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Nigeria Table of Contents


Relations with Major Powers

During the Gulf crisis that began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 and that marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a coalition, Nigeria kept a low profile. It did not send troops to engage in the Persian Gulf war but continued to be an active supporter of UN policy. Buying the bulk of Nigeria's crude oil, the United States was Nigeria's most important trading partner. Until the civil war, Nigeria had had no significant relationship with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Since then, ties with the Soviet Union had increased, although they remained minimal in comparison with ties to the West. Nigeria's other major trading partners were Japan and the EEC, from which it continued to obtain loans and aid.

Although Nigeria has always leaned toward the West, the closeness of the relationship has varied. Nigeria's Western ties were originally strongest with Britain, its former colonial ruler. The special relationship, which lasted until the 1966 coup, led Nigeria to side with Britain on most issues. After the coup and the civil war, the new Nigerian leaders were less favorable toward Britain, especially after Britain took a position of neutrality in the civil war, refused to sell arms to the federation and ignored the blockade against Biafra. Nigerian leaders also were rankled by Britain's support of white-dominated governments in southern Africa. Several Nigerian groups pressured the new government to weaken ties with Britain as the only way to true independence. At times, more verbal and symbolic damage was done to Nigerian-British relations for Nigerian popular consumption than was true in reality.

Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were interested in Nigeria because of its size, population, economic and military potential, and, especially for the United States, its oil. From 1966 to 1977, Nigeria was very cool toward the United States. The two countries took opposing positions over southern African liberation. Nigerians were angered by proBiafran propaganda in the United States and by America's refusal to sell arms to the federation during the civil war. United States involvement was even suspected by Nigeria in the assassination of Murtala Muhammad. In 1977 Jimmy Carter became president, and Nigerian relations with the United States suddenly changed. The United States recognized Nigeria as a stabilizing force in Africa and was willing to consult with Nigeria on African issues. The two governments appeared to have similar interests in southern Africa. The special relationship had a weak basis, however, depending mostly upon continuing agreement and cooperation over southern African issues. Once Ronald Reagan replaced Carter as president (1981-88), the countries again had divergent interests in southern Africa.

Just as the balance of trade was not expected to shift dramatically with the opening of Eastern Europe so, too, Nigeria's political position was not expected to change greatly. In a time of shifting world coalitions, a position of nonalignment with a leaning toward the West provided more options for Nigeria than ever. Events in southern Africa, including Namibia's independence and the opening of debate for eliminating apartheid in South Africa, removed the largest obstacles to closer relations with the United States without excluding the Soviet Union or other leading powers.

Data as of June 1991