In a unanimous ruling that defied the business-as-usual characteristic that has been synonymous with many countries in the African continent, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was ordered to pay back a part of the $15m he spent in renovating his Nkandla private residence by the supreme court. It came as a pleasant surprise to see a court rule against a sitting president (a clear indication of an independent judiciary), a plot that would have struck as unrealistic if it had been cast in an African movie.
And it gets better. The President not only accepted the court ruling and promised to obey it to the letter, but also apologised to the South African people for violating the constitution of the land. Now, it is rare to see an African President admit that they did wrong and not just stop there, but give a televised address to the people in a bid to allay frayed nerves. This is commendable, and will no doubt gain points for a President whose popularity has been on the decline for some time now. The outcome of the case against Zuma also shows that public office holders are held accountable for their actions in South Africa, something that can hardly be said for its fellow African economic leader where all the arms of government are subject to the supremacy of the constitution many times only on paper as government officials flout the same constitution at will.
As similar as Nigeria and South Africa are in terms of being the two largest economies in Africa, the countries are vastly dissimilar too. While the Rainbow nation (as South Africa is fondly called) has never experienced a coup, Nigeria had to deal with a civil war was the aftermath of a coup. However, South Africa also had an over 50-year struggle with apartheid. A phenomenon that is totally alien to its West African counterpart. Both countries can boast of cultural diversity but, South Africa is undeniably more cosmopolitan as it has a wide variety of people of different races, tribes and tongues inhabiting it. On paper, Nigeria has overtaken South Africa as the largest economy in Africa since 2014, but this has not translated into an improved standard of living for its people. The standard of living of the average South African is higher than that of the Nigerian.
South Africa has had its fair share of problems which includes racial discrimination, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, high crime rate, growing public debt, income equality, several civil and social unrest, and even xenophobia (which is still a challenge) for many years, yet have managed to create a relatively comfortable society for its citizens, hence its categorization as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. Basic amenities like water supply and power generation are a given in a country that has long since moved on from the barest of what can be offered to its people to its enviable position as Africa’s most socially and technologically advanced country. The republic of South Africa has mastered the art of harnessing its human and material resources to the advantage of its people. As a result, it boasts of some of the best Universities in Africa and is the top ranked in the Global Innovation Index in Africa. The Mzansi’s have risen from the ashes like the Phoenix.
Despite being tagged the “Giant of Africa” because of its huge population and economy, the 22nd largest economy in the world, an emerging market by the World Bank, a regional power on the African continent and an emerging global power, Nigeria continues to underachieve as it still struggles to provide the most basic of needs for its teeming population almost 56 years after independence. Erratic power supply remains a nightmare that has refused to go away. The problem of unemployment remains an albatross and infrastructure development is still a mirage. In the past couple of weeks, Nigerians have spent more time on fuel queues than at work or any other place for that matter. Precious man-hours are wasted hustling for premium motor spirit in a nation that is the eight largest producer of oil in the world.
President Buhari who also doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources hardly sees the need to address us directly, preferring to globe-trot as if to escape the myriad of problems bedeviling the country. His Minister of State for Petroleum, who is also the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation appears to be at his wits end as he keeps on giving conflicting dates on when the biting fuel scarcity would be a thing of the past. No lucid explanation as been given as to why Nigerians have to suffer so much hardship. It’s as frustrating as it is exasperating.
Today, South African brands like MTN, Shoprite and DSTV dot the entire Nigerian landscape. They jack up the prices of their products and services at will and make huge profits operating in our country. I stand to be corrected, but I do not know of any Nigerian brand that dominates in South Africa as they have done here. Yet, some of our governors see the next commissioning of another Shoprite Mall as a sign of development. A support that they would never extend to our local brands and SME’s. And yet we scream “Buy Naija to grow naira!” everyday.
The reality is that South Africa remains the country to beat in Africa. All that talk about Nigeria being the largest economy in Africa is hogwash since it is not tantamount to an improved standard of living for the masses. As long as Nigerians still wait with bated breaths for stable supply of electricity which even our neighbouring Republic of Benin can boast of and our government keeps giving flimsy excuses as to why things cannot take shape at the moment, then the hope for genuine growth and development will remain a fantasy.