'The impact of Afrocentrism upon Nigeria's foreign policy: since attainment of independence to the present day' - 'SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences' - NotaBene.ru
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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The impact of Afrocentrism upon Nigeria's foreign policy: since attainment of independence to the present day

Gbadebo Afolabi

post-graduate student of the Department of International Relations and History at Peoples' Friendship University of Russia

117197, Russia, Moskva oblast', g. Moscow, ul. Miklukho-Maklaya, 15/1






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Abstract: The foreign policy of Nigeria has indisputably proven some homogeneity with the concept of Afrocentrism. Facts have shown that the country’s foreign policy has been very consistent in considering Africa as a centerpiece in spite of successive administrations and the varied systems of government it has experienced. The author outlines the principles and objectives embedded in the policy from the time of the first Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa who ruled since 1960, when Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom, to the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, due to the country’s committment in contributing to Africa’s development. In this accord, Nigeria has clung to the strong holds of self-determination and self-government relationship with other countries, both regional and sub-regional. Having adopted the policy of non-alignment, Nigeria has stood in resistance to the external influence while maintaining diplomatic relations with them and concentrated on the integration of African countries. At the period of the country’s shift from Afrocentrism as core to its foreign policy to the direction of “Citizen Diplomacy” then to investment and economic co-operation, Nigeria never lost focus on African unity, economic diplomacy and decolonization of neighboring states. The present article reveals the details of Nigerian foreign policy, its influence on the country itself and Africa as a whole.

Keywords: Nigeria's leadership, peacekeeping, contribution, diplomatic relations, Africa, centerpiece, Afrocentrism, Nigeria, foreign policy, neighboring countries

Frankel (1978) defines foreign policy as a range of actions, as well as a set of principles influencing actions, taken with reference to external situations and factors, the summation of thoughts, actions and principles on external affairs [6]. Considering the irreducible minimum and fundamental components, foreign policy consists of two elements: national objectives to be achieved and the means for achieving them. In its process, the foreign policy of nations, great and small, is the same as it is applicable to all.

Right from the time immemorial, Nigeria’s foreign policy has been guided by certain objectives and principles which include the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country [12]. According to B. Akintola, since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 to date, the country has maintained a relatively consistent foreign policy considering the fact that it had experienced varied forms of government within the period [3]. Africa has been the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy with emphasis on decolonization, political and economic integration of states in the continent.

In fact, in most key aspects, Nigeria deserves to be called the “Giant of Africa” not only by virtue of its stupendous resource endowments and population, but also by virtue of its inestimable contributions to Africa, her continent. This, thus relates to its unilateral championing of African issues at no political or economic benefit to herself whatsoever, and often to the chagrin of many European nations, especially America and Europe. Nigeria has been one of the chief architects and chief negotiators of peace throughout Africa through its enormous resources contribution to peacekeeping process in the continent.

It is recalled that after gaining independence, Nigeria’s foreign relationships, generally, have been characterized by a focus on Africa as a regional power which was to settle disputes and not to intervene in the internal affairs of other states. In carrying out these enlarged functions, Nigeria has been a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (0AU) now African Union (AU), established in 1963, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formed in 1975, the Commonwealth of Nations which the country joined after gaining independence from the British, and the United Nations Organization a few days after independence. Under this framework too, Nigeria got deeply involved in the decolonization struggle in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In the process, the country earned for herself the appellation of a “frontline nation”, despite that she was geographically far removed from the theatre of the struggles in Southern African region [15]. Thus, generally, Nigeria’s foreign policy trends, development and formulation, since inception have consistently been the same, especially in the promotion of her national interest and such typically centered on Africa. While the main thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy remained permanent and largely the same, from regime to regime, it however, witnessed various adjustments and modifications, depending on the orientation of the political leaderships [9]. This plethora of conceptual ideological transitions in the Nigeria’s foreign policy machinery has essentially striven towards an epistemological construction, defining the policy itself. To champion the cause of Africa and in leading the process of such advocacies and agitations for the continent’s liberation, Nigeria had on several occasions incurred the wrath of some powerful nations especially, America and Britain, for daring to be so audacious. The country had variously attracted punitive efforts from America and Europe as a result. Such efforts were geared at crippling her for daring to advocate, agitate and at times, almost single-handedly leading and championing the cause of African countries liberation. Notwithstanding, Nigeria has continued steadily in line with its foreign policy principle. With Africa at the heart of this policy, the country rose in demand that America and Europe stopped being the milk, honey and lubricant of oppression, exploitation and underdevelopment in Africa. Thus from 1960 to date Nigeria’s African policy has continued unabated. Although against all odds, cost and expenses both in human (of the supreme sacrifices) and in billions of dollars in cash, peacekeeping and all and without any condition or benefit (political or economic), till date, Africa has remained the centerpiece of Nigerian foreign policy. This is evidence in Nigeria’s numerous efforts in the past and her continuous efforts to douse every political fire ignited and intractable internecine fractiousness in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Congo, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe in the past and more recently, Darfur in Sudan etc. in terms of proactive engagement with major socio-political and economic issues of continental importance in the last fifty-eight years, Nigeria tower far above any other African country.

