The Benefits of Deepening Nigeria-Israeli Relations
As a new independent state, seeking to launch itself in the international system, Israel was one of the countries with which Nigeria established diplomatic relations in 1960. In the following years, Nigeria-Israeli ties blossomed rapidly as Israel provided the young Nigerian state expertise in education, agriculture and medical technology to kick-start her national economy. The relations between the two countries were fast consolidating when the Yom Kipurr war broke out in 1973. In compliance with the stand of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on the war, Nigeria like other African countries at the time severed ties with Israel. That led to the close of their embassies and there was no state-state contact for a period of about twenty years.
It was until 1992 that the regime of Military President Ibrahim Babangida re-established ties with Israel. This paved way once again for the two countries to open diplomatic offices in their capital cities and exchange ambassadors.
Since re-establishment of ties, Nigeria and Israel sought to go back to the pre-1973 levels of engagement in political, economic and socio-cultural spheres.
At the political level, the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2006 for increased political consultations. This MOU enabled the two countries to consult on matters of common concern such as international peace, fight against international terrorism, cooperation in multilateral diplomacy especially in the UN system among others.
It was in this spirit that former President Goodluck Jonathan became the first Nigerian leader to visit Israel in 2013 with a number of very senior government officials. The cooperation continued at the UN when on December 30, 2014, Nigeria as member of the Security Council of the global body abstained from a critical vote that would have paved way for the return of seized territories during the 1967 (occupation) war to Palestine. Of the fifteen members of the council, nine were expected to vote on the resolution to pass. As it turned out, China, France, Russia, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg supported the resolution sponsored by Jordan on behalf of Palestine while United States of America and Australia voted against. Nigeria, Britain, Lithuania, Republic of South Korea and Rwanda abstained. Avote by Nigeria would have made the minimum ninth vote desperately needed by Jordan to get the resolution passed in favour of Palestine. This went a long way to demonstrate how close the relations between the two countries have grown.
At the socio-cultural level, in spite of the severance of ties in 1973, Nigerian Christian Pilgrims continued to perform the yearly Christian pilgrimage to Israel. By 2011, the number of Christian pilgrims to Israel rose to over 50,000 and has since increased to about 60,000 by 2015.
On the economic front, the Nigeria-Israeli economic activities have continued to grow with the establishment of the NigeriaIsraeli Chamber of Commerce. At the moment, there are over 50 Israeli companies doing business in Nigeria in the various sectors including agriculture, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Construction and manufacturing among others.
The two countries signed an economic pact in 2009 to boost trade and investment in agriculture, tourism and communication sectors. Since signing the agreement, trade between the two countries has increased considerably.
Nigeria imports from Israel stood at about $300million in 2014 making her the second highest importers of Israeli goods from Africa.
Although relations between the two countries appear to be cordial and strong, experts believe that Nigeria can benefit from Israel to support her national development goals and aspirations.
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has already announced its decision to diversify the nation’s economy by focusing on solid minerals development, agriculture and expansion of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sectors as a strategy to deal with the plummeting prices of oil in the interna- tional market. Another major plank of the Buhari administration’s policy is the fight against insurgency in the North-East region and international terrorism.
It is a sweet co-incidence that the state of Israel has well tested expertise in these areas that can be explored by Nigerian policy makers and the private sector operators.
Already, Israel is supporting the skills acquisition programme for the ex-militants in the Niger Delta area through the Office of the Presidential Adviser handling the programme on rehabilitation of ex-militants.
But more can still be done. Unfortunately, the expertise that Israel can avail Nigeria, in her quest to transform the agricultural and solid minerals sectors is not known by Nigerian policy makers and investors.
It is in this direction that the initiative of the Abuja-based Citizens Center for International Relations Research (RICC) to stage a symposium on “Nigeria-Israeli Relations: Focus on SMEs, Agriculture and Solid Minerals” is a welcome development and is deserving of support.
The symposium holding in Abuja on March 3, 2016 at the NICON Luxury Hotel is intended to bring together under one roof, Nigerian policy makers at the highest policy levels in the targeted sectors (Agriculture, Solid Minerals and SMEs) on one hand and Israeli companies and experts on the other.
The program being organized by the Center in collaboration with the Israeli Embassy in Nigeria would also feature an exhibition- a rare opportunity for private sector organizations and relevant government Ministries and Agencies to show case their products and services and also seek new partnerships and collaboration in the available opportunities.
In the area of agriculture for instance, Israel has enormous expertise in irrigation farming, poultry operations and animal husbandry as well as storage and preservative systems, all of which remain a problem to the Nigerian agriculture sector. Israel also boasts of improved mechanization techniques and processing systems. Besides, Israel produces mini agricultural machines and tools that are suitable for small farms operations, an area that can create jobs for the teeming Nigerian youth if developed.
The solid minerals sector in Israel is so much developed that Nigeria can benefit a whole lot from closer collaboration.
At about $300million per annum, the trade volume between Nigeria and Israel can do much better for the benefit of both countries.
Fortunately, Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Uriel Palti has accepted to personally attend the Symposium and speak on the enormous investment and economic opportunities that exist in his country which Nigeria can take advantage. His presence at the Symposium should spur all Israeli companies operating in Nigeria to exhibit their goods and services at the exhibition segment of the Symposium as a strategy to deepening the economic relations between the two countries.
Nigeria has taken the right step to look beyond crude oil in her economic development strategy and one country she can look on to is Israel which has a success story of building her domestic economy on knowledge, agriculture and solid minerals.