Foreign policy refers to the decisions and actions taken by a state to pursue her interests within the global system. The ability of a nation to influence the decisions and actions of other nations within the comity of nations is of great importance.

Nigeria’s foreign policy can be defined as the totality of Nigeria’s interaction within the international system. In defining and planning their foreign policies, governments, most essentially, consider the enhancement of national interests at international level. National or domestic interest is a major factor in foreign policy formulation.

Nigeria, maintains relations with other nations of the world and maintains many diplomatic missions, i.e, embassies, high commissions and consulates abroad. Nigeria also plays host to many foreign missions in Nigeria.



Since independence, there has been a succession of military and civilian administrations whose foreign policies differed greatly in terms of ideology, style, substance and even the personality of the leaders. Also, the dynamics of foreign policy itself demand that for an effective foreign policy, resources must be in proportion to the necessary demands and global obligations of the actors. Nigeria’s foreign policy, therefore, should be examined differently.

A former foreign affairs minister of Nigeria, Major-General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) grouped Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence into different phases:

  1. The Balewa era (1960-66).
  2. Crises and civil war period (Gowon period, 1960-70).
  3. Post-war era of Gowon (1970 – 75): Re- construction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation.
  4. The Murtala/Obasanjo era (1975-79).
  5. The Second Republic era (1979-83).
  6. The Buhari/Idiagbon era (1983-85).
  7. The Babangida era (1985-93).
  8. The Shonekan/Abacha era (1993-June 98).
  9. The Abubakar era (June 1998-May 1999).


Each of the regimes or administrations operated according to the prevailing domestic or national and international environment, including the goals set by each of the leaders/ administrations.

The following are the names of the external affairs ministers that played crucial roles in Nigeria’s foreign policy:

  1. Dr. Jaja Nwachukwu (1962-65).
  2. Alhaji Nuhu Bamali (1965-66).
  3. Dr.Okoi Arikpo, Commissioner for External Affairs (July 1966-July 1975).
  4. Major-General Joseph Garba (1975-1979).
  5. Major-General Henry Adefope (January 1979 to September 1979).
  6. Professor Ishaya Audu (1979-1983).
  7. Chief Emeka Anyaoku(October-December 1983).
  8. Professor Ibrahim Gambari (1984-1985).
  9. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi (1985-1987).
  10. Major-General Ike Nwachukwu(1987-89 and 1990-92).
  11. Alhaji Rilwan Lukman (1989-1990).

The government of Abacha has Chief Tom Ikimi as the country’s foreign affairs minister. The external affairs minister in Abdulsalam Abubakar’s regime is Alhaji Sule Lamido (1998).


The Balewa era (1960-66)

The Balewa era tried to consolidate by joining international organisations. It was involved in the decolonization process in Africa and stood against the apartheid policy in South Africa. The administration recognised Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The government also broke diplomatic relations with France over the testing of an atomic bomb in the Sahara desert. Also, Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDR) in Rhodesia in 1965 was vehemently opposed by the administration. It supported the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961. It also played crucial role in the formation of O.A.U. in May 25, 1963.


Crises and Civil War/Gowon Era (1966-75)

The crisis and civil war/Gowon era was the era that nearly witnessed the break-up of the country. Our foreign policy shifted emphasis from the West to the East. Most of the weapons used in prosecuting the civil war came from the East. The post-war era of this administration was the application of the 3Rs (Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation). The administration accepted the principle of non-interference in the sovereignty of African states, respect for the principles governing the O.A.U. and U.N.O. Also, it played a crucial role in the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and financial assistance made to the Liberation Committee of the A.U.


Murtala/ Obasanjo Era (1975-1979)

The Murtala / Obasanjo administration favoured decolonization and self-determination of African states. The events in Angola were a case in point. The regime supported MPLA, Augustino Neto’s popular movement for the liberation of Angolaagainst U.N.I.T.A ., FNLA, even though some western countries reacted negatively.

The strained relations which resulted from this, especially with Britain and some western countries, led to the nationalization of British Petroleum (now African Petroleum) and Barclays Bank (now Union Bank of Nigeria). It also gave its weight to the struggle against aparthied policy in South Africa by sponsoring the World Conference for Action Against Apartheid held in August, 1977 in Lagos.

In 1978, anational agricultural programme was inaugurated by this administration known as “Operation Feed the Nation” (OFN).


Shagari Era (1979-83)

The Shagari era was the Second Republic civilian administration in Nigeria. The administration supported Zimbabwe’s independence. This action represented Nigeria’s avowed stand on the issue of decolonization. However, the foreign policy of this administration was not smooth sailing because efforts were made to please the colonial masters.


