BYLINE: Adekeye Adebajo
It is the best of times in South Africa as its $193 billion economy grows steadily to register the first budget surplus in its history.
And as the country's constitutional protections are hailed as one of the world's most progressive.
It is the worst of times in Nigeria as the charade of a flawed election challenges the legitimacy of president-elect Umaru Yar'Adua as well as outgoing president Olusegun Obasanjo's legacy.
And as Nigeria's $53bn, oil-fuelled economy is stalled by an effective shutdown of a quarter of production by disaffected youths in the neglected oil-rich Niger Delta.
It is the best of times as South Africa maintains a world-class infrastructure and universities for its |47 million people and exports its technology and skills to the continent.
It is the worst of times as Nigeria's infrastructure and ivory towers are crumbling monuments to decades of neglect, and the country is spectacularly unable to provide constant electricity to its 140 million inhabitants.
This Dickensian picture is, of course, too stark.
South Africa of "two nations" still suffers from massive inequalities from the diabolical legacy of apartheid, and has overwhelming HIV/Aids and crime challenges.
Nigeria also has some of the continent's most talented and educated people, its largest market and its most active peacekeepers.
Much debate has been generated about whether regional hegemons South Africa and Nigeria can play a leadership role in managing Africa's conflicts, driving economic integration and development, and promoting democratic governance.
It is worth retracing the history of this symbiotic relationship.
The annus mirabilis of African independence in 1960 saw the birth of Nigeria amid great hopes for a political and economic giant expected to take its preordained place in the African sun.
In the same year, South Africa was about to be expelled from the Commonwealth for another bloody round of killings of unarmed blacks in Sharpeville.
While South Africa was sanctioned and isolated, Nigeria provided leadership to anti-apartheid and decolonisation struggles. Nigeria was the prophet, South Africa the pariah.
With South Africa's liberation in 1994, there were great expectations the installation of a black-led government under the universally-revered Nelson Mandela would usher in the birth of an alliance between Africa's economic powerhouses.
These hopes were soon dashed by the unexpected souring of relations between Pretoria and Abuja.
Under General Sani Abacha's autocratic rule from 1993 to 1998, South Africa and Nigeria had traded places from the apartheid era.
It was Nigeria that was facing mounting criticism over its human rights record and becoming increasingly internationally isolated.
Having abandoned apartheid, South Africa was widely …