Nigeria’s foreign policy has been characterised by inconsistency and incoherence. It has lacked the clarity to make us know where we stood in matters of international concern to enable other countries relate to us with seriousness Our external relations have been conducted by a policy of retaliatory reactions…….‘African problems and their solutions should constitute the premise of our foreign policy’

The above very bold and perceptive observations were made by General Ibrahim Babangida on assumption of leadership of the present Military Administration in August 1985, and they have guided and projected the policies and actions of the Administration in the nation’s relations with the external world. It is often said that the foreign policy of a country is the extension of the country’s domestic politics and situation. From the preceding sections of this book, it has been established that the Babangida era has been a period of bold initiatives and wide-ranging reforms in different spheres of Nigeria’s domestic life. Some of these policies, although meant for domestic purposes, have had definitive implications for and impact upon the external relations of the country. In general, however, Babangida’s foreign policy has been guided by strategic factors, economic considerations, political realities and a special concern for the African condition, including articulated advancement of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.

Let us start with a look at the background against which the foreign policy has been initiated and pursued so as to truly appreciate its essence. Before the 1980s, it had become generally accepted that the specific national interests of Nigeria to be pursued through foreign policy, would include the defence of the nation’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, the promotion of self-reliance in Africa and the Third World, the defence of the Black man’s right and promotion of his dignity, justice and peace throughout the world.

The regimes which preceded that of Babangida no doubt pursued the goal of self-preservation, world peace and regional security as best they could. The Buhari regime actually initiated a formulation of ‘concentric circles’ which would enable Nigeria to approach world affairs from the sub-regional to the regional and global levels. But then, Nigeria’s gates were shut against her neighbours with undue threats and hostility meted against the ECOWAS sub-region. Coupled with the ‘threat and harassment posture’ of the Buhari Administration was the acute high-handedness in domestic policies and actions which did not promote external goodwill.

By virtue of Nigeria’s position in Africa and among the Third World nations, a number of decisions have had to be taken which tend to establish the pattern of Nigeria’s initiatives and reactions to world situations. On the sub-regional level, Babangida opened up the closed borders to Nigeria’s neighbours, thus promoting good neighbourliness whose spill-over has included the strengthening of Nigeria’s position among the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The endearing policies of free movement of citizens and goods and services within the ECOWAS, and of export of Nigeria’s relatively low priced local manufactures across West Africa arising from the internal gains of SAP, have promoted enormous goodwill among the governments and peoples of the sub-region. Nigeria’s image within ECOWAS has, thus improved tremendously since 1985.

As an oil producing country, Nigeria has embarked upon the use of OPEC and oil as both a forum and means of promoting co-operation and collaboration with the oil producing countries, as well as with other countries which purchase Nigerian crude or petroleum and transact other business with Nigeria.

Such strategic calculations have also been used considerably by Nigeria to exert influence and prove to the world that the country has leadership capabilities and potentials. The Presidency of OPEC being held by Nigeria during the past four years is most symbolic in this regard.

There is the issue of the dumping of toxic wastes by the advanced industrialized countries which has had much more than economic and health implications for the African dump-receiving or dump-imposed countries. It is an international issue of strategic significance. Once discovered, President Babangida set up a Task Force to tackle the problem at the national level while spearheading the formation of a sub-regional group to check any disposal of toxic wastes in any part of West Africa, culminating in the formulation and adoption of the policy of DUMPWATCH in ECOWAS and at the OAU. The OAU has been called upon by Nigeria to adopt a Regional Convention as part of the Global Convention on the Control of Trans-Boundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. The UN and other World bodies have been greatly sensitized to this issue by the initiatives taken by Nigeria.

There has also been the issue arising from the disgraceful incident of the killing of Nigerian citizens in Equatorial Guinea some years ago. That incident marked the peak of a series of assaults on Nigerian citizens over a number of decades. Apart from taking necessary steps to put an end to undue hostility against Nigerians in Equatorial Guinea, the Babangida Administration also moved fast to prevent the consolidation of South African presence on the island. There is now greater interaction, for mutual benefits, between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

One other development worth noting in strategic terms is the Technical Aid Corps (TAC) program. The scheme has been advertising Nigerian skills and goodwill to the outside world while giving Nigeria a special opportunity to know more about other countries. This, in no small way, helps in the successful implementation of Nigeria’s foreign policy and to foster good and beneficial external relations.