Concept of foreign policy

In relation to foreign policy of a state are many determinants both internal and external but what is most important in both is national interest of a state which is always protected by officials of that state. The interaction is always between one state and another called bilateral and between a state and non-state actor called multilateral. The resultant effect is to deepen relations between states for peaceful cooperation and development. However, the formulation of foreign policy of a state is carried out by the head of government and the foreign minister with the support of legislative arm of government which is applicable to most of the countries in the world. For countries to relate effectively with one another, foreign policy must be well defined, well thought out, and must possess direction. Hence, Wogu infers that foreign policy can best be understood through an explanation of its meaning which is always directed to the relation, thrust and gains [3]. In addition, a review of Nigeria’s foreign policy positions over the years comes out with a number of philosophical-conceptual building blocks which are strongly related to the state of the international environment. Within the context of decolonization, “self-determination and self-government” were core philosophical principles that informed the country’s foreign policy. As Nigeria matured as an independent and sovereign nation, other philosophical principles that became part of the country’s foreign policy fundamentals are enlightened national interest, African solidarity, interdependence, internationalism, asymmetric world order and supranational authority [11].

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1960-1966

Fresh from colonial rule and basking in the euphoria of a newly independent nation, Nigeria made certain pronouncements that had stuck with her till the present, and perhaps, have been responsible for her foreign policy trends till present. Nigeria’s foreign policy immediately after independence till the first military coup was predominantly pro-British and guided by British interests. Thus, while claiming non-alignment as one of her policy objectives, Nigeria was clearly pro-British and pro-West generally. Thus in 1960, when Balewa courageously and indirectly stated that his government was responsible for its action, but that it would not allow the infiltration of foreign powers into Nigeria, he was stating what later became obvious as the British government was consistently tele-guiding Nigeria’s new leadership and actions towards rejecting the Soviet Union’s communist ideology and even seeking or accepting any type of aid from them. This was made clear by the Institute of Army Education which asked the question that “would it be surprising therefore that when the Soviet Embassy was established in Lagos in 1961, the number of its diplomatic staff was limited to ten whereas no such restriction was placed on the diplomatic missions of West European countries or the United States of America and that the Soviet Embassy was allocated a paltry figure of five diplomatic car plates whereas Britain and the United States of America were entitled to one hundred each”?[11]. It can therefore be asserted that the opening of the Soviet Embassy in Nigeria was allowed with the disguise that Nigeria was non-aligned. During this period, Nigeria’s foreign policy was conservative, reactionary, pre-Western under an uncertain and timid administration that was totally aligned to the West in every trade and diplomatic relations which was in total disagreement with Prime Minister Balewa’s assertion on the eve of independence that Nigeria would not take side on western or eastern ideology (House of Representatives Debates, 20th August 1960, Lagos). This was buttressed by Idang that believes that Balewa administration always took decision by consulting Britain for advice but it must be mentioned here that Nigeria was pro-African and pro-Commonwealth in its foreign policy which according to Egbo had shown inconsistencies and contradictions [5,9]. For instance, Nigeria severed relations in 1961 with France when the country tested its atomic bomb in Sahara Desert which was in Africa, its refusal to the maiden meeting of Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade, delay in diplomatic ties with China and Soviet Union, acceptance of Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact before it was abrogated due to protest by Nigerian students and Nigeria’s refusal to train armed militia of Angolan national fighters waging against Portuguese colonialists were typical examples that showed contradictions and inconsistencies in the Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1966-1975

