Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in the 1990s

Address at the 1992 Annual Patron’s Dinner of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs on 28th November, 1992, Abuja.

It is a great pleasure for me to be here this evening, on the occasion of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs’ 1992 Annual Patron’s Dinner. It is an occasion that I always look forward to with great expectation and enthusiasm, providing as it does, an appropriate forum for Nigeria’s President to reflect on developments in the international system and how they affect us in this part of the world.

Since 1985, when I became the Patron of the NI1A, I have followed with keen personal interest, the activities of the Institute as it strives to discharge its mandate of educating Nigerians about their country’s foreign policy and international affairs. I have had many occasions to invite the input of the Institute into the formulation of our foreign policy and to seek the expert advice of its staff on significant international developments that impinge on our short to long term national interest. I would like to commend the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Institute, the Director-General and members of his staff for the highly inspiring efforts which they have made, in spite of diminishing resources, to keep the NIIA as a centre for excellence in foreign policy research. It is my earnest hope that they will all five up to the challenges of the future and intensify their research efforts into modalities of enhancing Nigeria’s greatness and relevance in the comity of nations.

Nigeria and the World in 1992

1992 has been a momentous year in international affairs and Nigeria’s foreign policy machinery has had to respond to a complex variety of developments. At the political level, the end of the East-West cold war and the train of events which this development unleashed have encouraged much international debate about a new world order. While considerable uncertainty surrounds what the new world order would or should look like, we in Nigeria have had no doubt as to the desirability of a push by mankind for a more, just and balanced international system, constructed on the basis of the sovereign equality of states. At the economic level, a flurry of activities has been generated by the march towards a closer European Community as well as various continental and sub-regional arrangements for economic co-operation.

In all parts of the world, including Africa, spirited efforts are being made to finalize the response to the likely implications of ‘Europe 1992.’ 1992 also witnessed the election, for the first time, of an African diplomat to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations at a time when, owing to the changing global environment, the organization’s role has been enhanced and enlarged. However, 1992 has, on the deficit side, seen the worsening of political violence in all regions of the world, including the series of violence occasioned by macro and micro nationalism in many countries worldwide, and posing serious threats to the stability of the international system.

In the context of the changing international environment, with all of the promises and dangers which have manifested themselves in 1992, we in Nigeria have made tremendous efforts to contribute our utmost to the promotion of international peace, stability, and co-operation.

We have done this on the basis of a time-honoured policy, namely respect for the sovereign independence of all states, the peaceful settlement of disputes through conciliation, mediation, arbitration and the encouragement of bilateral and multilateral co-operation among states. To be sure, we have not been unmindful of our own interests as a nation and as a people. This administration has, in all of its foreign policy actions been guided also by the desire to promote Nigeria’s prosperity, self-preservation, stability, unity, security, honour, and territorial integrity.

It is on account of these basic foreign policy principles that we believe that crises and conflicts in Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, Western Sahara, Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Liberia should warrant the attention of all peace-loving nations of the world. We share the concern of all nations and peoples interested in peacefully resolving the conflicts in these countries and have, in a number of cases, contributed human and material resources to efforts being made to resolve those conflicts.

I would like to assure you that the government and people of Nigeria are always ready to contribute to positive efforts such as those the United Nations and other regional or sub-regional organizations, targeted at finding lasting solutions to national and international conflicts. We are convinced that there is no better framework for the pursuit of world peace than that offered by the United Nations in several of these conflict areas of the world. We are certain that were it not for the moderating influence of the organization, some of the crises which it is attempting to resolve would have escalated dangerously, threatening international peace and security.


