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On assumption of office as president, Obasanjo made diplomatic moves to redeem the battered and shattered image of the country which was as a result of the unending transition to democracy, increase in the abuse of fundamental human rights and the regular killing of innocent citizens in the 1990s. This led to the imposition of international sanctions on Nigeria. However, with the return to democracy and Obasanjo’s shuttle diplomacy, sanctions placed on Nigeria were removed. And as part of Nigeria’s commitment to make Africa the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy, Obasanjo continued with Nigeria’s leading role in the maintenance of peace and conflict resolution in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Sudan, etc. This work is a review of Nigeria’s foreign policy during Olusegun Obasanjo’s second era and its impact on Nigerian citizens. It examined the plight of Nigerians in some countries where the country participated in peace keeping operations during Obasanjo second era. Other issues that affect Nigerian citizens which were discussed in this work include the case of Bakassi and the country’s diplomatic moves for debt relief and investment. The central question addressed in this research is: What were the measures taken by the government to protect Nigerian citizens in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan where Nigeria participated in peace keeping operations; and in the Bakassi Peninsula which was ceded to Cameroon? However, the main focus of this research is to review and assess the impact of Obasanjo’s foreign policy formulation and implementation on national life. It includes how his foreign policy affected Nigerians economically, socially and politically. The work was designed among other things to provide the historical account of Nigeria’s foreign policy under obasanjo civilian era. In order to achieve this, it applied historical narrative and descriptive method of analysis. With the use of available evidence drawn from oral interviews (with some diplomats, political office holders, and scholars of international relations), books, and journals; this work has made attempt to examine the various strategies put in place to formulate and implement Nigeria’s foreign policy between 1999 and 2007. The successful campaign for debt relief and the repatriation of looted funds are prominent among the results of his diplomatic manoeuvring. Nevertheless, it has been argued in this work that despite the recovery of looted funds, debt cancellation, and the promotion of Foreign Direct Investment; there was neglect of the pursuit of vital national interests which include protection of territorial boundary and the lives of citizens, and the improvement of the well-being of citizens. And as part of the attempt to make contributions to knowledge, this work has provided the historical analysis of Obasanjo’s foreign policy between 1999 and 2007.



Background to the Study

          The civilian regime of Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria pursued the same foreign policy and the same objectives adopted by various regimes right from the period of independence. Although the style tends to differ based on the idiosyncrasies of the number one citizen and his foreign affairs team, but the outcome has always remained basically the same. Promotion and protection of the national interests, promotion of African economic integration and support for African unity, promotion of international co-operation, respect for international law and settlement of international dispute are the major objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy as enshrined in section 191 of the Nigerian constitution which various governments tried to adhere to in pursuance of the country’s foreign policy. The focus on Africa as the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy has always been maintained right from 1960. Tafawa Balewa laid the foundation. Shortly after independence, he demonstrated his commitment to the course of Africa by sending a large contingent of Nigerian soldiers and policemen to take part in the UN peace-keeping operations in Congo.1 He also led the attack on South Africa’s domestic policy of Apartheid which segregated the South African population along racial lines.2 Subsequent regimes reinforced the African centred foreign policy in various ways such as playing a leading role in the formation of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS), supporting the struggle for independence in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia; Murtala/Obasanjo military regime played a significant role in the struggle. Hence, Olusegun Obasanjo still maintained Africa as the central place in the Nigeria’s worldview and policies when he returned as a civilian Head of State in 1999.3

Prior to May 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as a new civilian president, the Nigerian armed forces had ruled the nation continuously for fifteen years. In this same era, Nigeria which was previously celebrated in the world as the foremost African nation fell into the pit of infamy, especially between 1993 and 1998.4 This  was as a result of the combination of domestic  and external circumstances and the personal idiosyncrasies of  the different military rulers which led to policy shifts, twists and turns.5 Hence, the events that made Nigeria to become isolated before the transition to democracy in 1999 can be traced to when Shehu Shagari,  a democratically elected president was removed  from office through a coup d’état

It is important to note that democracy is partly an instrument for good foreign relations. However, Nigeria lacked this instrument between 1983 and 28 May 1999.  On 31 December 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari terminated the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari and placed many Nigerians in detention without any plan for a transition to democracy. Omo Omoruyi posits that there was no readiness on the part of Buhari to return power to the civilians.6 Transition to democracy was not part of his agenda all through his stay in office before he was removed. The situation became worse under the leadership of Ibrahim Babangida due to his high level of deception. He gave different dates of handing over.7    He promised to hand over power four times: 1990, 1992, January 1993, and August, 1993 and four times he failed.8 

The decision of the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida to annul the presidential election in 1993 was a major setback to Nigeria’s foreign relations.  It was perhaps the most credible election in the history of Nigeria. This was confirmed by majority of Nigerians and foreign observers.  The annulment of the election happened at a time when most countries particularly the G7 had made democracy, good governance and human rights essential determining elements in international politics and in their relations with developing nations. Hence, Babangida’s regime gave a lethal blow to Nigeria’s image abroad and its foreign policy in particular.9 Nigeria’s role as Africa’s spokesman began to diminish rapidly.

