Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Under Military Rule

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Under Military Rule


Foreign and domestic policy issues are related products of the same political system and are designed to define and implement overall national purposes. Foreign and domestic policy must be mutually supporting if national policy aspirations are to be achieved in an atmosphere of political stability. The research was carried out on the impacts of domestic politics in Nigeria’s foreign policy using a case study method with a focus on General Murtala Obasanjo’s military administration (1975 – 1979). The review of literature on foreign policy and other related material and the adoption of “Realist Theory” which is anchored on interest led us to the conclusion that Nigeria’s seeming inaction during the period of study was an acknowledgement of the limits of its power. Against this background the study concludes that Nigeria’s foreign policy has since independence been consistently guided by the same principles and objectives. Nigeria’s Foreign Policy initiatives and actions have been defined by one firm and constant variable, i.e the protection of the country’s national interest. As a panacea, the study recommended, above all, that Nigeria must involve a “home grown” economic policy and honestly abode by its implementation.

Chapter One


1.1 Historical Background of Nigerian Foreign Policy

A study in Nigeria’s foreign policy over time has quite often under – scored the potency of its domestic contents. Notable scholars on Nigerian external relations such as Akinyemi, Aluko, Gambari, Birai etc demonstrated the influence of domestic conditions on the country’s attitude and behaviour to other actors in the international system. The influence of domestic politics on Nigeria’s foreign policy was made obvious to the international community on 1st October, 1960, by the then first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa himself in a moving address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He observed that:

Nigeria does not intend to ally itself as a member of routine with any of the ideological power blocs and Nigeria hopes to work with other states for the Progress of Africa and to assist in bringing all other African territories to a state of responsible independence Given the domestic nature and the country’s size and at the same time natural resources, it was assumed that Nigeria would play a leading

role in the continent of Africa. Some scholars even spoke of the country’s “manifest destiny” to lead Africa surrounded by small and weak states. Abubakar, O.S reviewing Gambari said that; the first phase, one of uncertainty and timidity of Nigerian Foreign Policy coincided with the period of the First Republic (1960 – 65). The major issue at that time were the official foreign policy declaration itself; the Anglo Nigerian Defence pact, the Congo Crisis and African Unity; Negotiations for associate status with the European Economic Community (EEC): the Rhodesian Crisis and Common Wealth relations; and the Arab – Israeli antagonism and the search for a cohesive policy towards the middle east. Nigeria throughout this period operated a Pro- West foreign policy disposition.

The conservative nature in her external relations was dictated by Nigerian Federalism which profess three strong regions with a weak centre. Prime Minister Balewa then had a constitutional authority which was not always matched by the political power needed to override these divergent groups encroachment upon Nigeria’s foreign policy. The coming together of the two parties i.e Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and National Council for Nigerian and Cameroon (NCNC) which formed a coalition government then forced the Balewa government to make adjustment in order to keep the partnership viable.

Consequently, Nigerian foreign policy during the 1960 – 65 period was less dynamic than it would have been if the NCNC had been solely responsible. By the same token, it was far more assertive, Pan Africanist and neutralist especially on the Middle – East than it would have been if the NPC had exclusive control. The need to adjust in order to accommodate the sometimes contrasting views of the

governing parties and save the alliance, made Balewa’s foreign policy liable to such criticism as lacking in consistent imagination and dynamism and characterized by Ad – hoc decision making which tended to be contradictory and self – defeating.

The second phase of Nigerian Foreign Policy was the period between 1966 – 1975 under which a lot of changes took place at the domestic political level. The Nigerian external relation was marked by active, positive and influential role especially in the continent. The fragile nature of the Federalism was replaced by a stronger centre with 12 states constituting the Federating Unit. The assertion of the military rule under General Yakubu Gowon dramatically changed the dimension of authority Domestic politics and Nigerian Foreign Policy. The discovery of oil boom also assisted in great measure in allowing the country to play more decisive leadership role in World affairs, as it increased the revenue accruing to the Federal government. The previous low keyed, resistant and often apologetic approach to

African affairs had to be changed. The aftermath of Biafra experience was also instructive as the country came up with a coherent policy to her fellow African countries. The integrative efforts of Gowon with the establishment of ECOWAS and the financial and moral assistance to neighbouring West African countries were remarkable. Nigeria’s extension of hand of fellowship to the Eastern block countries such as China and Soviet Union was seen as a policy shift from the earlier position. The country played a frontline role in Southern Africa problems by increasing financial and other assistance to the Liberation Movement there. Gowon’s active role in Africa later earned the country the chairmanship of OAU.