The unstable situation in Liberia is a major source of concern to our government, We in Nigeria, have, as you very well know, had a keen interest in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in that country. The conviction of this administration and of the people of Nigeria is that the people of Liberia are unreservedly entitled to lasting peace and progress. This is why, consistent with chapter 8 of United Nations charter which provides for regional arrangements for the maintenance of peace and security, Nigeria has been working tirelessly in spite of mischievous insinuations for peace in Liberia through the ECOWAS Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) I would like to assure you that we will not relent in our efforts, no matter the difficulties in our collective search for peace, tolerance, political unity and bright future for our brothers and sisters in Liberia. I call on the rest of the international community to make a more direct and determined input into the efforts of ECOWAS to resolve the crisis in Liberia. The United Nations should complement ECOWAS’s peacekeeping efforts in Liberia through humanitarian assistance.

In the context of the West African sub-region, we hold the belief that ECOWAS is the best instrument for restoring, maintaining and sustaining peace in Liberia and that we should therefore be encouraged and materially supported in our efforts to maintain peace and security within the sub-region. It is instructive to see how our modest efforts in West Africa at resolving crisis is being appreciated outside our continent. The Kitchener Waterloo Record of Canada (21 November, 1992 issue) in a column titled “Eye on the World” has this to say in an article titled “Africa can Teach European States a Lesson” …”The West Africans’ intervention to stop the slaughter in Liberia’s a shining example of how states should behave; it is not impossible to do the right thing, it just takes a little courage.”

South Africa

May I seize this opportunity to welcome the changes taking place in South Africa and to commend the courage of President Frederick De Klerk and Dr Nelson Mandela in the battle to dismantle apartheid and for tirelessly seeking solutions to the political unrest in the country. It was in the spirit of encouraging Mr De Klerk’s bold efforts on the path of political reform that we received him here in Abuja in April this year. However, while his efforts are praiseworthy, this administration has not hesitated to call his attention to some of the obstructionist tactics of some of the officials within the South African government, the increasing wave of so-called black-on-black violence, and the threats to the CODESA talks by the anti-democratic forces in South Africa. The black people of South Africa have suffered for too long and have made immense sacrifices.

I would like to salute the efforts of Dr Nelson Mandela in his continuing search for a political settlement through pacific means, in spite of the difficulties created by extremists on both sides of the racial divide.

It is instructive to remind all those who may want to continue to obstruct the path to progress in South Africa that they will be doing so only at their own peril and to the detriment of peace, understanding and development in that important African sub-region. We therefore invite, once again, the South African government to accept the idea of an interim government of national unity that will be responsible for the supervision of the transition to a true and non-racial democratic order in South Africa,

Environmental issues

Also of prime concern to us is the state of the world’s environment, the deterioration of which is bound to spell out adverse consequences for us all. The government and people of Nigeria appreciate the concern and support of the international community as regards the problems of pollution, global warming, drought and desertification in Africa. These problem*, both man-made and natural, have mainly been responsible for environmental degradation in our continent and elsewhere. Once again, we request that UN members should fully support the setting up of an intergovernmental negotiating committee to further deliberate on international convention on desertification as one strategy of dealing with environmental degradation.

The New World Order

The fashioning of a new world order should be predicated on justice and fairness in order to further foster the spirit of international understanding, co-operation and interdependence. When the United Nations was created after the Second World War, there were only 51 members. The organization is now made up of 179 member-states. Consequently, the time has come to increase the number of permanent members of the Security Council to include the countries from the African continent and ensure equitable representation of other regions of the world. Indeed, from a geopolitical perspective, the permanent membership of the Security Council, as it is today, represents three of the five political regions of the world. Four of its members are also from the North in terms of North-South context. Africa is not represented in both perspectives. We believe that the principle of fairness and justice must be taken into cognizance, in order for us to have a virile, more efficient and democratic United Nations. May I stress that there can be no valid justification for denying a permanent seat in the Security Council to Africa which currently has 51 member states in the United Nations.

International Economic Issues

The problems of economic underdevelopment in Africa continue to merit international attention. Debt burden has become an albatross for most African countries. Development efforts have been adversely affected as a result of these debts. Recent figures put Africa’s debt at 250 billion US dollars, representing about 350% of the continent’s total annual export earnings. There is a compelling necessity for the injection of more development, resources into African economies, if Africa is to be able to achieve economic growth. This is why we have been calling for a ‘New Marshall Plan’ for Africa. Worldwide generalized abject poverty is one of the major obstacles to international peace. Consequently, the United Nations should be increasingly involved in bridging the wide material gap between the North and the South, particularly between Africa and the rest of the world.