This period under General Yakubu Gowon, who was president, was turbulent as well as interesting in Nigerian history as very significant events took place between 1967 and 1973. The period ushered in Nigerian civil war and the oil boom which “provided Nigeria a new impetus to practice her non-aligned stance and position of neutrality in international events” [5]. But the government of the day was involved with the civil war coupled with the attitudes of the former and new entrants into the alignment scope of the Nigerian State [17]. For instance, faced with the British initial hesitation at supplying arms to the Nigerian government in its war against secessionist Biafra, the government had to turn to the Soviet Union which supplied all the weapons needed for the onslaught. The support by the USSR to Nigeria in the ideological warfare led Britain to get involved in the war, so as to stave off the Soviet increasingly communist influence in Nigeria. Thus, the period was devoted to winning the civil war and maintaining the integrity of the Nigerian state and it was a very vibrant period of interesting in foreign policy leaning as propaganda became a major aspect of Nigeria’s foreign policy by the government and secessionists. Coming out from a sapping civil war, Nigeria learnt a lot of lessons such as: (i) need to come closer to other African states on matters that could promote both political and economic freedom to the continent; and (ii) Nigeria needed not to unnecessarily reject overtures of friendship from the Soviet Union; and (iii) Nigeria could disagree with Britain on issues it felt strongly about and still retain her status. In addition, this period witnessed the birth of oil as major economic revenue for Nigeria, and with her economy developing; Nigeria began a foreign policy that involved economic expansion into neighbouring African states. The period 1970-1975 was one of ‘self-confidence’; a period when Nigeria’s foreign policy that was previously personalized especially by Gowon (accused by some critics of liking to play to the gallery), now turned to a low-profile policy deliberately made so for maximum effect and attention by world leaders. It was also very vibrant in the sense that far-reaching decisions were made at this time, which have stood the test of time.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1976-1979

This period saw a true manifestation of the foreign policy of Nigeria as the regime under Murtala Mohammed (who was the president in that period) gave a well-defined, articulate, coherent and explicit policy for Africa that was not tainted with fear or deference to any bloc or nation. In his address to the OAU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1975, he gave notice of the direction that “Africa was going to take in the new era, and with Nigeria’s leadership. He stated in his speech that Africa has come of age as it is no longer in the orbit of any continental power and that it would no longer take orders from any country no matter its strength. This boldness exhibited by the Nigerian leader has been given as perhaps one of the many reasons given for his untimely elimination from the political scene [8]. There was an issue of conspiracy by the West that could not stomach a revolutionary leader, a staunch believer in Africa and a soldier who was ready to do all it took to wrest Africa from the wrenches of the capitalist West that had continued to control the continent’s destiny many years after the declaration of independence. Mohammed did not help matters with his forceful sparring with the United States of America on the Angolan crisis between UNITA and MPLA, where Nigeria recognized and supported the MPLA government as against the American support for UNITA.

The short-lived leadership of Murtala Mohammed did not in any way derail Nigeria’s foreign policy as his successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo, vowed to and followed the same trend. He was dedicated to the African spirit and was bold to take actions independent of Western influence. Obasanjo, to his credit, did a lot in terms of pushing Nigeria to the front-burner in international affairs by telling Britain and America some home truths despite the closeness, though without antagonizing them; and he went beyond that to the Soviet/Communist bloc to cultivate friendships that have endured till date. Although the domestic policies did not materialize to a lot of visible developmental progress, Nigeria’s foreign policy under Mohammed/Obasanjo regimes is the best so far as it has received wide acceptability and respect in the global community.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1979-1983