Similarly, Nigeria led other African countries in breaking diplomaticties with Israel in the wake of the latter’s hostility against Egypt. The nature of the regime and its domestic economic condition explained fundamentally the drastic change in Nigeria’s diplomatic style under General Gowon. General Gowon was overthrown in a bloodless coup in July, 1975.

A momentous shift of Foreign policy position was however achieved under the General Murtala/Obasanjo regime. This is one administration whose foreign policy posture was characterized by dynamism as the regime strove to move the country’s foreign policy to a more truly non – aligned position particularly within the six

months of Murtala’s rule. The regime’s bold move to recognize MPLA in Angola and the memorable speech to the OAU extra – ordinary Summit Conference at Addis – Ababa in January, 1976 remains a remarkable turning point. Three main factors have been identified as being responsible for this dynamic posture. The first

factor is that of increased revenue due to the oil wealth. The other two factors are the character of the leadership itself and the institutional re-organization of the foreign policy making process that took place during this time.

The next phase in the development of Nigerian Foreign Policy came with the return to civilian rule (1979 – 1983). The external policy of the Shagari administration is comparable only to that of the Balewa Era. Some scholars and commentators consider the Second Republic as having “engendered retrogression” in the country’s foreign policy resulting from its Pro – Western policy. For sure, the period of retrogression began during the Obasanjo regime when the country

experienced a “return to subservience” The major factor explaining the retrogressive nature of the country’s foreign policy during the period is found in the character of the leadership. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was made up of the most aristocratic, conservative businessmen and a sprinkle of academicians of the same mould. Most of them have economic and social links with the elite of the Western World even if at a peripheral level. This among others made it difficult for them to formulate an independent foreign policy which might necessitate occasional disagreement with the Western powers.

Moreover, the nature of Nigeria’s mono – cultural economy with its sole dependence on oil was such that by 1979, the country’s level of integration into the World capitalist system by transitional interests was enhanced as represented by the oil companies. Between 1981 – 1982, the country total export had declined considerably by 34.5 percent and the monthly import bill reached the one billion mark just one year after Shagari took over. Invariably, the regime could not keep to its electoral promises to the people. On the foreign arena, the regime could not maintain the momentum of those progressive actions taken since Murtala Mohammed came to power that continued to enjoy the support of the informed elites.

Indeed, there was recourse to the old order of passive and reactionary posture in Nigerian Foreign Policy as manifested in the country’s policy on the Chadian Crisis, OAU and ECOWAS. It was abysmal lack of focus and inability of the regime to respond to the various domestic demands that precipitated the collapse of the 2nd Republic with the overthrow of the government by the Buhari led military Junta in December, 1983. The coming to power of this administration was very much welcomed by the Nigerian public. This was largely due to the total disaster of the Shagari administration. The new government was well received more so as it claimed to have been the offshoot of Murtala administration. The administration came with the purpose of restructuring and bringing the economy back to sound footing. It also vigorously sought to institutionalize a new ethic of National leadership based on discipline, public accountability and integrity. There was also more commitment to the polisaro and recognition of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. Other policy issues, particularly the expulsion of aliens and the closure of Nigerian borders were received with mixed feelings by the neighbouring countries.

However, Buhari’s anti – West Posture was remarkable, as it demonstrated its autonomy and status in decision making. Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with such powers as United States and United Kingdom became ruptured. In all these instances, Nigeria demonstrated to the rest of the World that she was not ready to take insults or directive from any country big or small, The regime at the end suffered “Support Erosion” with its human right abuses, a situation which made it easy for it to be overthrown. The Babangida government that succeeded the Buhari regime was described as a Liberal/benevolent military regime especially at its infancy.

