Nigeria Foreign Relations

Nigeria Country Studies index

Nigeria - Foreign Relations

Nigeria had cordial relations with all its neighbors--Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea--as well as with other countries in the West African subregion, with most of which it had bilateral agreements. There had been occasional border disputes with Chad and Cameroon, and military action against these neighbors was contemplated by the civilian government in 1982 and 1983. Another problem arose in the early 1980s, when Nigeria decided to expel many illegal immigrants, mainly Ghanaians, but this dispute also was resolved amicably. The guiding principle of Nigeria's regional foreign policy was that of good neighborliness and friendship. In this spirit, it helped to resolve conflicts between Liberia and Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Mali, and Togo and Ghana. Nigeria also tried to make its neighbors "safe" friends, partly to reenforce boundary claims and protect human rights of Nigerian citizens who were migrantworkers and partly to stabilize relations between the immediate neighboring countries. For example, since 1988 it has established a strong presence in Equatorial Guinea.

To pursue the economic interests through of foreign relations within West Africa, Nigeria championed the formation of ECOWAS and, in spite of competing allegiances to rival organizations within the subcontinent, continued to support the organization's objectives. Strengthening ECOWAS promoted Nigeria's national interests through encouraging development of the region's economy and discouraging its neighbors' reliance on extra-African countries for military, political, and economic survival, thus serving such security interests as weakening colonial divisions within West Africa, ending border disputes, contributing to African unity, and strengthening West Africa's bargaining positions vis-à-vis the EEC.

Foreign relations

A 1989 publication by the Federal Military Government, Four Years of the Babangida Administration, summarized the priority issues of Nigerian foreign policy: the abolition of apartheid in South Africa; the enhancement of Nigeria's relations with member countries of the European Economic Community (EEC), the United States, the Soviet Union, and with other major industrialized countries to increase the flow of foreign investments and capital into Nigeria; and continued support for international organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Relations with other African states constituted the cornerstone of Nigerian foreign policy.

The Ministry of External Affairs was directly responsible for foreign policy formulation and implementation. Because matters were usually left in the hands of the minister and his officials, foreign policy positions could change radically from one minister to another, depending on the minister's orientation. In addition to the minister's immediate staff, there was a small foreign policy elite comprising other top government officials, interest group leaders, academicians, top military officers, religious leaders, and journalists. This elite exerted indirect influence through communiqués and press releases, as well as direct pressure on the government. In 1986 a conference--to which every stratum of this elite was invited--was held to review Nigeria's foreign policy and recommend broad policy frameworks for the 1990s and beyond.

Several factors conditioned Nigeria's foreign policy positions. First, the ethnic and religious mix of the country required cautious positions on some issues, such as policy toward Israel. Nigeria found it difficult to restore diplomatic ties with Israel and had not done so as of 1990 because of Muslim opposition and sympathy with the rest of the Arab Muslim world. Second, Nigeria's legacy as an ex-British colony, combined with its energy-producing role in the global economy, predisposed Nigeria to be pro-Western on most issues despite the desire to maintain a nonaligned status to avoid neocolonialism. In 1990 this pro-Western posture was reinforced by Nigeria's "economic diplomacy," which involved negotiating trade concessions, attracting foreign investors, and rescheduling debt repayment to Western creditors. Third, the country's membership in and commitment to several international organizations, such as the United Nations and bodies mentioned earlier, also affected foreign policy positions. Fourth, and most important, as the most populous country in Africa and the entire black world, Nigeria perceived itself as the "giant" of Africa and the potential leader of the black race. Thus, Nigerian external relations have emphasized African issues, which have become the avowed cornerstone of foreign policy.

These factors have caused certain issues to dominate Nigerian foreign policy across various governments, but each government has had distinctive priorities and style. During the 1950s and early 1960s, foreign policy aimed at proper behavior in the international system, and British authorities played a major role in Nigerian foreign relations. Consequently, the Balewa government stressed world peace, respected sovereign equality, and maintained nonalignment based on friendship with any country that took a reciprocal position. After the fall of the First Republic, critics asserted that the government had been too proWestern and not strong enough on decolonization or integration, and that the low profile had been embarrassing. Nonetheless, Gowon continued to keep a low profile by operating within the consensus of the OAU and by following routes of quiet diplomacy.