However, we in Africa have not been resting on our oars instance. For instance in April 1980, the first-ever OAU summit meeting devoted entirely to African economic matters was held in Lagos. After that meet­ing, the Heads of State consented to a programme of action aimed at radi­cal transformation of the ailing African economy by the year 2000. It was stressed that African countries should strive for the integration of their economies, leading to the creation, at the sub-regional and regional levels, of a dynamic interdependent African economy that would paved the way for the eventual establishment of an African common market.

It is, indeed, a pleasure to recall that on 3 June, 1991, at the OAU Summit of Heads of State and Government, the African Economic Com­munity Treaty was signed here in Abuja with the objective of creating an integrated common market that would facilitate the achievement of self-reliance in the continent.

The advantages of economic integration are numerous. By speak­ing with one voice through such an integration, Africa will become more powerful both politically and economically. Economic integration will increase the market for both primary and semi-manufactured goods. It could minimize the importance of foreign currencies in our trade, in­crease industrialization, reap huge economies of scale and increase the value of inter African trade.

Our challenge for the future is how to fashion out the machinery of operation for the avoidance of the repetition of past mistakes. To that end Nigeria has demonstrated its commitment by providing the initial finan­cial and moral facilities for the successful execution of the treaty. Africa cannot afford to continue to speak with many voices in the present world of integrated economic blocs.

In general, and in consonance with our foreign policy tradition, we in Nigeria place emphasis on peace and co-operation in our foreign rela­tions. In addition to the United Nations, our support for the work of the Organization of African Unity, the Non-Aligned Movement and ECOWAS remains steadfast. We welcome the new trends in international politics and wish to seize this opportunity to remind the world again that the new world order in the making has to be collectively designed and ought to be based on the principles of peaceful coexistence, collective political will, justice and international solidarity. If this is not so, the demise of the Cold War and the democratization efforts in the Third World countries may amount to a dissipation of energy, or a mission may amount to impossible.

Foreign policy successes and difficulties

Since this administration came to power seven years ago it has, at the domestic level, been endeavouring to reconstruct the Nigerian socio­economic order as a basis for a virile foreign policy, by adopting a programme of social and economic rejuvenation. Democratically elected governments at the local and state levels, as well as elections into the House of Representatives and to the Senate have already been successfully accomplished.

Efforts were made in the economic sector to revamp the economy by adopting a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in July 1986 and economic diplomacy in 1988. The SAP, you will remember, was informed by the need for economic reconstruction, social justice and self-reliance.

The aim of the government was to achieve a fiscal and external balance, reduce government subsidies on non-social services, and bring about a realistic market-determined exchange rate for the Naira. Although the SAP has achieved a lot, especially in creating a national awareness the need for a maintenance culture, the ultimate objective of seeking to change the basis of Nigeria’s international economic relations from a ‘helpless’ de­pendence on developed economies to a self-reliant and self-sustained economy continues to absorb our energies and tax our resolve.

Economic diplomacy was therefore adopted to complement our structural adjustment efforts. It is mainly aimed at creating an environ­ment of mutual understanding between Nigeria and her economic part­ners, in order to enhance domestic economic growth and development through the attraction of new foreign investments, expansion of foreign trade and development of non-oil export trade. We are very gratified that international and national responses to our economic diplomacy have been very encouraging. This administration has always welcomed and will not relent in welcoming all genuine foreign investors. But, Nigeria’s burden of debt-service payments is still quite heavy, thereby seriously impairing our capacity to promote all-round economic development. It goes with­out saying that our efforts at economic reconstruction continue to be beset by problems and obstacles which cannot be wished away. However, we can still modestly say that we now are consolidating the gains of eco­nomic diplomacy, even as we acknowledge that there is considerable room for improvement.

