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President Ibrahim Babangida, 1990
Courtesy Embassy of Nigeria, Washington

A 1989 publication by the Federal Military Government, Four Years of the Babangida Administration, summarized the priority issues of Nigerian foreign policy: the abolition of apartheid in South Africa; the enhancement of Nigeria's relations with member countries of the European Economic Community (EEC), the United States, the Soviet Union, and with other major industrialized countries to increase the flow of foreign investments and capital into Nigeria; and continued support for international organizations, such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Relations with other African states constituted the cornerstone of Nigerian foreign policy.

The Ministry of External Affairs was directly responsible for foreign policy formulation and implementation. Because matters were usually left in the hands of the minister and his officials, foreign policy positions could change radically from one minister to another, depending on the minister's orientation. In addition to the minister's immediate staff, there was a small foreign policy elite comprising other top government officials, interest group leaders, academicians, top military officers, religious leaders, and journalists. This elite exerted indirect influence through communiqués and press releases, as well as direct pressure on the government. In 1986 a conference--to which every stratum of this elite was invited--was held to review Nigeria's foreign policy and recommend broad policy frameworks for the 1990s and beyond.

Several factors conditioned Nigeria's foreign policy positions. First, the ethnic and religious mix of the country required cautious positions on some issues, such as policy toward Israel. Nigeria found it difficult to restore diplomatic ties with Israel and had not done so as of 1990 because of Muslim opposition and sympathy with the rest of the Arab Muslim world. Second, Nigeria's legacy as an ex-British colony, combined with its energy-producing role in the global economy, predisposed Nigeria to be pro-Western on most issues despite the desire to maintain a nonaligned status to avoid neocolonialism. In 1990 this pro-Western posture was reinforced by Nigeria's "economic diplomacy," which involved negotiating trade concessions, attracting foreign investors, and rescheduling debt repayment to Western creditors (see The Debt Overhang , ch. 3). Third, the country's membership in and commitment to several international organizations, such as the United Nations and bodies mentioned earlier, also affected foreign policy positions. Fourth, and most important, as the most populous country in Africa and the entire black world, Nigeria perceived itself as the "giant" of Africa and the potential leader of the black race. Thus, Nigerian external relations have emphasized African issues, which have become the avowed cornerstone of foreign policy.

These factors have caused certain issues to dominate Nigerian foreign policy across various governments, but each government has had distinctive priorities and style. During the 1950s and early 1960s, foreign policy aimed at proper behavior in the international system, and British authorities played a major role in Nigerian foreign relations. Consequently, the Balewa government stressed world peace, respected sovereign equality, and maintained nonalignment based on friendship with any country that took a reciprocal position. After the fall of the First Republic, critics asserted that the government had been too proWestern and not strong enough on decolonization or integration, and that the low profile had been embarrassing. Nonetheless, Gowon continued to keep a low profile by operating within the consensus of the OAU and by following routes of quiet diplomacy.

The civil war marked a distinct break in Nigerian foreign policy. The actions of various countries and international bodies during the war increased awareness of the alignments within Africa and appreciation of the positive role that the OAU could play in African affairs. Whereas white-dominated African countries had supported Biafra, the OAU sided with the federation by voting for unity. The OAU stance proved helpful for Nigerian diplomacy. Nigeria first turned to the Soviet Union for support after the West refused to provide arms to the federation, and after the war, a less pro-Western stance was maintained. At the same time, Africa remained Nigeria's top priority. In the mid- to late 1970s, attention focused on the liberation of southern Africa, on the integration of ECOWAS, and on the need for complete economic independence throughout Africa. These goals were included in the 1979 constitution: promotion of African unity; political, economic, social, and cultural liberation of Africa; international cooperation; and elimination of racial discrimination.

Data as of June 1991

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