The civil war marked a distinct break in Nigerian foreign policy. The actions of various countries and international bodies during the war increased awareness of the alignments within Africa and appreciation of the positive role that the OAU could play in African affairs. Whereas white-dominated African countries had supported Biafra, the OAU sided with the federation by voting for unity. The OAU stance proved helpful for Nigerian diplomacy. Nigeria first turned to the Soviet Union for support after the West refused to provide arms to the federation, and after the war, a less pro-Western stance was maintained. At the same time, Africa remained Nigeria's top priority. In the mid- to late 1970s, attention focused on the liberation of southern Africa, on the integration of ECOWAS, and on the need for complete economic independence throughout Africa. These goals were included in the 1979 constitution: promotion of African unity; political, economic, social, and cultural liberation of Africa; international cooperation; and elimination of racial discrimination.

Relations with the Rest of Africa

Relations with Major Powers

More about the Government of Nigeria.

During the Gulf crisis that began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and that marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a coalition, Nigeria kept a low profile. It did not send troops to engage in the Persian Gulf war but continued to be an active supporter of UN policy. Buying the bulk of Nigeria's crude oil, the United States was Nigeria's most important trading partner. Until the civil war, Nigeria had had no significant relationship with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Since then, ties with the Soviet Union had increased, although they remained minimal in comparison with ties to the West. Nigeria's other major trading partners were Japan and the EEC, from which it continued to obtain loans and aid.

Although Nigeria has always leaned toward the West, the closeness of the relationship has varied. Nigeria's Western ties were originally strongest with Britain, its former colonial ruler. The special relationship, which lasted until the 1966 coup, led Nigeria to side with Britain on most issues. After the coup and the civil war, the new Nigerian leaders were less favorable toward Britain, especially after Britain took a position of neutrality in the civil war, refused to sell arms to the federation and ignored the blockade against Biafra. Nigerian leaders also were rankled by Britain's support of white-dominated governments in southern Africa. Several Nigerian groups pressured the new government to weaken ties with Britain as the only way to true independence. At times, more verbal and symbolic damage was done to Nigerian-British relations for Nigerian popular consumption than was true in reality.

Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were interested in Nigeria because of its size, population, economic and military potential, and, especially for the United States, its oil. From 1966 to 1977, Nigeria was very cool toward the United States. The two countries took opposing positions over southern African liberation. Nigerians were angered by proBiafran propaganda in the United States and by America's refusal to sell arms to the federation during the civil war. United States involvement was even suspected by Nigeria in the assassination of Murtala Muhammad. In 1977 Jimmy Carter became president, and Nigerian relations with the United States suddenly changed. The United States recognized Nigeria as a stabilizing force in Africa and was willing to consult with Nigeria on African issues. The two governments appeared to have similar interests in southern Africa. The special relationship had a weak basis, however, depending mostly upon continuing agreement and cooperation over southern African issues. Once Ronald Reagan replaced Carter as president (1981-88), the countries again had divergent interests in southern Africa.

Just as the balance of trade was not expected to shift dramatically with the opening of Eastern Europe so, too, Nigeria's political position was not expected to change greatly. In a time of shifting world coalitions, a position of nonalignment with a leaning toward the West provided more options for Nigeria than ever. Events in southern Africa, including Namibia's independence and the opening of debate for eliminating apartheid in South Africa, removed the largest obstacles to closer relations with the United States without excluding the Soviet Union or other leading powers.

Nigeria played active roles in various international organizations and vied for positions in them. For example, Joseph Garba, Nigeria's former permanent representative to the UN, was elected in 1989 to a one-year term as president of the UN General Assembly; Adebayo Adeedji was executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, a UN affiliate; and Emeka Anyaoku became secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1989. Former military head of state Obasanjo also had become a recognized world statesman and spokesman on African issues. Nigeria contributed personnel to many UN peacekeeping missions, including operations in Congo, Tanzania, and the UN India/Pakistan Observer Mission in the 1960s, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in 1978, and UN forces observing the Iran-Iraq cease-fire and the AngolaNamibian accords in 1988.

