, such as very fast computing, very fast data transport, large networks of sensors, software radios, and imaging algorithms.

Bar none, Nigeria has one of the most sophisticated space-based infrastructures in Africa both in quality of and quantity. It’s environmental monitoring and surveillance satellite has continually served this Africa in a different capacity.

If Nigeria should partner with South Africa, the reward would be extraordinary in terms of rapid growth in technical know-how exponentially and. Plus other benefits like increased international recognition.

Areas South Africa could benefit from Nigeria:

Special Warfare And operations

A Nigerian Navy Special Boat Service (NNSBS) operator during a HALO jump

The Nigerian Military has continuously conducted Special Operations for the last few years with great success. Its Armed Forces Special Forces (ASFS) and Navy Special Boat Service (NNSBS) units are both Tier 1 Special Warfare group. Although South Africa’s own Special Force units are quite exceptional in their own right; The Recce Regiments, 32 Battalion (Disbanded in 1993) and 44 Parachute Regiment which houses the 44 Pathfinder Platoon. However, Nigeria’s superior combat experience would be a valuable addition to the South African’s.


High Value Targets/ Individual (HVT/I) kill/capture

Since the Nigerian Military has been in a constant battle for more than six years, it has conducted many high profiles kill/ capture missions of various  HVT/I in many locations throughout Africa such as the elimination of the Boko Haram leader Shekau I, II & III.

  • Jungle and Desert Warfare

During military training, Nigerian Army cadets are introduced early so as to familiarize with the jungle and desert. There are few countries in Africa who actually have the necessary skills to conduct warfare in that sphere.

  • Asymmetric/Unconventional Warfare

NNSBS conducting anti-terrorist drills (Photo credit: NTA NG)

Thanks to its ongoing Counter-Terrorists Counter Insurgency (CTCOIN) Operations, the Nigerian Military has a clear edge in an asymmetric type of warfare whereby the enemy’s intention and ability is unknown and its tactics constantly changing. Boko Haram has perfected the art of unconventional warfare, being fluid and dynamic on the battlefield while also combining high-mobility to that effect.

  • Unmanned Combat Operations

Nigeria’s entry into the unmanned operation began after the country acquired brand new CAIC CH-3 UCAVs from the Peoples Republic of China making Nigeria one of the first few countries to do so globally. Although it has conducted unmanned operations seamlessly for quite sometimes, however, it did lose one CH-3 in Bornu, Northern Nigeria. Despite that South Africa possess the Seeker 400 UAV, it chose not to arm it since the country does not have any foreseeable threat.

  • Near-Real-time military training

South Africa could harness the opportunity of a current conflict environment to fine-tune its operational experience. Due to its strategic geolocation in Africa, South Africa is relatively safe from foreign invasion through the land.

However, Air and Sea is quite a different matter entirely.  The last major war (Apart from peacekeeping Operations – PKO) the country was engaged in was the 1986 Border War with Angola. The Nigerian CTCOIN operations could provide a valuable platform for the South African military to regain some lost skills while also discovering new once.


Improvise Explosive Detection (IED) and defusing

It is said that the restive Northern Nigerian has is one of the most IED active fields in the world. The Nigerian Military has excelled in the area of detecting and defusing this menace. The military’s efforts at neutralizing the threat has yielded great results in defending the homeland. South Africa can gain a lot in this area in preparation for the unforeseeable future.

Other area of possible collaboration includes:

With such foreign policy stance, a viable economic base, an adept purposeful political leadership and viable governance structure, Nigeria and South Africa would indeed be able to assert her indelible footprints once more across Africa, effectively making THEM BOTH the undeniable giant of Africa.

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