Country Listing

Nigeria Table of Contents



Safeguarding the sovereign, independence and territorial integrity of the state was the central pillar of Nigerian national security policy. Other guiding principles were African unity and independence, nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states, and regional economic development and security cooperation. Subordinate goals included military self-sufficiency and regional leadership. In pursuing these goals, Nigeria was diplomatic and flexible, but it employed coercive methods or measured force when necessary. Nigeria was an active participant in the United Nations (UN), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and ECOWAS. In 1990 the leadership seemed intent on retrenchment, according priority to domestic political and economic problems, and displayed a mature and conciliatory approach to foreign policy (see Foreign Relations , ch. 4).

Nigeria's location on the Gulf of Guinea, straddling western and equatorial Africa, its long land and coastal boundaries, and its offshore oil deposits defined the country's regional geostrategic situation (see fig. 1). A British colonial background set it apart from its francophone neighbors, an historical anomaly that affected the local security milieu. Nigeria's relations with the major powers were shaped, in the case of Britain and France, largely by this postcolonial heritage. A short-lived defense pact with Britain after independence was terminated in 1962. In the case of the superpowers, whose interests in the region until the late 1980s were functions of their global rivalry and resource needs, Lagos deliberately balanced its relations with Washington and Moscow.

Nigeria's security concerns and threat perceptions emanated from many quarters. The country's dependence on the production and export of oil was aggravated by naval deployments of the major powers along the maritime transit routes of the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Guinea. Its experience of incursions by neighbors, coupled with fears of foreign influence or of subversion of neighbors by such potential adversaries as France, Libya, and South Africa, heightened Lagos's sensitivities about border security. Regional conditions also produced a sense of isolation and uncertainty, particularly shifts in the balance of power across northern Africa, political instability in West Africa, and encirclement by relatively weak francophone states with residual or formal defense ties to their former colonial power. More generally, conflicts throughout Africa and the related propensity for great power intervention (for example, in Chad, Zaire, Angola, and Ethiopia) and occasional eruptions of radicalization or militant pan-Africanism were inimical to Nigeria's interest. Finally, South Africa's apartheid policy, regional dominance in the continent, and nuclear capability constituted threats to Nigeria's national security goals throughout the 1980s. Broadly speaking, therefore, Nigeria's security conditions and concerns could be grouped into three separate but related categories: local and bilateral, African and regional, and global.

Data as of June 1991