South Africa's President Jacob Zuma has arrived on a two-day state visit to Nigeria, a move observers see as an attempt to improve soured relations between the two African giants.

During the visit that began on Tuesday, Zuma is expected to address the Joint Session of the National Assembly of Nigeria, and will together with President Muhammadu Buhari address the South Africa-Nigeria Business Forum.  

Clayson Monyela, South Africa's head of Public Diplomacy, told Al Jazeera the South African government believes the "historic visit" will "send a powerful political message to the continent".

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"This will inject new life and energy into this important strategic relationship between the two countries and resolve the perceived tensions," Monyela said.

Zuma said Nigeria-South Africa's relations were "underpinned by strong historical ties dating back from the years of the liberation struggle".

Relations have been strained over the past few years. South Africa's telecom giant MTN's Nigeria operation was handed a $3.9bn penalty in October 2015 for failing to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards. 

The company, which is trying to negotiate a settlement, has so far paid out $250m but its headline earnings for last year have taken a hit as a result.

Other South African firms in Nigeria have reportedly complained of being targeted. There have also been official criticism of Nigeria's response to a deadly building collapse in Lagos in 2014. Eighty-one of the 116 victims were South African nationals. Pretoria said their bodies were not repatriated quickly enough.

On the Nigerian side, there have been complaints about South African visa restrictions, while in April last year the two nations became embroiled in a spat over the recall of Nigeria's two top diplomats.

The return of the high commissioner to Pretoria and consul-general in Johannesburg came after xenophobic attacks, about which Nigeria said it was "deeply concerned".

Zuma will be accompanied to Nigeria by his ministers of trade and industry, international relations, defence, home affairs, and mineral resources, as well as captains of industry. 


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Observers have taken the presence of a strong ministerial delegation as a sign of a desire to resolve mutual complaints and possible deals to help Nigeria diversify its economy away from oil.

Under President Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria became Africa's leading economy after a re-basing exercise of the gross domestic product.

But the global fall in oil prices has slashed government revenues, severely weakening the naira currency and driving up the cost of living.

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Source: Al Jazeera and agencies