Since the country’s independence in 1960, with Jaja Wachuku as the first Minister for Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations, which was later called External Affairs, Nigerian foreign policy has revolved around a focus on Africa as a regional power.
By extension, the country’s foreign policy has also espoused several fundamental principles such as; African unity and independence; capability to exercise hegemonic influence in the region: conflict resolution; non-alignment and non-intentional interference in the internal affairs of other nations; and regional economic cooperation and development.
In clear terms, the precepts which has 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.
Also, Africa, having remained the centre piece of the country’s foreign policy, Nigeria’s major concerns in Africa are reported to have been encapsulated in the following: promotion of peace, prosperity, stability and development in Africa; promotion of political goodwill and understanding among African 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.
Also vital is 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, coupled with the eradication of all forms of racial discrimination in Africa.
In carrying out these principles, Nigeria participates in the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth of Nations, and the United Nations (UN).
Apparently, 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.
It is on record that successive Nigerian governments, from that of Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, to the present Government of President Muhammadu Buhari, have demonstrated commitment to these guiding principles of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy.
Upon gaining independence in 1960, Nigeria was reported to have quickly committed itself to improving the lives of her people, and harnessing the resources that remain vital to the economy of the country and her neighbours.
By observing what benefits and is appropriate for the country, Nigeria became one of the founding members of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), which later became the African Union.
The OAU bears the responsibility of checking political stability of any African country, encouraging them to hold regional meetings for the Union. Nigeria supported the African National Congress (ANC), by taking a committed tough line with regard to the South African government and their military actions in southern Africa.
Nigeria and OAU, now the African Union, has tremendous influence in West African nations and in Africa as a whole. Nigeria has additionally founded regional cooperative efforts in West Africa, functioning as standard-bearer for ECOWAS and ECOMOG, economic and military organisations, respectively.
In the same vein, when civil war broke out in Angola after the country gained independence from Portugal in 1975, Nigeria was said to have mobilised its diplomatic clout in Africa, to back the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). According to reports, support helped tip the balance in their favour, which led to OAU recognition of the MPLA over the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola.
Nigeria extended diplomatic support to another cause, Sam Nujoma’s Southwest Africa People’s Organisation in Namibia, to twart the apartheid South African-installed government there. In 1977, the new General Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime donated $20 million to the Zimbabwean movement against the apartheid government of Rhodesia.
Similarly, Nigeria also sent military equipment to Mozambique to help the newly independent country suppress the South African-backed Mozambican National Resistance guerrillas. Nigeria also provided some military training at the Kaduna first mechanised army division and other material support to Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe’s guerrilla forces during the Zimbabwe War in 1979, against the white minority rule of Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith, which was backed by the apartheid -government of South Africa.
Due to mismanagement of its economy and technology, Nigeria announced that it was launching a nuclear programme of “unlimited scope” of its own but failed. After the Nigerian Independence in 1960, Nigeria demonstrated its seriousness in improving the economy for the people and embarked on nationalising some multi-national companies, that traded with and broke the economic/trade embargo of the apartheid South African regime, the local operations of Barclays Bank was nationalised after that bank ignored the strong protests by the Nigeria populace.
Nigeria also nationalised the British Petroleum (BP) for supplying oil to South Africa. In 1982, the Alhaji Shehu Shagari government, urged the visiting Pontiff Pope John Paul II, to grant audience to the leaders of Southern Africa guerrilla organisations, Oliver Tambo of the ANC and Sam Nujoma of SWAPO. In December 1983, the new Major General Muhammadu Buhari regime, announced that Nigeria could no longer afford an apartheid government in Africa.
In a bid to achieve the goal of regional economic cooperation and development, Nigeria facilitated the creation of ECOWAS, which seeks to harmonise trade and investment practices for its 16 West African member countries, and ultimately to achieve a full customs union. Nigeria has also taken the lead in articulating the views of developing nations on the need for modification of the existing international economic order.
Nigeria has played a central role in the ECOWAS efforts, to end the civil war in Liberia and contributed the bulk of the ECOWAS peacekeeping forces sent in that country in 1990. Nigeria also has provided the bulk of troops for ECOMOG forces in Sierra Leone.
Currently, Nigeria has continued to play a major role in resolving Mali’s brewing political turmoil. This was demonstrated in the appointment of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, as the head of delegation to broker peace between the warring parties.
Pundits are of the view that Nigeria has enjoyed generally good relations with its immediate neighbours.
Observers of the event have opined that It is particularly remarkable that Buhari and Jonathan are working in unison, as they are subtly reminding their compatriots of the history of their nation.
In the past, Nigeria played pan-Africanist roles, despite its own problems at home.
On the mistreatment of Nigerians in diaspora, the country has never relented in ensuring the protection and the well-being of it’s citizens.
In April this year, a footage was circulated on the social media, where Nigerian Nationals in the city of Guangzhou, China were discriminated against at hotels and restaurants and being stigmatised as supposed carriers of COVID-19. However, the President Buhari-led administration swiftly swung into action and addressed the hideous incident.
Also, there was a diplomatic uproar early this year over the demolition of residential facilities under construction, at the Nigerian High Commission premises in Ghana. It was a situation potentially dangerous to the cordial relationship between Ghana and Nigeria.
Subsequently, another issue arose, where a law required a capital base of $1 million for Nigerian businessmen in Ghana; and alleged unlawful repartriation of Nigerians.
These situations ruffled the feathers of the Nigerian government, whose quick action led to series of diplomatic talks between the two governments. These thorny issues, once more were ultimately laid to rest.