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Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under Tafawa Balewa in the First Republic

Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under Tafawa Balewa in the First Republic 1960-1967



Background to the Study

          The history of Nigeria foreign policy since 1960 has constantly been changing, though the principles guiding its foreign relations remain the same1. Nigeria leaders are largely responsible for these unstable external relations. Since Nigeria’s foreign policy is deeply rooted in Africa with strategic emphasis on political and economic cooperation, peaceful dispute resolution, and global nonalignment2. Nigerian leaders also have their attentions fixed on the successful implementation of these principles. However, the influence of personality on Nigeria’s relations with other countries cannot be totally ignored as different leaders adopt different styles in conducting external relations.

Examining the personality of the leader both at the theoretical and practical level is therefore important in understanding Nigeria’s foreign. Again, analyses of Nigeria’s foreign policy show that her leaders operate within four “concentric circles” of national interest. The innermost circle represents Nigeria’s own security, independence and prosperity and is centered on its immediate neighbours. Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger: the second circle revolves around Nigeria’s relations with its West African neighbours, the third circle focuses on continental African issues of peace, development and democratization, and the forth circle involves Nigeria’s relations with organizations, institutions and states outside Africa3. With this in mind, each Nigerian head of state or president work to ensure that no single part is defected in pursuing the country’s foreign policy. Evidence abound on how past Nigerian head of state or president have worked within these four concentric circles.

At independence, Nigeria as a sovereign state begin to conduct her foreign relations under the political and governmental leadership of its Prime Minister, the Late Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa whose administration emphasized Africa to be the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. His own foreign relation was pro-west particularly with, Nigeria’s erstwhile colonial master. With the bloody military coup of January 15, 1966, the late Major General J.I.U. Aguiyi Ironsi came to power only, to be killed in a counter coup staged six months later. This development brought the General Yakubu Gowon to power. Gowon borrowed a leaf from Balewa by being pro-west in his foreign affairs. He entered in with Britain, the United States and other Europeans countries. However, his administration reluctantly allowed the Soviet Union to open its embassy in Lagos.

The Gowon led federal military government was sacked in a bloodless coup which led to the assumption of power by the late General Murtala Rumat Mohammed and the General (now Chief) Olusegun Obasanjo who was his second in command and chief of staff supreme Headquarters.

The assumption of power by these two men served as a catalyst in the history of international relations as far as Nigeria was concerned. Their government rejected new innovations and dynamism into the nation’s foreign affairs. Mohammed was prepared to counter the imperial moves of the western powers especially the United States who had emerged as a power broker in Africa particularly in Angola. Britain and Portugal also became targets of the new military administration. While not living cuba, a surrogate of the soviet union both of whom were present in Angola, challenging the United States (U.S) presence there. These western powers, cuba as well as South Africa became the target of Mohammed Obasanjo military regime in Africa4.

One basic fact that must be stressed is the fact that this was the age of Cold War during which the U.S and the Soviet Union were competing for military supremacy and searching for them in their bid to permanently polarize the World into capitalist and communist Blocs under the US and Soviet Union respectively.

Given the above situation the Mohammed/Obasanjo regime arose as a diplomatic gadfly ready to stong these powers in its resolve to eradicate neo-colonialism, racism and apartheid on the African continent particularly in Portuguese colonies in Africa and racism/apartheid in Southern Africa.

With at these involvements in international politics, Nigeria became a regional power and center of influence, particularly on Africa. This combined with a viable economy until the mid 1980s, Nigeria was a least of many states seeking either its influence or financial assistance. Concomitantly, Nigeria’s were respected abroad, while the tendency to emigrate abroad was not popular. Fraudulent tendencies on the part of Nigerians abroad were at the lowest ebb.

However, the past-Shagari administration’s military regimes played deciding roles on the image-destruction of the Nigerian state on foreign affairs. Thus, the period covering 1980-1999, Nigeria’s foreign policy during this period recoued some setbacks. First, the draconian policies of the Buhari regime attracted wide criticism from the international community. Second, the factor of the economic diplomacy if Gen. I.B. Babangida through the structural adjustment programme (SAP) and subsequent annulment of June 12, 1993 general elections led to the breakdown of domestic policies in the country. Third, the Bazuka foreign policy style of late Gen. Sani Abacha further deteriorated the foreign image of Nigeria especially with its key aliens in Europe and America. These were the situations when President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, at inauguration in May, 1999, inherited a nation with a bittered image and without credibility externally. In his determination to regain Nigeria’s lost glory and re-integrate it to the civilized world, he engaged in a deft shuttle diplomacy across the major capitals of the globe. The president, during his extensive foreign troops have addressed the UN. ECOWAS, The Group of 8 (G-8), Group 77 (G-77), the commonwealth, African Union (AU) and EU.

The nation has achieved significant frons through the regime’s shuttle diplomacy. Apart from the psychological relief following its reintegration and accommodations into the World affairs, Nigeria had assumed the leadership of several international organizations notably the ECOWAS, AU and G-77. It has hosted very important international summits including those of the commonwealth Heads of State and Government and the all in 1004, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in 2005 and several, the ECOWAS since 1994. The Nation has also hosted the AU African games in 2004. Obsanjo had been the guest of honour to the UN Educational, scientific and cultural organization (UNESCO) in May 20046. All these imply that the international system has restored its confidence in Nigeria.

Generally Nigeria’s increasing profit in its foreign relations implies that the Nation has regained its role as a leading plater in multilateral politics and diplomacy. It can be said therefore that period and events have interlinked itself to sharpen Nigeria’s foreign policy from Sir Tafawa Balewa regime to the present administration.

Literature Review

          Review of literature in historical research is sinquano in determining the nature of the research as of which provides the basis for the understanding of what others have said or written about the subject matter. Although much have not bee written on Tafawa Balewa administration. It therefore becomes imperative to review what other scholars have written about Nigeria foreign policy since 1960 with special attention on the correlation between foreign policy and economic development from 1960 to 2007.

On of the most important works on Nigeria foreign policy is Ufot Bassey Inamete, foreign policy decision-making. In Nigeria8, which examines Nigeria’s foreign policy decision-making system together with the other factors that shape and determine foreign policy. It gives the reader an understanding of the foreign policy structures, process, dynamics and outputs in Nigeria. It also looks at how personalities affect foreign policy decision making in Nigeria. The reader also gains an understanding of how foreign policy decision-making system impact on foreign-policy outputs in medium-sized countries. Although, no special attention was given to other foreign policy, this work only focus to showcase the road Nigeria have trended towards its foreign policy decision-making.


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