The administration like its predecessor was committed to economic restructuring which informed its choice of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The programme had adverse effects on the life of Nigerians, and as expected had serious implications on the country’s external relations. The regime’s handling of the bombing of Libya by the USA was heavily criticized so also was the regime’s OIC policy which almost precipitated serious internal upheaval. It was apparent that the government under the guise of economic diplomacy succeeded in playing into the hands of the Western powers as its economic programme could be said to be anything but humane. The failure of Babangida to respect the peoples mandate with the annulment of the June 12 Presidential election’s result, after endless political transition led to the demise of the regime.

Following the annulment of June 12 presidential election in 1993, the interim government which was put in place by General Babangida on 26th, August, 1993 did not enjoy the support of a wide range of Nigerians. General Sani Abacha’s intervention on 17th November, 1993 was therefore very timely and inevitable given Nigeria’s drift towards anarchy and disintegration During the Abacha regime, development between China and Nigeria was one of the most prominent aspects of the shift in Nigeria’s foreign policy. At this time Nigeria and China entered into different agreements, which allowed China to become involved in oil

production, refurbishment of the long – neglected Nigeria Railway Corporation, the dredging of Seaports at Calabar and Warri and the development of Mass – housing projects.5 Abacha’s foreign policy thrust shifted to Asia, failing to realize that in a globalized world, aligning Nigeria with Asia alone is inadequate. The political heat from both home and abroad continued until Abacha died on 8th June, 1998. Following the death of Abacha, General Abubakar Abdulsalam (rtd)

took over as the Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He succeeded in conducting a peaceful, free and fair election that finally brought Olusegun Obasanjo as the President and Commander-in- Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces on May 29, 1999. Obasanjo’s foreign policy under democratic rule has been underlined by Nigeria’s return to a place of prestige in the International Community. Particularly of interest in this research is the influence of domestic politics on Nigeria’s foreign policy under Obasanjo’s Civilian administration (1999 – 2003).

1.2 Objective of Study

  1. To assess the internal factors that affect Nigeria’s foreign policy.
  2. To examine the principles of globalisation and how it affects the country
  3. To examine the different government response to position the country in the world by formulating policies to take advantage of globalisation and the challenges facing them.
  4. To examine how the forces of globalisation has restrained Nigeria’s foreign policy and economy?
  5. To examine the influence of Domestic politics on Nigeria’s foreign policy under Murtala/Obasanjo’s militarys administration.
  6. To proffer solutions on how to improve on Nigeria’s foreign policy.

1.3 Significance of Study

The study reviews Nigeria’s military rule in 1975-1979 and how it led to improved country image abroad and allowed the country to take more active and productive roles regionally and on the global stage, Murtala/Obasanjo however has travelled to many parts of the world to restore Nigeria’s poor economic implementation led to the breakdown of relations. However this study will contribute to the growing body of knowledge in globalisation and its linkage with foreign policy and will therefore aid researchers who might want to carry out research in related areas.

1.4 Scope and Limitation

The study examines the linkage between foreign policy and globalization under the Murtala/Obasanjo regime in the period of (1975-1979). It is also limited in part to the information available from books, journals, books and internet resources. It shall be within the frame work of the economic policies with the international community.

1.5 Research Methodology

For the development of this work and its relevance or contribution to existing works, Articles, text books were consulted. Data which contributes to the development of this research was also gathered.

This research work will make use of historical research method. Hence, findings from secondary sources are sourced; the secondary sources include written documents such as government publications, documentaries and newspapers. Added to these are descriptive accounts of experts on the impact of globalization and domestic politics on Nigeria’s foreign policy. Desk study will also be made with those considered authorities in the field of history, political science and international relations to complement the other sources. Furthermore, this research work depends largely on archival materials both online and offline. Official publications cited on the websites will also be used. Books, journal articles, conference proceedings, seminar papers and finally other related publications will be used in gathering secondary information for this research.