Worse still, the June 12 Saga was still lingering when General Sani Abacha took over from Ernest Shonekan, the leader of the Interim National Government without any agenda on how to improve Nigeria’s foreign relations. This was reflected in his speech: “…for the international community, we ask you to suspend judgment while we grapple with serious task of nation building… Give us the chance to resolve our problems in our own way.”10 The late Geneneral Sani Abacha’s statement is an indication of how he ruled in his own way without adherence to the   tenets of rule of law and democratic norms. The violation of human rights which characterized his regime led to the imposition of various sanctions on Nigeria.  Abacha’s regime jailed MKO Abiola, the apparent winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election. And Kudirat Abiola who was struggling to restore the mandate of her husband was assassinated. 11 The execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his fellow activists from Ogoni land, the imprisonment of Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and the alleged killing of the latter while serving his jail term12 are some of the human rights violations which heightened the disagreement between Nigerian government and members of the international community. Therefore, Nigeria could not escape from the international sanctions. Apart from one of the ECOWAS summits held in Abuja, Abacha never attended any international summit.13 Hence, the need to bring Nigeria back to the comity of nations became inevitable

The mysterious death of General Sani Abacha and the enthronement of Abdulsalami Abubakar marked the beginning of the steps towards redeeming the battered and shattered image of Nigeria in the comity of nations. Abubakar’s one year in office reflected the country’s domestic priorities, particularly reconciliation and democratization.  This won a lot of respect for the regime as it facilitated the return of Nigeria to the main stream of international community and once more gave ‘credibility and legitimacy’ to Nigeria’s leadership credentials in Africa and beyond.14

On ascension to the number one leadership position in Nigeria, Obasanjo’s primary assignment was to bring Nigeria back from isolation because, no nation can experience meaningful development in isolation from the international comity. Therefore, he set up a committee called International Relations Club to enhance the country’s foreign policy. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Professor Eze Osita, Ambassador Olujimi Jolaoso, and Ambassador Hamsat Amadu were among the members.15And he also attended various international summits in the course of his shuttle diplomacy.16

            The Obasanjo’s foreign policy was built on the already existing foundation of Nigeria’s foreign policy with focus on Africa. It was conservative and centered on economic diplomacy. He tried to strike a balance between Nigeria-Western relations and Nigeria-Asian relations by strengthening the Nigeria-China relations.17He embarked on consistent foreign trips by which he hoped the damaged image of Nigeria would be redeemed in order to encourage and promote Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Nigeria. As part of measures to pursue the economic diplomacy, Obasanjo intensified efforts in his campaign for debt relief; this was finally achieved in 2005 when the Paris Club decided to cancel a substantial amount of the billions of dollars that Nigeria owed them18. Also, he took diplomatic steps towards the recovery of the billions of dollars stashed in foreign accounts by General Abacha and his cohorts. Nigeria was able to recover some amount of money from some of these foreign accounts. Luxemburg is one of the countries where the late General Abacha and his criminal associates hid the money. Kudos to the Obasanjo administration for the effort towards recovering the looted funds, but it would have been more appreciated if more opportunities were not created for embezzlement of funds while he was in office. Even the so called fight against corruption under his administration was selective.

            Indeed, Obasanjo’s foreign policy really demonstrated a renewed commitment to African affairs. He was at the forefront of the struggle for regional integration of African economies and the prevention, management and resolution of various conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. However, the main purpose of foreign policy of any nation which is protecting the national interests and improving the well-being of the citizens was not really achieved. For instance, Nigeria held on the practices of maintaining the number one position in terms of peace keeping operation without considering her national interests as topmost priority. Even when Obasanjo complained that the country could no longer afford to continue with the peace keeping operation in Sierra Leone due to its financial burden, he still promised to continue if the operation could be funded by the UN. This was despite the fact that some Nigerian soldiers and civilians were the major targets of the rebels. They killed some of our citizens and amputated some of them. The same thing happened in Liberia. Two Nigerian journalists were tortured to death by Charles Taylor’s rebel group; and the best way Nigeria could react to the situation was to grant asylum to Charles Taylor for about three years. Also, Nigerians were crying to the government for the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from Sudan due to constant killing of Nigerian soldiers there, he turned a deaf ear to the situation.