Apart from making the usual remarks about maintaining the African-based foreign policy of Nigeria, there was not much to be said about the foreign policy of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. He tried to keep up with the already established policy of his predecessor but could not because of series of problems that faced him and which some Nigerians believed was his incompetent to withstand. It was to his credit that he spearheaded Africa’s commitment to peaceful settlement of inter-state disputes like the Somalia/Ethiopia; Morocco/Polisario Movement over Western Sahara; and the Hissene Habre/Guokonni Weddeye crises in Chad [5]. However, there was no major issue that the regime tackled and the lackluster approach to issues made it impossible for Nigeria to impose her will on the continent as it had already started doing. Rather, the government was known to have caused bad blood and hostility towards Nigeria by some neighbouring states in the African continent with the expulsion of illegal aliens especially from Ghana. Moreover, it was during this time that the corruption in government led to the downward spiral in the Nigerian economy. As succinctly noted by Egbo (2003), to any casual observer, the steam had gone out of Nigeria’s foreign policy [5]. The momentum and zeal which had characterized Nigeria’s foreign policy in the previous five years was eventually replaced with a lack of forthrightness and excessive caution in approaching issues. The regime lacked definite focus and fundamental framework, lapsed into unenthusiastic conceptualization and incoherent policy vacuum [15]. The innovativeness and assertiveness of the last two regimes was lost. Shagari’s foreign policy became a flash-back to the conservatism and legalism of the Balewa era, such that while lots of noises were made for good measure, the reality was one of incompetence and impotence borne out of indifference, confusion and political foot-dragging.

This attitude created the opportunity for the military to come back into the political scene with the coup d’état of 31 December 1983.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1983-1985

The General Mohammadu Buhari administration made it clear that his preoccupation was not foreign policy but to restore the tattered economy of Nigeria and put her back on the pedestal of moral rectitude. However, as no government can operate without a foreign policy objective, his foreign policy priority was to promote peace in Africa starting with her neighbours as seen in what it conceptualized as the ‘concentric circle’. As clearly adumbrated by Gambari (1989) that the pattern of concentric circle might be discernible in her attitude and response to foreign policy issues within the African continent and in the world at large [7]. In addition, it was during this period that the Quadripartite Agreements involving Nigeria and her three neighbours to the West (Benin, Ghana and Togo) were signed. But then, the regime showed inconsistency by indefinitely closing down Nigeria’s borders as a measure against smuggling and money laundering in her much-vaunted fight against corruption. Another diplomatic faux pas committed by the regime was the attempted to forcefully bring back Alhaji Umaru Dikko to Nigeria from Britain in a crate. This action caused a serious infraction in the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Britain. Moreover, the highhandedness and unbending and unyielding resolve of the regime in some of its actions brought about his overthrow as Buhari was accused of running a two-man show of himself and Idiagbon who was his deputy.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1985-1993

General Ibrahim Babangida saw foreign policy as an “issue-based pursuit reflecting a package of objectives and goals tied to the nation’s security and the well-being of Nigerians generally” (Adeniran, 2008). This he did not only by bringing the best personnel on board viz: Bolaji Akinyemi, Ike Nwachukwu, Rilwanu Lukman, and gave them the essential latitude to implement their strategies towards achieving the said goals [1]. Thus, the many foreign policy issues such as the Technical Aid Corps (TAC) programme, the Concert of Medium Powers initiative and Economic Diplomacy as foreign policy thrusts, and which were well-received, had the inputs of many eggheads that IBB brought into his cabinet. It was also under his leadership of ECOWAS (1986-1988), that the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens was proposed.

This could be said to be the shining point of his leadership in terms of Nigeria’s Africa policy, as he not only reversed Buhari’s ill-conceived closure of borders to punish smaller neighbouring countries, he virtually took over ECOWAS, making Nigeria the arrowhead of the sub-regional organization. As clearly expounded by Shagaya (2003) Nigeria was not only provided the bulk of the materials and logistic supports for ECOMOG operations but also the bulk of its personnel [16]. Apart from the first Commander who was a Ghanaian, all subsequent Commanders were from the Nigerian military. That today Liberia is a united country owes much to the foresight and sacrifice of Nigeria. The Babangida regime gave ECOWAS institutional relevance by giving its support to the land donated by the Buhari administration for the building of the ECOWAS Secretariat and contributed 4.5 million dollars towards its construction.

Babangida also went beyond the continental level by taking bold steps such as restoring relations with Israel that had been severed since October 1973 over the Arab-Israel conflict. Thus, in all, Babangida’s regime was credited with some achievements such as:

i) the revival of Nigeria’s active commitment to ECOWAS by lifting boundary closures and restoring free movement within ECOWAS countries;

ii) Nigeria’s active intervention in inter-African affairs and conflicts, especially in West Africa, in the border wars between Mali and Burkina Faso and in the strained relations between Sierra Leone and Liberia;

iii) the establishment and funding of Nigeria’s Technical Aids Corps (TAC) which provides highly trained Nigerian personnel at little or no costs to needy African states;

iv) the formation of the Lagos Forum of Medium Powers; and

v) the use of Nigeria’s foreign policy to support and promote Nigeria’s domestic economic policy [11].

