Nigeria Foreign Policy | Features, Problems & Achievement

Foreign policy is a very essential aspect of life and existence of every sovereign nation. To this end, it is important we commence a study of this nature with a clear definition, analysis and explanation of the term “foreign policy”. It is necessary to seek a clear understanding of the term by drawing from the ideas and opinions of others scholars who have worked on the subject matter in the past.

K.J Holsti defined policy as “…actions and ideas designed by policy makers to solve or promote changes in the international environment…” From Wolfran Handrieder, foreign policy is “…a coordinated strategy with which institutionally designated decision makers seek to manipulate the international environment.

According to Karl Deutsch (1954), foreign policy is defined as “the search for the preservation of a country’s independence and security, the pursuit and protection of its economic interest. Rodee (1957), defined foreign policy as “the formulation and implementation of a group of principles which shape the behavior pattern of a state while negotiation with other states to protect or further its vital interests”.

Joseph Frankel (1968), sees foreign policy as “that consisting of decisions and actions which involve to some appreciable extent relationship between one state and another”. Nnoli (1986), defines it as “a nations reaction to the external environment involving the organization of both domestic and external relations”.

Finally, foreign policy can be seen in terms of the following concepts namely: The general principles which govern a state’s international behavior, the policy that decides the state of the inter-dependence of nations i.e. Nigeria stands on certain international issues as such affects the country.

Foreign policy is the formal, legal and authoritative expression of national interest by the government through the constitutional process of the state. It is said to be a course of action taken by the authority of state for achieving a particular objective or goal. It is equally viewed as an act of internationalizing domestic resolve.

Summarily, foreign policy refers to objective, interest, principles, norms and resources which are brought together and used in making decision with respect to external environment. Again, Nigeria foreign policy is the rules and regulations guiding the behavior of Nigeria in her dealings or interaction with other countries as a member of the world community.

Commenting on the above definition of foreign policy, it is important to point out that not all international contacts and relations can be really associated with foreign policy. This is because foreign policy covers only such activities which are supported or are known by the government.


  • Nigeria foreign policy has as one of the characteristics, the abolition of all forms of colonialism and imperialism in Africa.
  • Nigeria foreign policy tends to promote friendly relations and co-operation among member states.
  • Africa is the center piece of Nigeria foreign policy.
  • Other characteristics of Nigeria policy is the Non-alignment with the power blocs.
  • Nigeria foreign policy promotes peaceful resolution of inter-state disputes.
  • Nigeria foreign policy respects the territorial integrity of other African States based on the principles of non-intervention in the affairs of their member state.

Problems of Nigeria Foreign Policy


The formulation and the implementation of foreign policy share mostly the attributes of domestic decision making process, and the success of a country’s foreign policy is often impeded by some circumstance within the domestic environment. Such impediments may arise out of the nature and character of the political and economic institutions as structures operating within the country.

Nigeria since independence, lacks a coherent and well thought-out national ideology with which the interest of the country could be identified and pursued at all times. This apparent look of focus has led to a chronic inability to provide a base for Nigeria’s foreign policy as was the case in other countries of the world.

As a result, the personal values, prejudices and judgments of individual rulers and cliques, subjective and microscopic as they may be, are embellished as political values and national objectives. This diminutive view of the national interest leads to an erosion of the critical issues of coherence, consistency, imagination, dynamism and continuity. Despite the sprawling human and material resources available to Nigeria since independence, the ability to transform these endowments into positive instruments of national development have been severally incapacitated by a largely illiterate leadership.

Nigeria since 1960 has had the misfortune of being led by one illiterate after another. These are men heavily encumbered by rural thinking which is characterized by ethnic calculations, primordial loyalties and fragile perceptions of the national question. A leadership that does not have within its grasp the basic and essential needs of a young state can neither formulate nor implement policies ingrained with the necessary elements of development and growth. With an externally dominated economy, a volatile political structure and a chain of leadership that known little or nothing about national interest, Nigeria’s external and domestic policies have continued to undermine the substance of national interest which they were intended to protect and promote.