Another area in which the well-being of Nigerian citizens was neglected is in the case of Bakassi peninsula. The way Obasanjo signed the Green Tree Agreement as a sign of acceptance of the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) shows an act of negligence as a Nigerian representative. Although wrong steps were taken by Nigerian government since independence, but the way the case was handled at the ICJ and the refusal of the government to appeal against the judgment of the court that ceded the place to Cameroon could be seen as government insensitivity to the plight of Nigerian citizens who were residing in Bakassi. Still on the well-being of Nigerian citizens, Obasanjo constantly travelled to all the regions of the world in the name of encouraging and promoting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) without much consideration to the way the foreign companies treat Nigerian workers and exploit the country. For instance, about 37 Nigerian workers lost their lives in September 2002 when fire swept through two Chinese companies located at the Odogunyo Industrial Estate, Ikorodu, Lagos19 If safety measures were properly put in place, the fire that started in West Africa Rubber Products Limited would not have spread to the Super Engineering Limited located adjacent to the Rubber Industry. And in most of these companies, Nigerians only occupy the position of drivers, cleaners, messengers and the likes. The Obasanjo’s government celebrated the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even when majority of Nigerians outside the ruling class could not benefit from the so-called growth of GDP. Although we cannot deny some of the achievements of Obasanjo’s foreign policy which include getting Nigeria out of the international isolation to a prominent position among the comity of nations, but Nigerian citizens deserve more than that. Perhaps, the decision of Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration to pursue what they described as ‘citizen diplomacy’20 could be as a result of the weakness of Obasanjo administration in protecting the interests of Nigerian citizens.

Statement of the Problem

         One of the objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy which is the promotion and protection of national interests is an ideal foreign policy objective of any ideal nation. However, the protection of citizens and territorial boundaries which should be the core national interest was neglected in Nigeria before and during Obasanjo second era. As part of Nigeria’s commitment to the course of Africa since independence, Obasanjo still maintained Africa as the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy. ‘Respect’ for international law and the settlement of international dispute especially in Africa seemed to have overshadowed the protection of national interests under Obasanjo second era. The issue to be investigated in this study is to know the extent to which Nigeria’s foreign policy made impact on national life under Obasanjo civilian government that claimed to have focused on national interests in the pursuit of the country’s foreign policy. However, despite the mass poverty, grave insecurity, dilapidated economic and social infrastructure, Obasanjo civilian government still continued with the country’s generosity abroad.

            The accession of Obasanjo to power in 1999 was expected to usher some dynamism in the country’s foreign policy. Indeed, the Obasanjo era witnessed heightened foreign policy decisions that would remain controversial such as the Bakassi issue and the debt relief. However, no serious historical account has been undertaken. Most of the materials available on Nigeria’s foreign policy during Obasanjo civilian era were written on the pages of newspapers, magazines and journals without giving attention to historical methodology. This is also part of the gaps that this research tends to fill.

           The civilian administration of Obasanjo tried to outline what has always been considered to be the objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy. However, literature reveals that, there has not been agreement as to what constitutes Nigeria’s drive for foreign policy formulation implementation. For instance, Obasanjo continued with Nigeria’s ‘traditional role’ of peace-keeping operations and donations even to the detriment of Nigerian citizens. What has the country benefited from her African neighbours despite the financial and human sacrifices she has made in the course of peace keeping operations? In Liberia, Charles Taylor led rebel group killed two Nigerian journalists and all that Obasanjo’s government could do was to appreciate him by granting him political asylum. The well-being of Nigerian citizens which should be the mainstay of the country’s foreign policy was neglected. Even the recent loss of Bakassi, the killing of some of the inhabitants by the Cameroonian soldiers, and the homeless state of those who fled from there show that all is not well with the country’s foreign policy. Most of the available writings have focused mainly on how dynamic Obasanjo’s foreign policy was. Though useful, but did not properly assess the actual benefit or setback of his foreign policy. Hence, there is need to review Obasanjo’s foreign policy between 1999 and 2007, and to give relevant recommendations on what should constitute Nigeria’ drive for foreign policy and how it can be implemented. The study suggests among other things that Nigeria should limit her diplomatic relations with some countries that are always at the receiving end with nothing to offer in return. The country’s national interests should be well defined and no diplomatic step should be taken to the detriments of her citizens.

Purpose of Study

            The need to critically review the foreign policy of Nigeria inspired my zeal for this research. There is need to redefine the country’s national interests and work towards achieving them through a purposeful foreign policy that can be beneficial to the citizens and at the same time stand the test of time in this era of globalization. It helps to reveal the benevolent gestures Nigerian government has displayed through her foreign policy even to the detriment of her citizens.

            This research is to provide more opportunity for future researches on Nigeria’s foreign policy by presenting historical account of Nigeria’s foreign between 1999 and 2007; an area of research which has not been given adequate attention. It is important to also note that this research was designed among other things to:

(1.)  Examine the various strategies put in place for the formation and implementation the country’s foreign policy between 1999 and 2007.

(2.)  Identify the problems that militated against the successful implementation of some foreign policy objectives in Nigeria under Obasanjo civilian administration

(3.)  Examine the pain and agony Nigerian citizens go through as a result of the approach adopted by Obasanjo in handling Nigeria’s foreign policy.

(4.)  Assess the degree of achievement or failure of Obasanjo’s

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