Nigeria And The Common Wealth (1960 – 1980)

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

Nigeria And The Common Wealth (1960 – 1980)


Before and after independence, Nigeria has been the chief architect and chief negotiator of peace throughout Africa. Consequently, Nigeria became the main operator of the engine room of African independence movement in the 1950s, and especially after its own independence 1960. Not surprisingly that after independence, Nigeria’s external relations generally has been characterized by a focus on Africa and the attachment to these fundamental principles and objectives of African unity and independence, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-alignment and regional economic co-operation and development. Thus, Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence in 1960, has consistently been guided by these same principles and objectives, especially the promotion of her national interest and the policy of afro-centricity vise- a-vise her capability to exercise hegemonic influence in the region. In carrying out these fundamental principles and objectives, while the main thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy remained permanent and largely the same, from regime to regime, however, witnessed various adjustments and modifications, depending on the orientation of the political leaderships. Using content analysis, this paper examines the development of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence in 1960. It also identifies issues, strategies and constraints involved; the challenges and milestones of Nigeria’s international relations generally, from regime to regime, within the fifty years of its existence as an independent country.

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

Describing a background to this study, we commence with the perception of Michael Kirby (2010), where he recalled that the British Empire, precursor to the Commonwealth of Nations, grew out of decisions, most of them made in London. It is a city that never ceases to surprise the visitor. Walking yesterday through Leicester Square, Kirby (2010) came upon a landmark that he had never previously noticed. In the centre of that public space, circling a statue, is a series of indicators, pointing in the directions of the countries of the Commonwealth. The pointers occupy every segment of the circle, indicating that members of this unique family of nations, and their people, can be found in every corner of our world.

Kirby, a member of the last generation grew up in the era of the British Empire. In his school days in Australia, every 24 May was celebrated as Empire Day. In 1954, at high school in Sydney, he addressed the school assembly on the theme: “The Empire and You‟.

The school journal records that he did with his „customary fire and vigour‟. As usual, the hymn “Recessional” was sung to Kipling‟s words proclaiming that the Empire held „dominion over palm and pine‟. Ironically, the day of the celebration had been the birthday of the long dead Queen Empress, Victoria. He believed that Empire Day was not generally celebrated in Britain. On the whole, the Empire never held the same fascination for Britain as Britain held for its Empire.

In the intervening six decades since that school assembly, much has changed in the world and in the Commonwealth. My remarks address how the changes came about; the activities that the Commonwealth performs well; the values that it proclaims that it holds in common; the new initiative that it has lately taken; and some of the problems that it must face as it adjusts to a very different era of global relationships and challenges.

His conclusion was that the Commonwealth is not an anachronism but a useful international association of independent nations with links of history, language, law, education, science and civil communities. However, recent instances indicate a need for the Commonwealth to be more active in upholding the oft proclaimed commitment of its members to the core values that define the essential reasons for its continued existence. Those values include a commitment to democracy, to human rights, to tolerance, respect and understanding, and to principles of governance largely inherited from the tradition that originally developed here in London.

1.2 Statement of Problem

Since independence in 1960, Nigeria external relations has been characterized by a focus on Africa as a regional power and by the attachment to several fundamental principles: African unity and independence; capability to exercise hegemonic influence in the region: peaceful settlement of disputes; non alignment and non- intentional interference in the internal affairs of other nations; and regional economic co-operation and development. In carrying out these principles, Nigeria participates in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth and the United Nations (Aluko, 1981; Akinyemi 1989). Thus, generally, Nigeria’s foreign policy trends (the development and formulation) since 1960, has consistently been guided by the same principles and objectives.

Although while the main thrust of the country’s foreign policy, the promotion of her national interest and the policy of afro-centricity, remained permanent, the strategy and emphasis for such protection by successive regimes varied from one to another. While the substance of Nigeria’s foreign policy remained largely the same, from regime to regime however, witnessed various adjustments and modifications depending on the orientations of the political leaderships. In addition, the prevailing domestic (political, economic and socio-cultural realities) and international environments have been major determinants in Nigeria’s foreign policy trends over the years.