A large population, for a country could be an asset or a liability. Nigeria is one of the ten most populated nations in the world, with large reservoir of labors and skilled manpower. This is one of the major attributes of greatness when properly harnessed and carefully managed. This is not the case of Nigeria, “the country’s large reservoirs of labor and skilled manpower have not been properly mobilized for economic growth and national development”. Nigeria leadership does not encourage hard work, initiative and productivity. What Nigeria has had over fifty years of independence is leadership that has a preconceived notion of what the country wanted, how to get them and where they could be found. The persistent failure of this attitude has not persuaded successive leaders to look for more practical and more viable alternative.


As earlier stated the foreign policies of nation are not made in states of isolation. There are several factors, issues and events which determines the substance of a nation’s foreign policy. These issues may be related events taking places in the remote parts of the world but which may have resounding effects elsewhere. This is because of the interconnection or interdependent nature of the global community. Nigeria’s membership of international organizations exerts huge influence on her foreign policy output. This is because in taking decision over certain issues, Nigeria has to ensure that it was acting in conformity with the requirement of these organizations and bodies with respect to their guiding principles and objectives.

In OPEC for instance, Nigeria has to maintain strict adherence to its quota in the sale of crude oil. As a member of the UN and OAU, Nigeria attitude must always conform to the guiding principle of the organizations in its relations with others. This probably explains why Nigeria had often opted for peaceful settlement of disputes through negotiations, mediation, conciliation and arbitration even in the face of extreme provocation by her neighbors and their friends. For Nigeria leaders therefore, it is important to be seen as law abiding member of the international system no matter the cost.

Over the years, Nigeria had continued to service the foreign indebtedness to various economic institutions in the west. This is in spite of the argument in so many quarters, that Nigeria should renege on its obligations to these creditors which have continued to depreciate the national economy. Nigeria’s commitment to servicing this debt is conditioned by Nigeria’s desire to live up to her international obligation even when the situation at home cannot possibly shoulder such responsibility.


Nigeria’s persistent lack of development has its roots in the precarious nature of the incorporation of her economy into the global capital system. This integration has its origin in Nigeria’s colonial past. African economies are integrated into the very structure of the developed capitalist economies, and they are integrated in a manner that is unfavorable to Africa and ensured that Africa is dependent on the big capitalist. The attainment of political independence in 1960 was designed in a manner which ensured that the country remained economically dependent on her former colonizers and their counterpart in the west.

By 1960, the clamour for independence in Nigeria and other African countries had become so vocal and demanding that the European powers could no longer prolong that date without facing serious political fall outs among the local population. The colonial powers therefore decided to hand over power to their local representatives with the understanding that their economic interest remains unscathed by the change of political leadership. This was how Okwudiba Nnoli saw the new arrangement, “…in Nigeria, the British carefully cultivated petty bourgeoisies consisting of chiefs, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, engineers, labour leaders, military and police officer before approving independence in 1960.

It was to this elitist class that they handed over political power while retaining, with other imperialists, their economic domination of the country during the neo-colonial phase of the imperialism in Nigeria, which has persisted since 1960 to this day. The Nigeria economy in 1960 was heavily dependent on the exportation of raw materials and the importation of manufactured goods from the former colonial powers. The leaders at independence felt a need to focus attention on possible means through which appropriate development strategies could be initiated in order to expand the national economy. This desire for economic independence was impeded by two major factors, the lack of capital and technological know-how required to develop the available human and material resources in Nigeria.

As a result, policy makers decided to involve multi-national corporations of the industrialized west to provide this much needed capital and expertise. The understanding was for the MNCs to make available to the local economy the capital base and technical experience needed to jump-start the local economy. The MNCs however, had a whole new place of their own. With an eye solely on profit, they commenced a massive appropriation of the resources of the new state and their repatriation oversees. This was achieved with the active involvement of the local partners.

The technological transfer earlier hoped for, became unrealistic and untenable. The MNCs used various means to protect their industrial and intellectual properties through restive patent laws and regulations. Skilled indigenous engineers and other technical staff working with these MNCs were restricted to administrative duties by the expatriate authorities while the technical aspects of the job were exclusively managed by foreigners. The essence is to ensure that the local technicians do not gain their knowledge.


The making and implementation of a country foreign policy is determined by the influences and input from diverse sectors, both internally and externally. In the Nigeria situation, a proper understanding of the country foreign policy orientation will be incomplete without a look at the effects of colonial legacy on the country’s national outlook. At independence, Nigeria inherited a lot of practices from Britain. These includes the west minister model of parliamentary democracy, English language as lingua franca, political, administrative, economic, legal, military and educational institutions structured after those of Britain.

