Nigerian Official Says His Country Will Restore Ties Soon with Israel

The visit here this week by Nigeria’s minister for external affairs, retired Maj. Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, marks major progress in Israel’s gradual return to normal relations with African nations.

No official statement on a resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries was made Monday after Foreign Minister David Levy met with his Nigerian guest.

But the Nigerian minister told reporters that his very presence in Jerusalem showed Nigeria’s willingness to restore relations, “which would take place not too long from now.”

He spoke of the necessary resolution of “certain modalities,” and said a the formal announcement would be made when Foreign Minister David Levy pays a reciprocal visit to Nigeria.

Nigeria, like most African nations, severed ties with Israel in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Since then, at least nine countries have restored ties, including Zaire, Liberia, Kenya, Ethiopia and several smaller countries on the southern coast of western Africa.

Following Monday’s talks, Levy said Nigeria and Israel have a lot in common and they intend to increase cooperation.

Nigeria is seeking aid from Israel in agriculture and other spheres. The extent of that aid will be determined in contacts between the two countries in the coming weeks.

Nwachukwu said his country is also seeking Israel’s “influence with international financial bodies,” and he believes world Jewry could bring about significant investment in Nigeria.

CLOSE BUSINESS TIES

The Nigerian official also called on Israel to play a leading role in what he called the “democratization” of South Africa.

“Knowing the very strong democratic values which you hold dear,” he said, “we would like to see that strong Israeli arm pushing for that change in South Africa.”

Nigeria, the vast majority of whose population is Moslem, is the largest and richest black African country, with a long record of Israeli involvement, despite the freeze in formal relations.

It is the world’s 10th-largest oil producer and the second-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, after Saudi Arabia.

Its 100 million residents create the largest market in Africa for Western imports. The Nigerians have invited foreign companies to engage in large-scale development projects, and Israeli companies are among the most active ones.

Despite the absence of formal ties, some 2,000 to 2,500 Israelis are presently working in Nigeria, engaged in projects involving hundreds of millions of dollars. Israeli exports to Nigeria last year totaled $22 million, and a sharp increase is expected this year.

Israeli imports do not exceed $100,000.

Despite the close business contacts, and Nigeria’s strong standing in Africa, its government gave in to Arab pressure and severed diplomatic relations with Israel on Oct. 25, 1973.

Nigeria’s anticipated formal announcement on the resumption of relations with Israel is expected to serve as a green light for other African countries to follow suit.

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