1.3 Objective of the Study

  1. To appraise Nigeria (foreign policy) membership in commonwealth of nations
  2. To examine different eras of Nigeria foreign policy
  3. To examine the objectives of commonwealth of nations

1.4 Research Question

  1. What is the objective of common wealth of nations

1.5 significance of the Study

  1. It will add to the body of knowledge
  2. It will reveal different eras of Nigeria foreign policies
  3. It will enable both academia and whoever interested in the subject to have deeper knowledge of the subject matter

1.6 Scope of the Study

This work discusses the development (formulation and execution) of Nigeria’s foreign policy, specifically under the past eleven eras or regimes, namely; the Balewa Era 1960 – 1966; the Ironsi Era – 1966; the Gowon Era 1966 – 1975; the Murtala/Obasanjo Era – 1975 – 1979; the Shagari Era – 1979 – 1983; the Buhari Era 1983 – 1985; the Babangida Era – 1985 -1993; the Shonekan/Abacha Era – 1993 – 1998; the Abubakar Era 1998 – 1999; Obasanjo (civilian) Era 1999 – 2007; the Yar’Adua / Jonathan Era 2007 – 2010.

Chapter Five


The political wind of change which ushered in independence brought in remarkable changes. However, the character of the Nigerian state and indeed the emerging leadership remained much as it was in the colonial era. It continues to be totalistic in scope, constituting statist economy, to the effect that even at independence the emerging Nigerian leaders were in no position to vigorously pursue fundamental developments (both national and international) that were of strategic concern to the people and the emerging state. Thus even the Nigerian foreign policy at independence commenced on a moderately low level and without a particular direction. As a result, from 1960 to date, Nigeria’s foreign policy trends witnessed a progressive upward and downward slide with each successive regime adopting different strategies and emphasis for the promotion of her national interest and the policy of afro-centricity. Notwithstanding the complicated domestic situation which they inherited, successive Nigerian leaders nonetheless sought an active role in world affairs commensurate with their country’s aspirations for itself, its interests, and its perceived stature vis-a-vis the three concentric circles that Nigeria’s foreign policy can be said to operate: the West African sub-region, the African continent, and the larger international community. The Murtala/Obasanjo’s era however, exceptionally witnessed a period when foreign policy was moved out of the realm of regime self-interest and personalized decision-making into one of national debate guided by a sense of national interest.

Recommendations / Future Challenges:

Since national interest dictates the course of a country’s foreign policy and indeed its very foundation, Nigeria national interest ought to be jealously guarded by all (future) government in power irrespective of their political or ideological inclinations. Nigerian government needs to articulate a clear foreign policy that is clearly focused on the country’s national interests as exemplified in the terrible days of the civil war – the primacy of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, assured through a stable sub-region and guaranteed by strong pan-African institutions, balanced with an extensive network of bilateral and multilateral international relationships – while being firmly anchored in the domestic political realities of the Federal Republic. In addition, since a sound economic base is the pre-requisite for conducting an effective and dynamic foreign policy, the country’s economic base need to be re-structured and realigned from its present mono-cultural and Western dependency status to sustain a realistic foreign policy goal in future.

Apart from its less-than-perfect sense of nationhood and its troubled democratic transition, corruption is another major factor from Nigeria’s internal historical experience which unfortunately influences the foreign policy of the country’s well-deserved reputation. Nigerian notions of corruption including everything from government bribery and graft, rigged elections, and fraudulent business deals, to the diabolical abuse of occult powers, medical quackery, cheating in school, and even deceiving a lover (Rawlence and Albin-Lackey, 2007: 505). The effects of corruption on such a large scale cannot but be deleterious. It not only affects the country’s international image, but also its economic and political development. In terms of the economy, the failure to attract foreign investment, especially in areas other than the hydrocarbon sector, coupled with the flight of domestic capital, necessarily hampers Nigeria’s growth. One need not belabour the implication of this as the inability to make economic and political progress is, of course, a constraint on any country’s hard power as well as its soft power and, thus limits Nigeria’s diplomatic reach regionally and internationally.

Finally, a stable political environment devoid of military coups, ethnic gangsterism, electoral fraud etc. etc., a stable polity and an accountable and visionary leadership are added imperatives not only to restore Nigeria’s good will in the international community but in the conduct of a credible dynamic foreign policy in future. This course alone will secure for the Nigeria of the 21st century its fundamental national interests, the assurance of which is the measure par excellence of a successful foreign policy.

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