Foreign Policy under Military Regime, comparing Olusegun Obasanjo (1975 – 1979) with Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 1993)

Foreign Policy under Military Regime, comparing Olusegun Obasanjo (1975 – 1979) with Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 1993)

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Nigerian leaders often see their country as the “natural leader” of the African continent. And the country‟s foreign policy is best understood and assessed in the context of its regional and continental ambitions largely designed by the presiding head of state or president. Thus, a study of Nigeria‟s foreign policy under military regime of Gen. Obasanjo (1975-1979) and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 1993) will expose us to understand better the actors and factors that shape the country‟s foreign policy. The primary responsibility of all framers of foreign policy is to articulate in clear terms their country‟s national interest and to relate them to those of other nations within the international system. The pursuit of foreign policy goals pre-supposes the existence of a credible and widely accepted general principles on which to base an overall foreign policy (Dauda, 2006:14). In Dauda‟s words (2006:vii), it is important to stress the fact that irrespective of the changes in government, the principles and objectives of Nigeria‟s foreign policy as laid down by the late Prime Minister Balewa has remained basically the same; that what was noticeable in all the continuities and discontinuities was in the area of emphasis. The principles which have imbued Nigeria‟s foreign policy since independence include the following: protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian State; promotion of the socio-economic well-being of Nigeria; enhancing Nigeria‟s image and status in the world at large; respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states; non-interference in the internal affairs of other states; promotion of the unity and solidarity of African States; total political, economic, social, and cultural emancipation and rejuvenation of Africa, an unflinching commitment to the liberation of countries still under colonial rule, as well as removal of remaining vestiges of colonialism in Africa (Nigeria at the United Nations: Partnership for A Better World 1991: 29).

Naturally, Africa has remained the centre piece of Nigeria‟s foreign policy. Nigeria‟s major concerns in Africa have been as follows: promotion of peace, prosperity, stability and development in Africa; promotion of political goodwill and understanding among Africa countries despite the cultural, linguistic and economic barriers erected by erstwhile colonialism; the discouragement of international intervention and presence in Africa; the promotion of rapid social-economic development of Africa through regional economic integration; the strengthening


of sub-regional economic institutions and the reduction of economic dependence on extra-continental powers; the development of cultural cooperation as a means of strengthening political ties with all African countries; and finally, self-determination for all counties on the continent and the elimination of apartheid in South Africa and the eradication of all forms of racial discrimination in Africa. Foreign policy conceptualized Goldstein (199:147) defines foreign policy as the strategy used by governments to guide their actions in the international arena. Foreign policies spell out the objectives state leaders use as guides in pursuit of relations. Chibundu (2004:1) defines foreign policy as a country‟s response to the world outside or beyond its own frontiers or boundaries, the response which may be friendly or aggressive, casual or intense, simple or complex. It comprises many elements; namely diplomatic, military, trade, economic, social, cultural, educational, sporting, etc and it varies in form and focus according to circumstances. Some countries at different times might be friends or enemies or valued allies within a relatively short or long period of time. In effect, every country must have a foreign policy in order to live and survive as an independent state in the complex, sometimes dangerous world we live in today. Foreign policy has also been defined as a strategy with which institutionally designed decision-makers seeks to manipulate the international environment in order to achieve certain national interest.

From 1960 to 1966, Nigeria‟s foreign policy was largely conducted by the Prime Minister. The period, when critically examined, was marked by caution and relative inactivity. As the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa featured mostly in the conduct of Nigeria‟s external relations. In fact, Nigeria‟s relation with other countries was based on the dictates of the British government. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, being his own Foreign Minister, he operated the country‟s foreign policy within the Commonwealth of which Britain was the head. However, this period paved way for the rise of Nigeria to the „Regional Power‟ status in the latter years by spearheading the formation of the Organization of the African Union in 1963.

The first military government (January 1966 to July 1966) pitched her own foreign policy on reassuring all nations about Nigeria‟s commitment to international obligations and tried to attract foreign investors to continue investing in Nigeria despite the coup d‟état.2

The second military government (August 1966 to July 1975) touched the three most important areas of Nigeria‟s external relations: West Africa, Africa, the Commonwealth and the World. The emerging issues during this period helped to define Nigeria‟s foreign policy. The


Nigerian Civil War, the problems in Southern Africa, the stand of the British government and the Cold War all forced Nigerian leaders under Gen. Yakubu Gowon to have a rethink of the country‟s foreign policy. In essence, Nigeria established friendship with countries considered enemies of the West that is, Russia and also recognized the people ‟s republic of China meaning that she is a non-aligned country.