The Buhari/Idiagbon Era (1983-85)

The Buhari / Idiagbon regime expelled West Africans living illegally in the country. In. early 1985, about one million illegal aliens were expelled, the land borders were closed to check smuggling, the inflow of illegal immigrants as well as currency trafficking. These measures were aimed at consolidating domestic national interest in the nation’s foreign policy objectives. This also came with its strained relations with West African states. Relations with Britain also went very sour, especially with Umaru Dikko’s affair.


The Babangida Era (1985-93)


The Babangida’s administration tried to bring back Nigeria into the fore front of African international relations. Efforts were made to move away slightly from political objectives to economic restructuring. A good number of trade and economic missions were undertaken. Germany, China, Brazil, Japan, Argentina etc, for example, visited Nigeria to discuss possible areas of co-operation. To strengthen South-South co-operation, Nigeria courted Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe etc to find areas of possible economic and technical co-operation.

The Babangida administration passed a decree and encouraged African states to do same against the dumping of toxic and radioactive wastes on the continent. The administration is noted to have re-established diplomatic ties between Nigeria and Israel. It also established technical aid corps programme for African states.

Conflict Resolution: In this area, Babangida’s regime sent troops to some troubled areas in the world. In 1990, a full-scale war broke out in Liberia. This became a great concern to Babangida’s regime which at the 13th Summit of ECOWAS held in Banjul, the Gambia, in May, 1990, proposed the need to set up a standing mediation committee charged with addressing conflict issues in the West African sub-region.

This later resulted in the formation of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The group was committed to restoring peace and normalcy in Liberia. Also, Babangida launched a N100 million solidarity fund in Lagos for Namibia when South West Africa People’s Organization’s (SWAPO) leader, Sam Nujoma visited Nigeria.

Transition programme: As part of its transition programme to democracy, 1986-93, the Babangida regime inaugurated a Directorate for Social Mobilization, also known as Mass Mobilization for Self-reliance, Economic Recovery and Social Justice (MAMSER). The purpose of establishing MAMSER was to shape a political culture that would be congenial to a democratic system.

Centre for Democratic Studies: In 1990, the IBB administration also established the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) in Abuja, to conduct research and organise seminars on democratization for government officials. This government also introduced the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).


Shonekan / Abacha Era (1993 – June 1998)

The Shonekan / Abacha administration helped in ushering in peace in Liberia. After seven years of war, a democratic government was setup, headed by Charles Taylor while President Ahmed Kabbah’s civilian government was restored after Koroma’s military Junta was removed in Sierra-Leone. Also, demonstrated was Nigeria’s belief about Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

However, the regime adopted a confrontational posture with the international community. The administration was accused of abuse of human rights and subsequently sanctions were clamped down on the country from the West and the member nations of the Commonwealth etc. Nigeria was alienated and her leadership position in Africa was threatened.


The Abubakar Era (June, 1988 – May, 1999)

The Abubakar administration embarked on reconciliation with her friends and the world community to correct the poor image the country was plunged into during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha. Abubakar’s administration succeeded in returning Nigeria to its rightful place while evolving an action plan that would see Nigeria through in years to come.



The following factors can influence or affect Nigeria’s foreign policy formulation.

  1. Human resource/size: The Human resources/the size and quality of the population of Nigeria affect her foreign policy formulation.
  2. The economic resources: The economic resources available help to shape and formulate her foreign policy objectives.
  3. Previous commitments of the government: Commitments of previous governments in the areas of signing or entering into treaties, pacts or agreements among others with other countries.
  4. Ideological disposition of the rulers: If the leaders are capitalist or socialist oriented. any of these can affect the country’s foreign policy.
  5. The military strength of Nigeria: The strength of the army, airforce and navy can affect her foreign policy.
  6. The industrial/technological strength: The industrial and technological strength of Nigeria have the capacity to affect her foreign policy formulation.
  7. Public opinion: Opinion of the people on issues of national importance can influence Nigeria’s foreign policy. For example, the demonstration of University of Ibadan students against the Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact in 1961 ; rejection of IMF loan in 1985.
  8. Geographical location: Nigeria is located in Africa and has made it clear that, as it is in Africa, Africa should be the centrepiece of her foreign policy. Consequently Nigeria worked for the de-colonization of the African continent, supported the struggle for the eradication of apartheid policy in South Africa etc.
  9. Historical background: Nigeria was colonised by Britain and this colonial experience can affect her foreign policy.
  10. National or domestic interest: This should form the basis of Nigeria’s foreign policy The interest of the people, their economic and social well-being should be promoted This has the capacity to affect foreign policy
  11. Globalization: Events and values e.g .. democracy happening globally can affect Nigeria’s foreign policy.