The deep rooted legacies of the system bequeathed to Nigeria by Britain have continued to influence Nigeria’s conduct of international relations and even domestic politics. On the political front, the parliamentary model of democracy was confronted with intolerance, ethnicity and a collective desire not to allow the system work. Experiments with the American presidential system were plagued by corruption, executive ineptitude, legislative lawlessness and judicial timidity, all of which ended in one huge fiasco. The Nigeria military is equally dependent on the metropole.

The training and equipment of the Nigeria armed forces, the navy and the air force have remained largely British affairs. This situation has no doubt has underlying impact on Nigeria international outlook. Most of these men who have occupied leadership positions in Nigeria, both military and civilian have all received education and other forms of training in Britain and the US. It becomes easy therefore to identify with, and accommodate British American interests in juxtaposition with the interest of the Nigeria state.


Successive Nigeria leaders have continued to hold Africa as the centerpiece of the nation’s foreign policy. However, the act on the grounds shows that Nigeria had not taken much initiative in promoting trades and economic cooperation with other African countries. Other externally induced factors have negated Nigeria’s ability to forge close economic, military and political ties with other African states.

The ability to break the colonial-structured trade patterns and the inability to diversify has seriously affected the element of cooperation among African states. This made it easier for these states to maintain a common ground against a common enemy. Strategically speaking, Nigeria does not seem to have the necessary negotiating skill in their dealings with other more experienced members of the world community. Negotiated skill entails more than the ability to argue back and front. It needs the flexibility of mind and intellect to grasp the intricate maneuvering involved, and which must be conditioned with the principle of give and take. A country that negotiates from a position of strength stands a better chance of achieving her goals in the face of so many competitors.


Promotion of African Unity and Solidarity: Nigeria was not only to lead Africa, but also to ensure that they are united and pursues common goals. However the style and commitment to this goal varies from person to person. For instance, Belewa’s government in 1965, Nigeria was the first Africa government to resent unanimous O.A.U resolutions; Gowon’s government played a key role in the formation of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). Also Buhari government was also interested in African Unity and solidarity through his recognition of the government of the Western Sahara and to get it seated at the O.A.U. summit in Addis Ababa in 1984. Babangida also showed his interest in Africa when he was the Chairman of O.A.U and hosted O.A.U Summit in Abuja in 1991.

Economic Cooperation: Nigeria has tried in the area of strengthening economic cooperation in Africa through the Economic and Social Commission of the O.A.U. It is mainly in the area of inter-governmental economic relations that Nigeria has made an impact in economic cooperation. Moreover, it is pertinent to notice that Nigeria major effort at African economic cooperation has been more on the sub region, where it engineered the formation of ECOWAS. Nigeria was also a major contributor to the African Development Bank. Again in 1980, Nigeria hosted the O.A.U. and signed a treaty establishing the Africa Economic Community (A.E.C).

Eradication of Colonialism and Racism in Africa: This is perhaps an area where Nigeria foreign policy has been more effective. For instance, Mutala/Obasanjo regimes adopted the goal of ridding Africa of all forms of colonialism and racism as their cardinal foreign objective. Their regimes where very militant on racism, they did that through giving financial aids to the FRELIMO government in Angola, the African National Congress in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Nigeria also continued to support liberation movement in Namibia, South Africa etc.  It also fought for the impositions of compulsory sanction against the racist regimes.

Defense of the Sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Member State: The issue of collective defense by African States has always been a very contentious issue in Africa politics. This is one of the reasons why O.A.U. set up a defense commission to promote inter-African cooperation in defense of matters in accordance with the directive of the Assembly and council of ministers. However, Nigeria played a role in defense of African States through the formation of the (ECOWAS) monitoring group (ECOMOG) that spearheaded peace-keeping operation in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Promotion of international cooperation: Nigeria as a nation from independence till date has always maintained friendly relation with most countries of the world. Nigeria has never been an aggressor in any international dispute. Presently she belongs to many international organizations where she has been playing key roles. The country is a signatory to many treaties, agreements and conversion and has also tried to abide by them. Nigeria has also hosted many conferences like the second Black Festival of Art and Culture (FESTAC) in 1977, O.A.U and ECOWAS sporting fiestas etc all these are being done ostensibly to foster world peace and understanding.