Moreover, it was during this era that Nigeria got the most representation in the international scene through the United Nations. It was also during this period that Obasanjo was selected as one of the three pioneer members of the International Eminent Personalities mandated to arbitrate in the South African political debacle by the Commonwealth; in 1989, Nigeria’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Joe Garba, was made President of the General Assembly in its 44th session; and also in 1990, Emeka Anyaoku was elected as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations. But despite all the above minimal successes, General Babangida administration was not perfect as there were a lot of concern in its foreign policy [5].

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1993-1998

Given that Abacha took over by force unnecessarily and at a time the world was gradually tilting towards liberal democracy, and given the opposition to such obvious palace coup on the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan in 1993, Nigeria was generally hostile to most countries and became a pariah in the comity of nations. Thus, foreign policy during this period was “reactive and isolationist” (Akintola, 2007). For him, there was a need to fashion out a new foreign policy thrust for the country as the traditional position had become more or less in its estimation. Thus, he constituted a 50-member committee of various interest groups to examine this. The deliberate action showed his hand early enough that he did not want anything except to direct what should happen without recourse to what had been the tradition. Moreover, the regime was so brazen in disregard of diplomatic norms and showed marked disdain for finesse in relations with the diplomatic corps of other countries that left them stunned. There was controversy over the killing of human rights and Ogoni activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight Ogoni leaders despite the pleas from the international community. Nigeria’s traditional allies, Britain, United States of America, France, Germany, Canada and South Africa and many others temporarily withdrew diplomatic representations and support for Nigeria; and “in response to the isolation from the West and its associates, Abacha turned to Asia” [3]. This further alienated Nigeria from dominant powers of the world as Asia did not really do much for the foreign policy objectives of country. This was the situation Nigeria found herself till Abacha died suddenly on 8 June 1998.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1998-1999

Even with General Abacha’s sudden death, Nigeria was still being isolated by the international community and the administration of General Abdulsalam Abubakar knew better than to try any form of perpetuation of itself in power. This administration quickly started the process of transition to democracy, released almost all political prisoners and generally “embarked on a foreign policy of rejuvenation and attempted to redeem Nigeria’s image, most especially on the human rights front” [3]. Thus Abubakar’s eleven-month regime could rightly be seen as an interregnum between military domination of Nigerian politics with its peculiar brand of foreign policy, and a democratic setting. Although he had to grapple with the issue of conflict situations in the African sub-region, he chose the path of peace enforcement in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau but his concentration was on domestic issues which involved how to salvage the Nigeria’s image abroad and to prepare for a democratic transition to civil rule together with the national reconciliation, respect for the rule of law, and human rights of citizens [4]. Thus, during his time, and given that it was short, the Abubakar administration recorded such little successes in the international community as the re-admission of Nigeria into the Commonwealth of Nations, the improvement in relations with the European Union and United States of America, and also Canada that had severed diplomatic relations with Nigeria, and peaceful leadership of ECOWAS.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 1999-2007

The Abubakar administration handed over power to the civilian administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 with keen interest on dynamic foreign policy aimed at promoting friendly relations with all nations and to continue playing a constructive role in the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity and other international bodies (Obasanjo, Inaugural Speech, 29th May 1999). Nigeria’s foreign policy after the successful transition to democratic governance was more of shuttle diplomacy beyond Africa embarked upon by President Obasanjo in order to move with the world that had overlooked Nigeria and insisted not to have anything to do with it. At the regional level, Nigeria did not move away from her traditional African-based stance of Afrocentrism. According to Obasanjo (2005), he opines “Africa should remain the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” [13]. He was quoted as saying “the renewed determination of African leaders, our strengthening of regional economic communities, the restructuring of the OAU into the AU, and a better global disposition towards Africa, the AU and the AU’s programme, NEPAD, are indicators that we are indeed a new Africa. The Africa that should be united, integrated, devoid of conflicts and violence, especially in the contemporary global system where there is no chronic conflicting ideological divide”.