The importance that Nigeria placed on international organizations grew out of a striving for peace and international cooperation. In the cases of the OAU and ECOWAS, these organizations also served to increase African unity, another important Nigerian goal. Nigeria played an initiating role in the creation of both organizations and was active in both thereafter. Although Nigeria's positions on various issues have changed over the years, its level of activity in international organizations has increased.

In 1987 Nigeria initiated a Concert of Medium Powers, more widely known as the Lagos Forum, to facilitate multilateral cooperation and to enable member states to exert greater collective influence on world affairs. Forum members included Sweden, Austria, Zimbabwe, and Egypt. The initiative, which could be seen as an effort preceding the end of the Cold War, seemed to collapse, however, after its initiator, Boleji Akenyemi, was removed as minister for external affairs in 1987.

The prevailing perception in Nigeria's foreign policy was that, as predominant the African leader, it should play a bigbrother role in relations with African states. Nigeria was a founding member of the OAU and often channeled major policy initiatives through that organization. Most of its relations with other African states took place outside the OAU framework but were guided by OAU principles. Nigeria's primary African commitment was to liberate the continent from the last vestiges of colonialism and to eradicate apartheid in South Africa. Promoting liberation had grown from a weak and conservative stance during the 1960s to an increasingly firm push after the civil war. This commitment was pursued most actively after Murtala Muhammad successfully backed the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola's ascent to power in Angola in 1975 by providing the swing vote in the OAU decision to recognize the MPLA. Nigeria had played a role in the independence of Zimbabwe and in the late 1980s was active in assisting Nambibia to achieve independence of Namibia. In the latter case, it contributed about US$20 million to assist the South West Africa People's Organization in the 1989 elections and other preparations for Namibian independence. The country also contributed financially to liberation movements in South Africa and to the front line states of Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, which were constantly harassed by South Africa. Although Nigeria's armed forces were among the largest in black Africa in the early 1990s, sizable military might has rarely been used in foreign policy. The army participated in peacekeeping forces, either alone or through the OAU and contributed personnel to United Nations peacekeeping missions. In line with its ECOWAS comunitment, Nigeria was one of the main contributors of troops to the ECOWAS Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) sent to Liberia August 23, 1990 after the peace talks there failed. Additional forces were sent in late September 1990 under a Nigerian field commander, General Doganyaro. Threats to fight for southern African liberation were made but not acted on, but Nigeria did give military and financial aid to the African National Congress for its efforts against the apartheid regime in South Africa and provided military equipments to Mozambique to help its struggle South African-backed guerrillas.

In addition, Nigeria gave aid and technical assistance to several African states, often through the African Development Bank of which it was a major benefactor. In 1987 a Technical Aid Corps, operating along the lines of the United States Peace Corps, was established. Under it, young Nigerian professionals served in other African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries where their expertise was needed. Nigeria also provided scholarships and fellowships, training facilities, grants, equipment, and medical supplies, and subsidized oil during the 1970s' oil crisis to African countries under certain conditions.

In July 1974, the Gowon government decided to sell crude oil at concessionary rates to African countries on condition that they had their own refineries and would not re-export to third countries. The decision came despite Nigeria's role as an Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member generally in favor of higher prices and after more than two years of deliberations. Nigeria acted largely in response to external pressures: international actors attempted to divide Third World countries into OPEC members and nonoil producers; various African countries, especially Liberia, begged for less expensive oil; and both the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries had established programs to aid poor countries while encouraging other oil producers, especially African nations, to follow suit. Providing subsidies for African countries was a safe move for Nigeria because Africa comprised only a small portion of the country's total oil export market, it enhanced Nigeria's position and influence in Africa while building African solidarity, and it protected security interests by preventing economic decline. Moreover, this example of generosity aided Nigeria in its efforts to create ECOWAS. In November 1990, Babangida suggested that Nigeria might again offer concessionary prices to other African countries as the Middle East crises pushed oil prices upward.

Relations with International Organizations

Relations with Neighboring States

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:

Foreign relations of Nigeria - Wikipedia
Nigeria - Foreign Relations - Reliable Security Information
Nigeria | Council on Foreign Relations
Nigeria - U.S. Department of State | Home Page
Nigeria Foreign Relations - Nigeria Rendezvous

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