We, therefore, call on our creditors to reconsider their policy in the spirit of solidarity and write off the debts of African countries, particu­larly, those of the debt-distressed countries.

At the international level, Nigeria’s foreign policy has been predi­cated on a principled and pragmatic pursuit of our realistic national inter­ests. Nigeria has continued to be a strong builder and supporter of African unity and solidarity, a nonpartisan, honest broker in African crises and an unwavering supporter of African liberation. In fact, we have placed more emphasis on the creation of a structural framework for inter-regional and regional economic integration, as well as on the need for an African eco­nomic community.

Africans in Diaspora

Africa and the Blacks in the diaspora continue to command the attention of this administration. As a matter of deliberate policy, Africans and Blacks in the diaspora are considered as an extension of our own resources and as one people with us. We have remained, as ever, committed to developing stronger fraternal relations with them. It is in this context that Nigeria’s Technical Aid Corps (TAC) should be perceived. It was designed to assist African and black nations lacking in personnel for a period of two years. The TAC, which is fully financed by Nigeria, is already in operation in fifteen African countries, five Caribbean countries and one in the Pacific. The TAC is one of the major achievements of this Administration and has remained a practical demonstration of Nigeria’s increasing commitment to South-South co-operation.

Regional Integration

The importance of Nigeria’s contribution to the enhancement of regional co-operation cannot be ignored. It was during the period of Nigeria’s chairmanship of the Economic Community of West African States that the permanent executive secretariat of the Organization in Abuja was completed. It was also during this unprecedented three consecutive terms of Nigeria’s Chairmanship (1986-1988) that structures for greater regional co-operation in trade, telecommunications and security were created. A three-year ECOWAS Recovery Programme (ECR) was launched in 1987 during the summit of authority of Heads of States. As noted earlier, the economic recovery programmes constitute the African component of the United Nations, African priority programme for economic recovery, as well as the first effort by West Africans to approach common economic problems through collective adjustment efforts.

A concrete expression of Nigeria’s contribution to regional co-op­eration is in the area of manpower and conflict resolution. In the context of training, Nigerian institutions of higher learning, including the military establishments, always reserve places for other brother Africans, in the spirit of oneness and solidarity. In terms of conflict resolution, Nigeria has invested a considerable amount of energy and money in laying a solid foundation for sub-regional stability with emphasis on the peaceful reso­lution of disputes.

Nigeria’s concern for peace and security is predicated on the con­sideration that programmes development hardly occurs in a situation of chaos, crisis or insecurity. It is a source of great pride for this government that Nigeria has successfully mediated in many African crises and we praise the courage of the many African leaders who showed a demonstrable pref­erence for dialogue, as opposed to war. Nigeria’s mediatory role in the Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togolese-Ghanaian, Burkina Faso-Mali and the Liberian crises has in most cases succeeded in averting damaging wars. And with the exception of the Liberian crisis, all our mediation efforts can be said to have been crowned with a measure of success.

More importantly, the fact that Nigeria has participated in the United Nations peacekeeping activities, especially in Yugoslavia, is another mani­festation of Nigeria’s commitment to peace efforts, not just in Africa but in the world as a whole. Nigeria supports and prays for peace, both in cash and in kind in extra-African countries, the logic of charity beginning at home requires that Nigeria should also show equal or more commitment in a sister African country like Liberia.

We are delighted to note that the ECOWAS standing mediation com­mittee initiated in 1990 and made up of Nigeria as chairman, and Mali, Togo and Ghana as members, has now come to stay and has enjoyed the unreserved support of the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. It is also gratifying that Nigeria not only played host to a peace conference on the Sudan in May 1990, but also sent a peace mission to Somalia to encourage and convince Somalians to settle their disputes peace­fully.

