Diplomatic and bilateral ties which Nigeria had as a colony were mostly dominated by Britain.
Before the amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914, agricultural commodities were exported to Europe and totally controlled by the British Empire. This showed the level of foreign bilateral trade between the colony and the outside world, where cocoa, groundnuts, palm oil and palm kernels were exported and chemicals, machines, transportation equipment and other manufactured products were imported. This level of bilateral trade extended until the 1950s.
The dual mandate adopted by the Europeans, whereby African countries will receive Europe’s civilization in exchange for unrestricted access to the continent resources prevailed during that era.
British stood as Nigeria’s major trading partner, even as 70 percent of her exports, as late as 1955 went to Britain and another 47 percent of import came from that country to Nigeria.
However, this bilateral trade changed from 1976, when British dominance of Nigeria’s economy began to wane. The United States then took over as Nigeria leading trade partner. By this time, exports to Britain dropped to 38 percent while import from the country to Nigeria dropped to 32 percent.
At post independence and for decades, Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust remained consistent with catering for the interests of African countries. However, the change in policy focus was brought about as government sort to arrest the declining economic setbacks. The end of apartheid in South Africa brought to a climax the Afrocentric position Nigeria’s foreign policy. Hence, in the country’s 1999 Constitution the policy shift revolved around economic diplomacy. This became a useful tool for promoting and protecting the country’s national interest in its bilateral ties with other countries.
Each regime during and after the country’s independence in 1960, took to formulating its own course of action to manipulate and propel national interest within the international community; with the purpose of forging a unique identity for their governments. There was a welter of dynamic and conservative foreign policies that went a long way towards how governments of the country actively or passively influenced the country’s interests on the international scene.
While the governments of Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon and Shehu Shagari were seen as conservative by foreign policy analysts, those of late Muritala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo (during the military era of 1976-79) operated dynamic foreign policies. However, observers of Nigeria’s foreign policy especially in her interaction with the international community may have confused radicalism for dynamism, hence, faulting this conceptualisation as a virile tool for measuring an effective policy. The erstwhileAction Group shadow Foreign Minister, late Anthony Enahoro was attributed as being a proponent of dynamic foreign policy.
He is reported to having moved a motion and prompted the country’s first post independence legislative house, arguing that the August 20, 1960 foreign policy adopted by the House of Representatives lacked dynamism and regretted that the Tafawa Balewa government’s interpretation and conduct of foreign policy lacked all ingredients of activism.
The August 20, 1960 official statement of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa at the Federal House of Representatives, stated that Nigeria is “adopting clear and practical policies with regard to Africa; it will be our aim to assist any country to find solution to its problem”. Nevertheless, observers and analysts are of the view that the country’s foreign policy then lacked any definite direction.
Nigeria’s Afrocentric policy
By adopting an Afrocentric policy, in the wake of the country’s independence Nigeria aimed to engage the international community through Africa’s interests and issues that tended to be of benefits to the continent. Nigerian’s first Foreign Minister, Jaja Wachukwu threw more perspectives to this Afrocentricism posture, when he said; “Charity begins at home and therefore any Nigerian foreign policy that does not take into consideration the peculiar position of Africa is unrealistic”. Nigeria under this policy framework contributed immensely in the struggles that led to the independence of Angola, Mozambique, and Namibia and participated in the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa. Nigeria also played a crucial role in the establishment of continental and regional organisations. For example, Nigeria was pivotal to the establishment of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963. Nigeria was also instrumental in ensuring that it attained the two major objectives that included the quick decolonization of colonies in Africa and the rapid socio-economic growth and development of African countries.
Similarly, the creation of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) on May 28, 1975 saw Nigeria taking a fundamental role in spearheading the integration of neighbouring countries’ resources to enhance regional prosperity. Under the leadership of ex-General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria led the formation of the 16-member regional body that signed the treaty establishing ECOWAS.
Nigeria further played a significant role in military peacekeeping operations on the continent. It contributed both financial and human resources in the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Sierra LeChad and several others.
New policy thrust in citizen diplomacy
The interventions to restore peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the fight against apartheid in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Angola among other missions of mediating in conflict prone countries like Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso especially after coup d’états, signified the apogee in foreign interventions in the past decades. Of recent, the country’s foreign relations has become tamed, mainly due to internal problems and politics associated with getting a proper footing for our nascent democracy amid pressing economic problems.