  1. Formulation: The formulation of Nigeria’s foreign policy is technically the responsibility of the president of the country.
  2. Consultations: Consultations are made with Nigeria’s diplomats or representatives abroad, experts in the universities, the business community, leaders of thought, etc before taking decisions.
  3. The minister and the Ministry of External Affairs: The presidency is assisted in policy formulation by the minister and officials of the Ministry of External Affairs as well as experts at Nigeria’s Institute of International Affairs. This ministry has the sole responsibility of coordinating and deliberating on issues as they relate with Nigeria and the international community. It also has some of the following functions to perform:
  • Involved in carrying out matters as they relate to the welfare of Nigerians abroad.
  • To promote and enhance a conducive atmosphere for a cordial relationship between Nigeria and other nations of the world.
  • To work hand in hand with Nigerian embassies abroad in harmonizing existing relations between Nigeria and other nations.
  • To provide information relevant to formulation of foreign policy.



  1. Friendship and co-operation: The country maintains friendship and cooperation with other nations of the world that respect her territorial sovereignty.
  2. Non-alignment: To remain non-aligned with any of the power blocs, i.e, Western or Eastern blocs. West representing capitalism and East communism.
  3. Clear and practical policies: Adoption of clear and practical policies regarding Africa with a view to bringing about co-operation and progress to all independent African states.
  4. Independence of African states: Helping non-independent African states to achieve total independence, confirming the statement that, Africa is the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.
  5. Respect for territorial integrity: Nigeria has respect for other states in Africa based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.
  6. Peaceful resolution of crises: Joining other states to find peaceful resolution to crisis as in ECOMOG troops in Liberia, Sierra-Leone etc.
  7. Eradication of colonialism: In Africa and also apartheid in South Africa as well as giving financial or moral support to liberation movements e.g. SWAPO in Southern Africa,
  8. National Interest: One of the features is to promote and protect our national interest.
  9. International or domestic problems: To assist other neighboring countries to solve their internal or domestic problems.
  10. Economic order: To work in cooperation with other nations of the world in promotion of a just world economic order.
  11. Peace and security: In addition, to also cooperate with member nations of U.N.O in the defence and promotion of world peace and security.
  12. International laws: To respect international laws and treaty obligations.



The origin of this concept, “Africa, the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” could be traced to the administration of the First Republic in Nigeria (1960-66) headed by the then prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Belewa. He maintained that: We belong to Africa and as such Nigeria would pursue realistic African policies. Africa should be given a pride of place in Nigeria’s foreign policy formulation. Other governments after Balewa’s especially the Murtala/Obasanjo administration pursued this policy in practical terms,

The following are the principles of the concept, Africa, the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy:

  1. Developing programmes for possible assistance to other African states and fostering understanding among them.
  2. The belief in the sovereignty and equality of African states.
  3. Working towards the de-colonization of African continent still under colonial rule.
  4. Respect for and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other African states.
  5. To support the struggle against apartheid policy and its eradication in South Africa.
  6. To oppose aggression, support the demand for restoration of fundamental human rights in Africa and the world in general.
  7. Promoting friendly association among independent African states.



  1. Size and population: With her size and population on the continent added to its enormous wealth,Nigeria has a task to accomplish for African states.
  2. Ideological rivalries: To remind Africans of the ideological rivalries that have penetrated Africa, the danger inherent in this and to pursue and unite African efforts in preventing Africa from becoming the theatre of world crises.
  3. Inter-territorial communication: To cooperate with African states for an improved inter-territorial communication and transport facilities on the continent and to encourage African states to pool their resources together and develop higher education and research programmes.
  4. Decolonization of African states: Nigeria made Africa the centrepiece of her foreign policy because of the refusal of some colonial masters to grant independence to some African territories then under colonial rule. Nigeria, after her independence, opposed colonial rule and supported the struggle for de-colonization of African continent.
  5. Location: Geographically, Nigeria is located in Africa and it is natural that sister African states should first receive Nigeria’s attention before other states of the world. Africa therefore, was given a pride of place by most Nigerian leaders.
  6. Assistance: To provide assistance to other African states and foster understanding among them. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria made Africa, the centre-piece of her foreign policy.
  7. Friendly association: To help in promoting friendly association and unity of purpose among independent African states.
  8. Opposition to aggression: To oppose any form of aggression and support the demand for the restoration of fundamental human rights in Africa.
  9. To defend: the independence and territorial integrity of African States.
  10. Speak with one voice: To bring African States together to speak with one voice on issues at international organisations e.g. U.N.O. and Commonwealth of Nations.
  11. Peace and order: To join hands with other African states to maintain peace and order in the continent.
  12. Leadership role: This adoption of Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy will make Nigeria to play leadership role in Africa.
  13. Support given to Nigeria: To reciprocate the support given to Nigeria by the O.A.U during her civil war.
  14. Prestige: To enhance the prestige of Nigeria in Africa and in the international arena.



