Nigeria Foreign Policy
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
Gowon reaffirmed the priorities in foreign policy established at independence. These included active participation in the UN, advocacy of pan-African solidarity through the Organization of African Unity (OAU), regional cooperation, support for anticolonial and liberation movements--particularly those in southern Africa--and nonalignment in the East-West conflict. The role of Nigeria in world affairs, outside its African concerns, was insignificant, however.
Nigeria was admitted to the UN within a week of independence in 1960. It was represented on the committees of specialized agencies and took its turn as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council. One of Nigeria's earliest and most significant contributions to the UN was to furnish troops for the peacekeeping operation in Zaire in the early 1960s. By 1964 Nigerian army units, under Ironsi's command, formed the backbone of the UN force. The FMG was committed to eliminating whiteminority rule in Africa, and it channeled financial and military aid to liberation movements through the OAU.
Although there was considerable African criticism of Nigeria during the civil war, the military government resisted this pressure as interference in the country's internal affairs. An OAU statement in 1967 backing the federal position on national unity assuaged Nigerian feelings to some extent, but Lagos protested subsequent OAU efforts to bring about a cease-fire. When the war ended, Nigeria's participation in OAU activities returned to normal.
There were minor problems relating to border demarcations with neighboring countries, but these were resolved to the satisfaction of the parties involved. Relations also were mended with African states that had recognized Biafra. Particularly close ties were developed with the military regime in Ghana, which gave full support to the federal government during the civil war. In 1975 Nigeria joined other West African countries in creating the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whose mandate was the reduction of trade barriers among countries in the region. Sponsored by Gowon, the agreement was indicative of the government's concern with improving intraregional economic ties.
Nigeria played an active role in the Commonwealth, which linked Nigeria to developing countries outside Africa and complemented regional ties through ECOWAS and the OAU. Financial and technical assistance was channeled to Nigeria through the Commonwealth. The aid came from Britain, Canada, and Australia, with which Nigeria had advantageous trade relations. Nigeria's interaction with Britain continued to be cooperative, although the renewal of arms sales to South Africa, permitted by the Conservative British government in the early 1970s, caused some strain in Nigeria. Relations cooled even more because of Nigeria's apprehension over Britain's application for entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). Nigeria feared that it would suffer economically as a result of British membership in the EEC.
The FMG was committed to the principle of nonalignment, a policy initially established in the early years of independence. Acceptance of Western aid--including US$225 million from the United States in the early years of independence--tended to undermine this position. Nigeria had begun to move toward a more autonomous position in 1962, when the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact was abrogated. With this step, Nigeria affirmed its independence of British foreign policy to which it had adhered since achieving nationhood. The abrogation of the pact was a clear message of nonalignment. During the war, the federal government accepted assistance from both East and West. Aircraft and heavy equipment were purchased from the Soviet Union, for example, because Britain and the United States refused to supply heavy armaments. Nigeria's relations with the United States were good, largely because the United States provided financial aid and recognized the FMG during the civil war. United States ties with South Africa and Portugal caused some friction on the official level, and there was considerable criticism in the Nigerian press. The Nigerian version of nonalignment had a slightly pro-Western tilt.
Data as of June 1991
NOTE: The information regarding Nigeria on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nigeria Foreign Policy information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nigeria Foreign Policy should be addressed to the Library of Congress.