1.6 Literature Review

For the purpose of this research we shall make use of the principle of dependency theory which appeared in the 1950s as a critical reaction to the conventional approaches to economic development that emerged in the aftermath of World War II. According to Dos Santos, 2002, there are two dependency theory traditions. The first is the Marxist influenced by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, and developed by André Gunder Frank with important ramifications in the works of Samir Amin, Theotônio dos Santos, Arghiri Emmanuel, and Aníbal Quijano. The second dependency tradition is associated to the Structuralist school that builds on the work of Raúl Prebisch, Celso Furtado and Aníbal Pinto at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The dependence theory believes that developing countries depend on the developed countries for support. The poorer countries are underprivileged. The dependence theory shall be utilized in analyzing Nigeria and its developmental policies in the face of a globalizing world.

Both groups would agree that at the core of the dependency relation between center and periphery lays the inability of the periphery to develop an autonomous and dynamic process of technological innovation. The lack of technological dynamism, and the difficulties associated with the transfer of technological knowledge are the main cause of the underdevelopment of the periphery with respect to the center. The main contention between the two groups was ultimately related to the possibilities of economic development in the periphery.

The existing wide disparities between the developed and the underdeveloped economies make globalization a tool for dampening the industrialization process, and by extension, retarding the growth and development of underdeveloped economies. Trade liberalization, the cardinal instrument of globalization ensures that industrialized countries have access to world markets, which enhances further industrialization of industrialized countries while incapacitating the industrialization process of the underdeveloped economies. (Omotere, 2010).

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Conclusion

This study is carried out on the Nigeria foreign policy under the military regime. The study highlights critical issues in Nigerian foreign policies in the two periods under examination. It examines the style of foreign policy making and implementations in the two periods as well as the domestic and global foreign policy environments while not losing sight of the different foreign policy challenges in the two periods.

It has been established that but for the existence of a common authority with abundant coercive powers the geo-political entity (a Colonial creation) known as Nigeria would have disintegrated a few years after independence. No development illustrates this better than the fratricidal civil war fought in the country between 1967 and 1970. The successful prosecution of the civil war by the FMG has been discouraging overt centrifugal tendencies while the strengthening of its hold on political power ensured some sort of political integration. It is our belief that in a plural society like Nigeria, political integration of the various groups cannot be forcefully sustained for long. And this is why the nation has been perpetually under the strain and stress of diverse covert and overt centrifugal forces in recent times. Equity, justice, fairplay, respect for fundamental rights, and real federalism (political and fiscal) would constitute more enduring bases of national integration.

But these are attributes that were scarce under military regimes in Nigeria. Although the military evolved policies, like Quota System and Federal Character, ostensibly to facilitate political integration allegations of favouratism dogged their implementation. Thus, instead of being integrative forces as touted, they ended up causing disaffection between the favoured groups and the less privileged ones. The result was a fragile political entity that has been perpetually at the brink of disintegration. The hangover effect of prolonged military rule could be seen in violent conducts, intolerance and a highly militarized social polity where dastardy acts feature prominently and regularly. Rather than advance the cause of nation building in a fundamental manner the military only came up with the self-serving, expedient cosmetic and adventitious formulas that ended up being more fractious and divisive. The situation has been growing worse progressively since the military handed over power to civilians in 1999. The politicians have also been aping their military predecessors in terms of their authoritarian, selfish and parochial dispositions. There is therefore a crying need to demilitarize entirely the polity and enthrone genuine democracy in which the people’s voice will count.

Also there is the need to evolve a fair and just revenue allocation system that would give due recognition to all interacting peoples, especially the groups which provide the bulk of the national revenue. It is our belief that a Sovereign National Conference will go a long way in facilitating this new orientation.

5.2 Recommendations

The Nigerian state exhibits low autonomy and as such is immersed in the class struggle rather than rising above it leading to intense struggle for the control of the state for primitive accumulation. In the context of intense struggle for state power every other thing including citizens’ welfare or wellbeing was marginalized both at home and abroad. Thus, by adopting linkage politics approach we arrived at the conclusion that the internal political environment in Nigeria hindered the implementation of Nigerian foreign policy thrust embedded in citizen diplomacy. On the basis of the above conclusion or main finding we recommend, one, and more fundamental that the Nigerian state should be reconstituted in such a way as to float above class struggle necessary for increasing its autonomy, and two, that there is need to improve or transform positively Nigeria’s internal political environment required for boosting its image abroad and achieving its foreign policy objectives.

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