  1. Anti-racism and anti-colonialism: This is a total eradication of colonialism in any part of Africa. For example, Nigeria supported liberation movements in Angola (MPLA), Namibia (SWAPO), South Africa (ANC), Zimbabwe etc. The support was financial and moral. Shagari’s administration donated N10 million to Zimbabwe for her independence celebration in 1980.
  2. Unity and solidarity: Nigeria has shown that Africa is the centrepiece of her foreign policy through the promotion of African unity and solidarity, especially at the international community.
  3. Friendly relations: Nigeria has done this by establishing friendly relations with all African states.
  4. Promotion of peace: Serious efforts have been made by different governments to promote peace in Africa. For example, her role in the restoration of peace and in the enthronement of democratic governments in Liberia and Sierra-Leone.
  5. Assistance to sister African States: In the spirit of brotherhood and as a way of preventing neo-colonialism in Africa, Nigeria is providing technical aid and expertise to sister African states.
  6. Severing relationship: Severing relationship with countries which support racism or aggression within the African continent.
  7. Resolution of conflicts: Nigeria expressed her belief in the resolution of conflicts in Africa by Africans. For instance, during the crisis in Congo, Nigeria took part in the peace-keeping operation. Also, Nigeria has played a significant role in conflict resolution, at the sub-regional level. For instance, it championed the formation of ECOMOG-a peace-keeping force which has succeeded in restoring peace to Liberia and Sierra-Leone.
  8. Diplomatic missions: Nigeria has shown that Africa is the centrepiece of her foreign policy by the establishment of more diplomatic missions in Africa.
  9. Encouragement of Democracy: She encouraged democratic rule in all parts of the continent, e.g. Liberia and Sierra-Leone.
  10. Support for OAU: Nigeria has expressed faith in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as the foremost continental machinery for the articulation of African interests. Therefore, successive governments whether military or civilian have given financial, economic, political and even diplomatic support to the body.
  11. Sports: Nigeria has been involved in the promotion of intra African sports and this is mostly demonstrated in her hosting of some of these important sporting events, e.g. African Nations cup co-hosted by Nigeria and Ghana and all African games.
  12. Economic co-operation: Nigeria is involved in promoting intra-African economic co-operation. For example, formation of ECOWAS in 1975 and African Economic Community (AEC) in 1991.
  13. Speaking with one Voice: This is achieved by influencing other African countries to speak with one voice at international organizations such as the U.N.O. the Commonwealth of Nations, OAU, etc.



  1. Establishment of bi-lateral economic/ political relationship: For example, Nigeria, Togo and Niger.
  2. Promotion of multi-lateral economic/ political relationship: e.g. Nigeria relates with some African states through the Chad Basin Commission and Niger Basin Commission.
  3. Active participation in economic union: e.g. ECOWAS, African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA), African Economic Community (AEC), African Development Bank (ADB).
  4. Grants and Aids: Nigeria sends relief materials to victims of political/natural disasters. The Technical Aid Corp scheme through which trained and skilled Nigerians in different fields assist some African countries.
  5. Initiation of peaceful settlement of crises: e.g. Chad, Liberia, Sudan, Somalia and Sierra-Leone.
  6. Peaceful resolution of disputes with her neighbours: e.g. Nigeria and Cameroun over the Bakassi Peninsula.
  7. Participation in peace keeping operations in Africa: e.g. Congo, Chad and Liberia.
  8. Active participation in cultural and sporting activities: e.g. African Games and FESTAC 1977.
  9. Liberation movements: Nigeria supported liberation movements in Africae.g. MPLA, SWAPO and ANC.



  1. Financial burden: It imposes heavy financial burden on Nigeria.
  2. Loss of lives: It leads to loss of lives through peace keeping operation and liberation activities e.g. Congo, Liberia and Sudan.
  3. Brain drain: It leads to brain drain from Nigeria to other African states.
  4. Influx of citizens: One of the problems led to the influx of citizens of other countries to Nigeria for greener pasture e.g. Ghana in the 1970s and 1980s and now Niger and Mali.
  5. Hostilities: Some African countries which benefited from the policy later became hostile and unfriendly to Nigeria e.g Angola, Liberia, South Africa, and Chad.

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