Nigeria’s image abroad

The negative publicity which Nigeria has continued to receive from the world press should also warrant our attention. Nigeria’s image in the world has been severely tainted partly as a result of an accustomed exaggeration of the involvement of Nigerians in drug peddling and perpetration of business fraud.

It is true that some Nigerians have been thrown into foreign jails mainly for drug related offences but the number of people involved has always been exaggerated and thousands of innocent Nigerians have been ill-treated at different international airports. The situation has gone to the extent that every potential Nigerian traveler is suspected and seen as a drug pusher. This is a situation which cannot be justified at all and which must cease henceforth. The Nigerian government cannot and will not tolerate the unjustified humiliation of innocent Nigerian international travelers and will be prepared to take appropriate retaliatory actions against those countries that persist in this indiscriminate assault on Nigerians.

While all Nigerians should continue to be good ambassadors of the country abroad and therefore seek to arm themselves with relevant infor­mation that will present Nigeria and Africa in the best possible light, the international community should also be reminded that Nigerian passports have been fraudulently obtained and used for criminal purposes by non-Nigerians.

Again, the number of people involved in drug trafficking relative to our total population is insignificant but the generality of Nigerians have been made to bear the brunt of the sins committed by an infinitesimal few, through anti-Nigeria campaigns of calumny and sustained press propa­ganda. This situation cannot help the maintenance of friendly relations and can also frighten away foreign investors and tourists.

An uninformed Nigerian travelling abroad cannot but be an unin­formed ‘ambassador’, and therefore another source of taint for our coun­try’s already badly tarnished image. Therefore, every Nigerian travelling abroad should henceforth be well briefed about the implications for Ni­geria of drug peddling. A programme of cultural orientation and routine information in our airports, embassies and consulates abroad, passport offices, border posts, etc., should also be given priority. In this way, po­tential travelers can be expected to have a share in the image-making responsibility of government.

This administration has not only passed many anti-drug laws and established a National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) but has also signed anti-drug co-operation agreements with many countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and India. In fact, Nigeria was among the first three countries to sign the 1988 UN convention against illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, which was an expression of Nigeria’s determination to co-operate with other countries in the eradication of this deadly trade.

Future Perspectives

Although over the last seven years we have recorded giant strides in our foreign policy endeavors, there are several unresolved issues that will still continue to engage our attention and that of succeeding administrations.

As the new world order unfolds, the issue of asymmetrical rela­tionships in the distribution of power in the international system remains unresolved and it has to be addressed with the seriousness it deserves. For, while the structural bipolarity characterized the international system since the end of World War II may have come to an end, the dispropor­tionate balance of economic and political power between the developed and the developing world is a stark reality that begs for attention. The North-South dialogue which sought to improve the situation has been too slow in meeting the aspirations and the expectations of many developing countries. Equally important, the legitimate anxiety over this situation has to be addressed and resolved.

Another unresolved issue of great concern is the Liberian imbroglio and the role of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). ECOWAS member states have demonstrated a great sense of responsibility by com­mitting energy and resources to the resolution of the crisis in Liberia.

Yet, the crisis has persisted largely due to the intransigence of the NPFL leader, Mr Charles Taylor. All reasonable and sensible attempts to make Mr Taylor accept a negotiated settlement has been virtually exhausted. We wish to appeal to Mr Taylor, once more, to abandon military confrontation and commit himself to finding lasting solutions to the crisis in Liberia because so much innocent blood has been shed. We also wish to reaffirm that Nigeria and Africa as a whole cannot, and should not, sit by and watch the deterioration of a conflict which has serious implications for our continental and sub-regional peace and stability.

Finally, Africa’s survival in the emerging new world order depends, to a great extent, on the ability of Africans to quickly adapt to changing trends, Economic blocs, integration and co-operation have become household words in the developed countries. The European community is attempting to go beyond the rhetorics of economic integration and political federation as provided for in the Maastricht treaty.

African states should seek solutions to the continent’s many economic problems by quickly ratifying the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community. It is by so doing that Africa can be a dynamic political and economic player in the new world order.