The third military government (Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo regime - August 1975 to 1979) maintained a confrontational foreign policy so as to assert her position on the African continent. Nigeria challenged the activities of the US government in the Africa and worked on the integration of West African countries. Nigeria renewed her commitment to African affairs and this shapened her foreign policy towards African countries. The era gave birth to a confrontational diplomacy and the formal articulation of Africa centeredness of Nigeria‟s foreign policy. Nigeria‟s foreign policy from 1975 to 1979 placed her in a position that made other African countries to regard her as the “Power of Africa”. She played the big brother role and pursued the policy of decolonization of African countries. This period is very important to this study as it marked a radical turn in the country‟s foreign policy. The period also made a progressive preparation of transferring power to the civilians to form a democratic government. Reminiscent of the short-lived regime of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (July 1975 February 1976), General Ibrahim Babangida‟s administration (1985-1993) also injected certain degree of dynamism into Nigeria‟s foreign policy.

Durotoye (2014) in his work also added that General Olusegun Obasanjo is the only Nigerian leader to have ruled Nigeria twice first as military Head of State between 1976 and 1979, and as civilian president from 1999 to 2007 (Durotoye, 2014). Under his two administrations, Nigeria‟s foreign policy experienced a lease of life and dynamism, and a golden moment in both foreign policy formulation and implementation. While Obasanjo‟s leadership qualities had played a key role in determining Nigeria‟s foreign policy in the two periods thereby giving it a measure of continuity, obvious divergences in both the domestic and external environments of the two periods accounted for the change (Durotoye, 2014).

Furthermore, several important diplomatic activities characterized the foreign policy initiatives of the regime since August 1985 when it came into power in Nigeria. During that period, the regime introduced certain foreign policy initiatives that were unique in the country‟s foreign policy history. Among the notable foreign policy initiatives of the regime between 1985


and 1993 included the constitution of the Concert of Medium Powers (otherwise known as the Lagos Forum), introduction of the Technical Aid Corps programme and the realignment of Nigeria‟s foreign policy focus from political to Economic Diplomacy. In addition to this, the regime also strengthened the Afro-centric doctrine of Nigeria‟s foreign policy and embarked on greater involvement in African Affairs. In similar development, the regime strongly condemned the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It also played greater role in regional conflict resolution under the instrument of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). These initiatives were largely driven by the domestic situation in Nigeria and changes at the global level.


From 1960 to 1966 (under Tafawa Balewa), Nigerian foreign policy was characterized by British dominance and thus, restricted the country‟s policy to the commonwealth. This made Nigerian foreign policy to be conservative and timid. When compared to the military era of 1975 to 1979 (under Gen. Murtala Muhammed and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo), Nigerian foreign policy took a radical u-turn and was confrontational in its approach. The causes for this sudden change in Nigerian foreign policy posture are worth studying. More so, the long term implications these two governments had on the foreign image of the country are to be studied. However, at continental level, the Babangida regime also drove Nigerian foreign policy into a ditch of inconsistency and double standards when it failed to keep the commitment it made on the country‟s anti-apartheid stance, to invite the South African President Fredrick de Klerk to Nigeria in late 1992. This did not only elicit criticisms both within and outside the country, it also cast aspersions on the country‟s long commitment to work towards dismantling apartheid and enhancing liberation struggle in Africa, especially against the backdrop of Babangida‟s vow in his address at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA)‟s Patron Dinner in 1988 that “Nigeria is not interested in having a dialogue with the racist minority regime”. Perhaps, Gen. Babangida regime had its best time in the conduct of foreign policy at the level of Nigeria‟s participation in international organizations. At this level, the country did not only recognize the usefulness of these organizations in pursuing its foreign policy goals and objectives, she also remained unshaken in an active and loyal membership commitment.



The main objective of the study is to assess the Nigeria foreign policy under military regime, comparing Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (1975 – 1979) with Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (1985 – 1993). This study seeks to achieve the following specific objectives:

i.                    To provide a detailed background to Nigerian foreign policy with emphasis on Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida foreign policies;

ii.                  To review the domestic and external factors shaping Nigeria‟s foreign policy during the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida respectively;

iii.                To examine the factors responsible for the change in foreign policy in the two different regimes

iv.                To analyze the instruments used in advancing Nigeria‟s foreign policy under the administration of Obasanjo and Babangida respectively.

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