Assessing Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Evolution Since Independence


    By Mark Longyen, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

    Analysts are of the view that since gaining political independence from Britain on Oct. 1, 1960, Nigeria’s foreign policy has evolved under different past administrations with notable consistency of Africa as its centerpiece.

    They note that, since independence, Nigeria’s foreign policy has been conducted  by successive governments in a manner that demonstrated varying distinctive priorities and style within a broad conceptual framework, without a marked departure at any point from its Afro-centric focus.

    Many are of the view that the nation’s foreign policy implementation, its decision making and direction have, by and large, been deliberately anchored, formulated, tailored, and predicated by its policy architects on the basis of the nation’s overall national interest and Africa centeredness.

    The predominant preoccupation of Nigeria’s foreign policy in the immediate two post-independence decades, for instance, they say, was African solidarity, the decolonisation of all African countries that were still under colonial rule, and the war against Apartheid in South Africa, among others.

    In all of these, Nigeria clearly demonstrated exemplary leadership in Africa and its status as the Giant  of Africa, by using multiple platforms of multilateral organisations, of which she is  a member to pursue her foreign policy aims, goals and objectives – with astonishing results.

    While the Afrocentric focus forms the inner core of the nation’s foreign policy, experts are of consensus view that Nigeria’s membership and involvement in global organisations constitutes the outer core of the nation’s foreign policy focus.

    To this end, they say, Nigeria played an active role in the formation in 1963 of the defunct Organisation of African Unity, OAU, now Africa Union (AU) and also in the formation of the sub-regional economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975, which has its permanent headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

    They also note that the outer core focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy has over the past 62 years ensured that she pursued her national interests through her active involvement in the affairs of international organisations or playing key roles in  their affairs.

    Similarly, upon becoming an independent nation-state, Nigeria joined the British Commonwealth of Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the United Nations (UN), and its multiple agencies globally, where she played, and is still playing key roles in their activities.

    Nigeria has continued to pursue such foreign policy interests through her membership of, and participation in, global organisations like the UN,  the Commonwealth, the defunct OAU (now AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with tremendous successes.

    Prof. W. A Fawole, a foreign policy analyst and professor of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, while reinforcing the Afrocentric stance of Nigeria’s foreign policy, said that no significant change had taken place to warrant any school of thought that there has been a shift from Afrocentricism.

    According to him, 62 years since independence, the conduct of Nigeria’s foreign policy has been in such a manner that it continues to play a leading and stabilising role on the continent of Africa.

    “All in all, Nigeria’s Afrocentric bend remains.

    “President Buhari was made the continent’s anti-corruption leader because of the reputation he had sustained over the decades.

    “But what needs to be understood is that virtually all the issues that stood Nigeria out in the past, that is, opposition to apartheid, decolonisation, African unity, etc.,  have all been settled and now replaced with new ones.

    “Overall, I think domestic circumstances like pervasive insecurity, separatist agitations, weakening economic capacity, collapsing naira, official corruption have combined to vitiate a dynamic foreign policy,” he said.

    Prof Fawole, however, noted that Nigeria’s recent showing at the African Union was less than stellar as it lost a high-profile election to the most pivotal organ of the AU by putting forward the wrong candidate, although it was later able to regain composure.

    Corroborating Fawole’s view, Associate Prof. Efem Ubi, Director of Research, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA) noted that since independence to date, Nigeria has continued to focus on its Africa-centered foreign policy.

    According to him, when Buhari came to power over seven years ago, he set out to once again take Nigeria’s leading position in Africa.

    He said that this was done with some form of successes, even though minimal, especially in the efforts towards stemming the scourge of terrorism and other forms of insecurity in Nigeria.

    He said, “This is showcased in the role that Nigeria under Buhari and other ECOWAS member states played in upholding with sacrosanct, democracy in Africa to resolve The Gambia’s election crisis, the coup crisis in Mali and other places, etc.

    “President Buhari immediately on assumption of office visited different nations ranging from Nigeria’s immediate neighbors, the West African sub-region,and the continent at large, to harness international concerted efforts towards mitigating the challenges of terrorism.

    “Buhari started well by getting the affected neighbouring countries, Niger Republic, Cameroon and Chad to put more efforts through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to tackle the problem and his approach initially yielded fruits.”

    The  NIIA Director of Research described Nigeria’s foreign policy under the current dispensation as a tripartite foreign, policy posture, which revolves around three thematic issues; namely, the fight against corruption, insecurity, and economic development.

    He argued that Nigeria under the current administration has exceedingly upheld Nigeria’s foreign policy tenets, irrespective of the odds, adding that Buhari did not after all inherit a rosy and healthy nation in 2015.

    On his part, Dr Salami Olawale of the Department of History and Diplomatic Studies, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, however, sees economic diplomacy, which was popularised by the Babangida military regime in 1988 as the major lynchpin of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

    Olawale noted that, in spite of the lofty intentions of economic diplomacy under the Babangida administration, the global response to Nigeria’s economic diplomacy was not as enthusiastic as the Nigerian government had envisaged.

