Tobi Lovv: First Nigerian IDF officer looks to build bridges

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“Over the years I knew I would join the army and as I got older and as we visited Israel and I kept seeing soldiers, it moved from his [my father’s] desire to being my desire.”

A decade after she left her home in Nigeria to don her IDF uniform, Tobi Lovv wants to build bridges between her adopted home and Africa.Lovv was born in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to a Christian mother and an Israeli father, and while there’s not a Jewish community in Nigeria per se, there is a large Israeli expat community, especially in the capital.Read More Related Articles

“All those years growing up I was aware of my Jewish-Israeli identity,” Lovv told The Jerusalem Post.“Over the years I knew I would join the army and as I got older and as we visited Israel and I kept seeing soldiers, it moved from his [my father’s] desire to being my desire. His dream was being reflected now on me,” she said.

After finishing high school at 16, Lovv recounted how she had been able to foresee her future if she didn’t go on the path she wanted: she would leave Nigeria to get a degree in the United States,  get married and then maybe come to Israel for holidays.“My dad kept Israel close to his heart and there was not a single holiday that we didn’t celebrate… We had both Christmas and Hanukkah. Growing up there was never the option of choosing one religion over the other… I had the best of both worlds.”

So Lovv looked at her options which were either to start college and then join the IDF, or leave Nigeria and go to Israel for gap years before enlisting in the army. While her parents would remain in Abuja with her younger sister, she had her grandmother and cousins as a support system and a warm meal on the holidays.

When Lovv moved to Israel at the age of 17 to join the IDF, she didn’t have any Hebrew-language skills because despite her father being Israeli, she grew up speaking English. She joined Young Judea’s gap-year program before joining the Metzar pre-army educational program at Kibbutz Metzer in the Golan Heights.“When you make aliyah by yourself there are so many things that you don’t understand and I wasn’t aware of all the positions available to me in the army. Looking back at it now, I wish I knew what was available to me. I would have joined a combat unit. It’s a privilege. That’s something that Israelis don’t really get,” she said.While Lovv’s mother “wasn’t thrilled” to send her daughter to the army, her father, who served in the Armored Corps, was key in her drive to join the IDF.Her father “didn’t want to get involved in my future career, but he wanted me to join the army because he understood that joining it would let me enter Israeli society… The army is so ingrained into Israeli society,” she added.When she enlisted, her father came from Abuja. “It was very important for him to see me in uniform,” Lovv said.Lovv served in the Home Front Command’s southern division serving as an operations sergeant in the war room from 2011-2012 during Operation Pillar of Defense. It was “an intense part” of her service.“During the war, I said to myself I have no other choice. It’s something I committed to. Everyone has a job and no matter how small I thought my job was, it was something that was important. That’s something I feel a lot of soldiers feel and I would always remind my soldiers that no matter how insignificant you think the job may be, it’s not. It’s important.”But a year into Lovv’s service, she realized that there were only a few months left, and she wanted more.“That’s it! After 16 years, I wanted more. I heard that women could be officers, and despite my language skills not being where I wanted them to be, I had all the criteria to get into the officers course,” she said. “I told my commander, and she told me that [it was] fine but the language would be a challenge.”Despite the physical and mental challenges, and the language barrier, Lovv became the first female Nigerian officer in the IDF and was posted as the commander of the war room in the Northern District of the Home Front Command.“Those three years were very intense,” she recounted. “People think the army is all about physical endurance, but it’s also mental endurance. And people don’t understand that.”“The army has a great advantage over civil society… You join the army based on your nationality, that your Israeli, not because of your Jewish,” she said. “The army was a very accepting place. People come from everywhere, and you don’t see that a lot.”After being released from the IDF, she did her reserve service for five years while at the same time attending a finishing school in Switzerland, completing both BA and MA degrees and getting married.Since then, she’s been working with various NGOs and government institutions on “millennial diplomacy” and while Lovv “never wants to go into politics,” she sees herself as an unofficial ambassador of Israel to Africa.“I have something bigger, a mission. I believe that the whole issue of diplomacy is not that exciting for the younger generation.  I want to start building the bridges that haven’t been built yet… to bridge the gap, especially with African communities.”

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