The shuttle diplomacy of the Obasanjo government ensured that some sort of economic development came the way of Nigeria, although it is arguable whether the President’s globe-trotting yielded as much foreign investments as he made Nigerians believe. However, the fact was that a greater percentage of Nigeria’s foreign debts were radically reduced through outright cancellation and rescheduling, foreign investments started coming into Nigeria and jobs were created and people began to feel the impact of good foreign interactions with other states in the international system. As noted by Adeniran (2008) that under Obasanjo, Nigerian foreign policy was made to focus on wooing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) with the federal government’s establishment of a one-stop investment agency (Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, NIPC) and the initiative of encouraging Nigerians in the Diaspora to become involved in national development [1].

However, this was done through a half-hearted foreign policy that was centred on the domestic policy of core values of transparency, accountability, good governance, and the protection of fundamental human rights [14]. Moreover, given that Obasanjo tended to overshadow his foreign affairs ministers, the progress made in foreign policy during his era was overshadowed by his attempt to stay put in office through various means which eventually did not succeed and which made him lose some of the respect the international community had for him at the inception of his administration in 1999.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 2007-2010

At the beginning of this administration, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, the Minister of Foreign Affairs by then, declared that the Yar'Adua administration would espouse what he called “Citizens Diplomacy”. Although every diplomatic activity must necessarily be centred on the protection of the welfare and wellbeing of the citizens of the country, this administration tried to put citizens as its focus, at least at a conceptual framework. As it was new to Nigerians on foreign policy centred on the citizenry, it was initially accepted but the concept was not seen to be properly articulated, its impact was not felt and the result was not manifested [7].

The criticisms that had followed the introduction and articulation of this new foreign policy thrust was so much that nobody took the government seriously in terms of foreign policy as the government was seen to thrive on diplomatic gaffes. The extent of non-articulation and capacity of this newly fangled ludicrous foreign policy that was gleefully touted as the driver of Nigeria’s policy was seen in the fact that it was a standard consular obligation owed Nigerians and not policy.

For over the first two years that the administration of President Yar’Adua took over the reins of governance in Nigeria from Obasanjo, it was suspected that its main priority was not on the foreign policy thrust of the country. Much as it was not clear what the foreign policy thrust was, the much-touted citizens diplomacy was not even clear what it was meant to achieve as the proponent, Ojo Maduekwe, the Foreign Affairs Minister was not able to fully explain what he meant by that which was known to be an obligation – that when a country does not treat another country’s nationals right, they could also get the same treatment for their own citizens. This means that the government did not have any foreign policy thrust apart from the traditional Africa-centeredness that did not make much meaning anymore given the fact that the commitment to the African continent was in doubt for a government that could not sustain its economy or develop nor maintain its infrastructure.

It is worthy to note that in 2007 when President Yar'Adua came into office, his health had been deteriorating. While he was trying to manage his ill-health, Yar'Adua made no provisions for the Vice President to act in his absence. Thus, the consequence was that the ship of the Nigerian state was sailing rudderless on the international waters of foreign policy. Without functional institutions and without a leader, Nigeria's foreign relations and indeed the State of Nigeria also went into coma when Yar'Adua went into coma in Saudi Arabian hospital. Nigeria failed to show up at important international meetings, lost many positions in multilateral organizations, forsook obligations, and found herself in a situation where many of her allies started wondering what had gone wrong with Nigeria. President Yar’Adua’s health condition eventually led to his death on 5 May 2010 and his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was appointed acting President of Nigeria until the 2011 election when he won the seat of the President of Nigeria.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 2010-2015

In his capacity as the then acting President, Jonathan embarked on a number of diplomatic shuttles, as part of a deliberate attempt to reassure the world that Nigeria was well and secure despite the internal political challenges especially with the challenges of succession it was going through. In fact, he engineered a purposeful mobilization and instrumentalization of Nigerians in Diaspora for national development. Not only did the administration encourage the formation of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) in all countries where Nigerians lived, it went further to establish a Diaspora Office to take charge of the affairs of Nigerians in Diasporas and ensure their effective participation. His prompt response to the denigrating deportation of Nigerians by South Africa sent a very strong signal that Nigeria “has come of age” and that any attempt to denigrate her will have consequences. The diplomatic way Jonathan was able to manage the said Nigeria-South Africa face-off was highly welcomed by Nigerians. He was also quick to order the evacuation of Nigerians trapped in the crisis torn countries like Libya in 2011 and Egypt in January 2012. In fact, Nigeria was the first to airlift her citizens from Egypt. In January 2012 Nigeria hosted the fifth Nigeria/EU dialogue aimed at streamlining migration in a globalizing world and in the interest of all parties. This affirmative action projected vividly the citizen centred focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