The military regime of ex- Gen. Ibrahim Babaginda conceptualised a new face to Nigeria’s foreign policy, where economic diplomacy would enhance the promotion of export trade, investment and financial assistance from friendly countries. The then Foreign Affairs Minister, ex-Gen Ike Nwachukwu in June 1988, said that “it is the responsibility of our foreign policy apparatus to advance the course of our national economic recovery.”
It was during the democratically elected government of President Olusegun Obasanjo that the country’s foreign policy was refocused to de-emphasise an explicitly African bias. While appointing ambassadors in 1999, his administration admonished that “Nigeria’s foreign policy today extends, however, far beyond our concern for the well being of our continent, Africa”. In addition, Obasanjo, pointed out that “The debt burden, for instance, is not an exclusively African predicament. Many countries in Asia, the Caribbean and South America were facing similar problems.
It is imperative; therefore, that these regions harmonise their efforts in the search for a fairer deal from the industrialised nations of the west; and this requires of us a more global approach to world affairs than was previously the case.
Last year, the President Jonathan administration paved a new path for the country’s foreign policy thrust, by embracing an agenda that promotes growth and national development. In this new policy, both private partnership and foreign missions will be utilised as new vanguards in economic diplomacy. Hence, the collapsing of both economic and citizen diplomacy by the current administration, that is geared towards attaining national economic development and growth where the citizens at home and abroad are used as agents towards achieving policy goals.
Bilateral relations with members of the developing eight countries for economic cooperation (D8) have been a centre piece for the country’s economic diplomacy. In this regard, the foreign ministry has engaged in various economic activities of the D8, especially since it assumed leadership of the group in 2010.
Using the economic diplomacy policy to source and promote trade between Nigeria and D8 members, the foreign ministry has rectified three of its important legal documents: The D-8 preferential Trade Agreement, Multilateral Agreement on administrative assistance in Customs Matters and the Simplification of VISA procedures for businessmen of D8 member countries.
Former Foreign Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, while expatiating on the new paradigm shift, said that: “We will redress existing imbalances and forge a strong partnership with OPS to assist economic growth. Consequently, members of OPS will frequently constitute part of any bilateral discussions between our governments and other foreign delegations, so that Nigeria can benefit from visits to and from other countries.”
“Our envoys will be directed to drive this new focus of our foreign policy by spending more time and effort on attracting foreign investments to Nigeria. Simply put, our ambassadors will be the foot-soldiers in this new approach for the purpose of achieving our Vision 20:2020 while bringing economic benefits to Nigeria.”
When contacted, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, told National Mirror, that any country’s foreign policy should be for the benefits of the people.
“I will say Nigeria’s foreign policy is not really doing badly and not getting worse. Though, sometimes we may not be getting it right and in other times we do get it right. The people must come first, so Nigerians at home and those in Diaspora should be the centre of our policy thrust.
Nigeria was faced with huge challenge during the military era where her public image was relegated. The country’s foreign policy could not stand as imperative tool for image building, especially, where dictatorial rule and clampdowns on human rights were strongly opposed by the western world.”
Nigeria played a prominent role in the Congo crisis of 1960-1965. It sent military peacekeeping troops.
In addition, during the Cold War era, Nigeria adopted a non-aligned stance; where it refused to align with any of the power blocs.
Another significant development in Nigeria foreign relations after the country’s independence was the protest of Nigerian students against the signing of agreement by the then new Tafawa Balewa’s government with the British government. The Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact entered by the government then meant that British military could maintain bases and presence in Kano. The Nigerian student’s protest made Tafawa Balewa’s government to back down from the intended deal. The message of the student then was that Britain was to be kept at arm’s length.
The foreign relations between Nigeria and Britain experienced some challenging moment, especially during the military regime of Olusegun Obasanjo where the Nigerian government nationalized the British Petroleum’s (BP( interest in the country, as a measure to arm-twist the UK government into withdrawing its sanctions and to restore British authority in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). This was after the white supremacist in that country hijacked power. This created a scene at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Lusaka in 1978. When the British Prime Minister challenged the Nigerian Foreign Minister, General Adefowope, he told Margret Thatcher, “Madam Prime Minister that is Act 1, Scene 1, many more will follow if you don’t play ball on Zimbabwe”. Thatcher had no choice than to relent and began process that enabled Zimbabwe have a free and fair elections.