The Challenges Facing Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in the Next Millennium

by Ebenezer Okpokpo


Since Nigeria became independent in 1960 its foreign policy, like that of most other countries, has witnessed successes and failures. The current debate on President Obasanjo’s list of Ambassadorial nominees sent to the Senate for approval provides Nigerian citizens with an opportunity to contribute to the debate on who should be nominated and why. I will leave relating to the “who and why” to observers more concerned with the internal political situation. My contribution will go beyond the internal debate concerning the disrespect of the “federal character” and the purported bias in these nominations. I will focus on the content and objectives of Nigerian foreign policy in the new millenium.

In his article on Obasanjo’s foreign policy, Reubin Abati, gives an interesting and complete overview of Nigeria’s foreign policy since its independence (1). He rightly points out that Nigeria has been extraordinarily naive by restricting its foreign policy to Africa as its cornerstone. It was a laudable goal before the 1990s, but its evolution is needed for Nigeria to meet the needs of today’s diplomacy as we move into the next millennium. Africa as the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy no longer suffices; a broader perspective is necessary. Although Nigeria hasn’t got the means and might to have a global foreign policy, it should endeavour to take more into consideration current trends in international relations and diplomacy such as globalization, human rights, and democracy.

In my opinion, successive military dictatorships in Nigeria have used the Africa cornerstone slogan to lure compliant like-minded African regimes to support their unpopular regimes. This was the price Nigeria had to pay for the support of dictatorial African states. Now, we are a democracy and we have to speak out and stand tall within the international community. We no longer have to beg for support from other military dictatorships for limited gains within African diplomatic circles. Africa alone should no longer be the one and only reason for the existence of a foreign policy in Nigeria. None of the important international diplomatic actors, such as the USA, France and Great Britain, build their foreign policy on only one pillar. Nigeria shouldn’t be an exception if it wants to play a role in current high level diplomatic circles.

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