Since the Babangida Administration is fundamentally transitional in nature and purpose, this has far-reaching implications for the country’s political system itself and for the relationship between Nigeria and other countries. Many of the domestic political and economic issues discussed in the previous sections of this book have made it imperative for Nigeria to take particular positions in external relations. For it to be credible in its foreign policy, Nigeria has to promote stability both at home and in its relationship with other nations. This is the reason why the Administration has found it necessary to effect the initiatives pointed out earlier on, and to relate to other countries within the frameworks of the ECOWAS, OAU, the Commonwealth of Nations, the ACP-EEC and the United Nations in pursuit of the nation’s basic interests. What we observe in this regard over the past four years can be summed up as follows:

(a) Pursuit of internal policies of self-reliance and social justice which elicit positive reactions from the international community with regard to Nigeria’s capacity to govern itself and to promote democracy;

(b) Promoting stability and peace within and among nation-states;

(c) Highly articulated African policy based on concrete actions and timely initiatives;

(d) Encouragement and promotion of stronger and meaningful relations with the technologically advanced countries.

More than any other Head of State before him, President Babangida has paid more attention to African affairs, particularly the West African sub-region. Apart from extending invitations to and hosting other African Heads of State, IBB has, on invitation, visited many African countries, including the Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, Tchad, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Sudan, Egypt and Zimbabwe. In all these, the focus has been on co-operation and the promotion of peace and greater understanding. One example that is worthy of special mention is the conflict between Senegal and Mauritania which carries with it racial undertones but which, with the intervention of President Babangida, has led to the two countries accepting the wisdom of resolving the conflict peacefully.

The President’s visits to Japan and Britain in 1989 have been heralded as most successful in terms of generating enormous goodwill and concrete support for Nigeria’s Programs of economic restructuring, recovery, development and debt repayment. In this connection too, the active assistance by the Vice President, the Chief of General Staff, Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and the Honourable Minister of External Affairs, General Ike Nwachukwu in their articulation and advancement of Nigeria’s foreign policy at innumerable fora including bilateral negotiations with individual countries of Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia have added tremendous benefits to those derived from the personal involvement of the President.

One other specific example of Nigeria’s success in its African policy is the continuing resolutions of the Angolan crisis in which Nigeria has played a prominent role in bringing about dialogue between the government of Angola and the rebel forces of UNITA. It will be recalled that Nigeria was one of the key supporters of the MPLA during the Angolan struggle for independence. By co-sponsoring the efforts which have now led to some level of resolution of the conflict between the MPLA and UNITA, the Babangida Administration has demonstrated three things:

(a) Vision with regard to what it takes to guarantee peace and stability in a developing African nation;

(b) Capacity to identify and resolve conflicting perspectives among external forces whose interests either coincide or collide with that of Nigeria; and

(c) Ability to play crucial and critical role as a regional power within contemporary international politics.

On the economic front, the Babangida Administration has been able to put in place an adjustment program which has serious implications for how other countries relate to us. For instance, while Nigerians benefit immensely from the ban on the importation of wheat, such a patriotic and bold step could not have endeared Nigeria to the exporters. Again, based on the popular wishes of the people to reject the IMF loan and opt for alternative strategies of economic adjustment, the Administration took a decisive choice which affected deeply the interests of forces, both foreign and domestic which had previously benefited from the recklessness of the Second Republic. This has meant solving Nigeria’s economic problems through Nigeria’s own initiative, the restructuring of Nigeria’s domestic activities and facing up to the attendant internal, as well as external, challenges.

President Babangida’s approach has been a combination of quiet and tactical pushes meant to create appropriate and balanced environment for Nigeria. Without much drama or trumpeting, he has succeeded in getting the world’s relevant financial institutions to understand Nigeria’s position and co-operate with the country and its fundamental objectives.

One issue on which there has never been any dispute throughout the history of Nigerian foreign policy is that of apartheid. Right from the time of independence to the present time, Nigeria has been consistent in supporting the struggle against apartheid and the liberation of Africa from remnant colonialism.

Under General Babangida, this policy has been pursued with greater vigour. It is partly due to the efforts of Nigeria, in collaboration with other anti-apartheid oriented nations, that UN Resolution 345 is now being implemented in Namibia. Apart from the moral and financial support given to the liberation movements in Southern Africa over the years, the present Administration has been using every available opportunity at different national, regional and international for a to press support for the independence of Namibia and for an end to apartheid. While frequently advocating peace in the Middle East and supporting all measures for peace and justice in the gulf region, President Babangida has been consistent in paying primary attention to the African situation vis-a-vis other regions of the world. In this area, it seems that his personal philosophy of concern for the well-being of others has been a guide in the President’s relations with fellow Africans whose face is intricately tied to ours.

In conclusion, it needs simply to be restated that the period since 1985 has been one of tremendous success in the foreign policy and external relations of Nigeria. The available evidence for this viewpoint can be marshaled much more exhaustively than has been indicated in the preceding paragraphs. Nigeria today stands in a towering position in ECOWAS. It is respected, listened to, followed or awaited in any major theatre of policy making and action in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and on the African continent generally. The relationship with fellow members of the Commonwealth of Nations and with member-states of the United Nations has been excellent. Nigeria’s relationships with virtually all the countries of the world have been so good that one could describe the IBB era as having inaugurated a profound posture for Nigeria in the comity of nations.