    He attributed the shortcomings of the administration’s economic diplomacy to the inconsistent and incoherent domestic policies, lack of infrastructural facilities and insincerity in government circles, leading to massive corruption in high places.

    “In the face of these problems, the attitude of foreign investors was not surprising, as various global investors had to re-design their strategies in the face of rampaging globalisation.

    “The ‘new’ economic diplomacy was also expected to encourage Nigerian business groups to shop for partners and then invest more both at home and abroad, but this was not to be, as they preferred, just like their friends in governments, to own property in choice areas of western countries.

    “Even the state sponsored attempt, through the Nigerian National Petroluem Corporation (NNPC), to shop around the world for petroleum-related investment outlets, did not produce significant results,” he said.

    Olawale, therefore, concluded that the failure of the Nigerian state in all ramifications and the conspiracy and hostility of the international environment, combined to frustrate the lofty ideas contained in Babangida’s economic diplomacy.

    He, however, said that for the Nigerian state to fully realise its great potentials for the benefit of the people, the managers of the country should have a change of attitude and put ‘Nigeria first’ in all respects.

    “The government at all levels and individuals should be fully involved in the fight against corruption, which has become a malignant tumour in the medulla of an average Nigerian.

    “At the level of the economy, the government should encourage the industrial class and not the merchant class, to produce more goods at home, as it is on their shoulders that the realisation of government’s international economic objectives rest.

    “It is in search of relevance in the international environment and in the continuation of the actualisation of its Afrocentric policy, that Nigeria, leading other West African states, ventured into the Liberian crisis, to build peace and restore democratic governance,” he added.

    Although it was in June 1988 that economic diplomacy was officially adopted as a major plank of Nigeria’s foreign policy, Nigeria’s contemporary foreign policy under the Buhari administration also adopted it 30 years after.

    Since 1960, successive Nigerian governments have demonstrated an appreciation of the linkage between the country’s foreign policy and economic circumstances, hence, in the first 25 years after independence, that is, from 1960 to 1985, there were overlapping patterns or strands of strategies that emerged in the history of Nigeria’s economic diplomacy

    In officially adopting economic diplomacy as a major plank in its foreign policy initiatives, the Buhari administration unveiled the National Economic Diplomacy Initiative (NEDI) in 2018, which underscores the continuity and consistency in Nigeria’s foreign policy.

    Ubi is of the view that the economic diplomacy initiative of the Buhari administration emerged in response to the inherited daunting domestic socio- economic challenges before the country.

    He said NEDI was also designed to leverage on Nigeria’s bilateral and multilateral trade engagements with other countries to accelerate domestic growth and development.

    It was also informed by the need to realise the lofty targets of regional economic integration as embellished in the ideals of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, AFCFTA.

    Nigeria’s signing of AFCFTA, which is projected to become the world’s second largest free trade area is a remarkable stride in Nigeria’s contemporary foreign policy’s economic diplomacy.

    AFCFTA provides opportunities to exploit new frontiers and reach larger markets with Nigerian exports of manufactured goods and services.

    The cornerstone of AFCFTA is the promotion of industrialization, sustained growth and development in Africa.

    It is projected to boost intra-African trade, stimulate investment and innovation, foster structural transformation, and improve food security.

    AFCFTA is also projected to enhance economic growth and export diversification, and rationalise the overlapping trade regimes of the main regional economic communities.

    Nigeria has also signed a number of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding with some African and non-African countries aimed at strengthening its relations with them and driving Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the country.

    Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, summed up Nigeria’s contemporary foreign policy when he spoke with journalists on the sidelines of the just concluded 77th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.

    According to the minister, Nigeria is now highly respected and appreciated by the international community due to the repositioning of the country “as a bastion of democracy” by President Buhari in the past seven years.

    “We have been able to gain respect for Nigeria and secure Nigeria’s place as an important partner and player at the multilateral level.

    “In seven years, President Buhari has showcased Nigeria as a champion of good governance and an important partner in the African sub-region and beyond.

    “We have been praised for the role we played in ensuring that democracy survived in The Gambia as well as in pushing for peace in the West African sub-region.

    “We have been successful in areas, such as getting through resolutions of the UN on illicit financial flows, which we could not achieve for many years,” the minister said.

    “We have been seen as a champion for nuclear disarmament and a nuclear-free world because we were very active in those areas.

    “During this period, we have been at the forefront of actions to push for global justice and peace, advocating justice for the oppressed in the world.

    “The centrepiece of the event for us was the national statement by the president, which was very well received,” he said.

    Onyeama explained that President Buhari touched on sensitive national, regional and global issues when he addressed the UN General Assembly.

    He disclosed that the country’s delegation had a good mix of bilateral meetings with other countries, as well as engaged with the private sector.

    Analysts are, therefore, of the view that Nigeria’s foreign policy as conducted by successive administrations since independence in 1960, has been consistently dominated by an enduring Afrocentric focus, as well as the benefits of economic diplomacy to achieve the country’s overall  national interest’s aims, goals and objectives.