The Jonathan administration gave special attention to the improvement and strengthening of economic ties with the country’s partners in the international community as a foundation for stability and growth. For the first time, there were conscious efforts by Nigeria to ensure that her sacrifices of lives and resources towards restoring peace to many countries in Africa no longer go without commensurate national benefit. It marked a paradigm shift in Nigeria’s foreign policy. However, focusing on Nigeria’s domestic priorities did not mean abandonment of African issues. It was on this commitment that the regime and through its leadership in ECOWAS effectively managed the ouster of Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivoire when he refused to hand over power, after the 2010 Presidential elections in that country. Similar crisis of self-perpetuation in office in Niger was also condemned by the Jonathan administration.

After President Goodluck completed the tenure of former President Umaru Musa Yar-Adua, he (Jonathan) then contested and won the April 2011 presidential election with massive support and expectations among many Nigerians. The president’s developmental programme was anchored on transformation which according to him was to totally transform every decaying sector in Nigeria. It was also the time Nigeria was witnessing high level of insecurity occasioned by the activities of Boko-Haram in the North East, corruption and youth’s restiveness among other problems. All these factors contributed negatively to the global perception of Nigeria and Nigerians. In order to address these problems, President Goodluck Jonathan’s foreign policy direction focused on investment and economic co-operation within the global community. This according to Obuoforibo was made known during the 29 May 2011 inaugural and acceptance speech of the President “Nigeria’s new foreign policy direction is now on investment and economic co-operation which thus ties foreign policy to the country’s domestic agenda, a radical departure from the old one which has Africa as the centerpiece”. He continues “the new foreign policy lay more emphasis on investment rather than political drive as it is the only avenue to deliver the dividends of democracy to the electorate. The new posture of government is that while we retain the leadership role in our sub-region, and while we play our leadership role on the continent by taking the lead in all major issues on the continent, the foreign policy direction will also be used to propel the economic and industrial development of our country”.

Nigeria’s foreign policy: 2015 to date

The administration of Muhammadu Buhari who is the current president, took over the leadership of the country in 2015 with three core programmes such as security, economy and corruption. It was the belief of this administration that the three domestic issues if properly addressed by the government would bring back the glory of the country in the comity of nations. This administration was faced with the issue of insecurity as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast of the country. The economy was not as good as the previous government made Nigerians to believe and the corruption was as the highest level with allegation of graft and embezzlement of public funds by those were in the previous governments. On the issue of foreign policy, this administration has been following the footsteps of the previous governments on issue of economic diplomacy, Africa and the world.


This article was aimed at assessing and reviewing Nigeria’s foreign policy in relation to other African countries. It was stated that although the country within the period under review witnessed varied forms of government from parliamentary to military to full-blown civilian democratic governments intermittently, it was established that the foreign policy of Afrocentrism was in place with slight adjustments in its implementation. Under the successive administrations, efforts were made to follow the guidelines and policy constructs, sometimes more faithfully, though erratically but still Africa had continuously been the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. But that is where it ends. There has however been consistency in veering off from the avowed principles and objectives over the decades as seen in the “Citizens Diplomacy” policy of the Yar’Adua administration.

Foreign policy must be defined in terms of the goals a nation needs to officially seek to attain abroad, the culture and values that bring about those objectives and the instruments necessary to pursue the goals while taking into cognizance other nation’s prevailing foreign policies that may be established against the national interest of a country. Nigeria to some critics has not been following the global tenet and it is hurting the country badly among the comity of nations shown by lack of interest in the country despite its huge human and material resources; lack of development; dwindling economic fortunes as businesses are moving away from Nigeria to a more stable Ghana and Togo and other neighbouring nations that are supposed to be kowtowing to Nigeria.

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