Relations Between Nigeria and Israel


Saturday letter2

In our contemporary world, no nation operates in isolation. Nations coexist within the global system for mutual co-operation and assistance. The principles of resource redistribution and technology transfer within the modern world system become imperative and hence diplomatic ties heighten around the world. For a meaningful interaction with other state and non-state actors in the world, every country of the world adopts some basic principles or policy on the mode of its operation and relation, otherwise known as foreign policy. Nigeria as a state actor within the global system has had in different times, different foreign policies to project and protect its own national interest around and within the International system.

 Nigeria and the State of Israel established full diplomatic, cultural and economic ties after Nigeria became a sovereign state on 1st October 1960. Before the lowering of the Union Jack, there existed contacts between Western and Eastern regional governments in the 50s with Israel. Nigeria-Israel relations had been Nigerian’s most controversial and emotionally sensitive foreign policy pursuit. All decisions bordering the state of Israel have always been a hard nut to crack for our leaders- from Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa down to General Ibrahim Babangida. And that indeed forced them to walk a diplomatic tight rope in the bid to balance colliding domestic and external interests.

Regional government was introduced in Nigeria in the 40s, the constitution guaranteed regional authorities some level of authority to link up with the outside world. Consequent to that, the two southern regions (West and East) established ties with Israel and had joint agriculture and education policies. Israeli experts and loans were accessed to develop such sectors in their regions.

 Israel contributed significantly to the development of Nigeria as well as other sub-Saharan African countries in the 1960’s and 1970’s by sending Israeli experts and volunteers to modernize Africa’s agriculture and teach the African farmers sustainable farming techniques. These Israelis also played a role in developing Nigeria’s educational system, its medical and technology sector. Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, many African countries including Nigeria severed ties with Israel and relations were not restored until 1992. In April 1993 Nigeria opened an embassy in Israel. Israel has an embassy in Abuja.

Since 1992 Israel and Nigeria have enjoyed a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship, with more than 50 Israeli companies investing in Nigerian construction, infrastructure, technology, communications and information technology, agriculture, and water management industries. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Nigerian and Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs in 2006, formalizing bilateral consultations on political issues. This MOU facilitated increased dialogue and cooperation between the two countries on issues of regional and international concern. Economic ties between Israel and Nigeria are promoted by the Nigerian-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, and the Israel-Africa Chamber of Commerce.

Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan became the first Nigerian President to visit Israel in 2013. He held a meeting with Israeli’s former President Shimon Peres, during which the two leaders affirmed their commitment to stop the spread of terrorism.  Goodluck Jonathan also expressed his support for Peres’s efforts to bring about a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  While speaking of the relationship that Nigeria and Israel share, Jonathan stated that the relations were not only “excellent at the official level”, but had also been “marked by deep interpersonal affection”. Since this initial visit Goodluck Jonathan has been back to Israel once, in October 2014, bringing other Nigerian officials and religious leaders with him.

 In April 2013, Elbit Systems, an Israel-based international defense electronics company was awarded a $40 million contract by the Nigerian government to put in place their Wise Intelligence telecommunications surveillance system. This system allows the Nigerian government to monitor all internet activity within Nigeria, a development feared by human rights activists that was met by a significant backlash.

 Irrespective of a difficult start in the Nigeria-Israeli relation, both countries have outgrown their differences over the years and created a rather unique relationship between themselves, creating a good atmosphere for tourism, importation and exportation.

Ukpong Victoria, Abuja