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A Tortuous Trajectory: Nigerian Foreign Policy under Military Rule, 1985 – 1999

Emmanuel Osayande


This article critically examined the complexities that abound in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under the final three military administrations of Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalami Abubakar, before the transition to democratic rule in 1999. It adopted a novel approach by identifying and intricately examining a distinct pattern of contortion evinced in Nigeria’s foreign policy during this epoch. It contended that although Nigeria’s foreign policy had historically been somewhat knotty at varying points in time, this period in its foreign policy and external relations was especially marked by tortuousness and a somewhat back and forth agenda. This began in 1985 with the Babangida administration, whose foreign policy posture initially seemed commendable, only for political debacles to mar it. An exacerbation of this downslide in foreign policy occurred under the Abacha regime, whereby the country obtained pariah status among the comity of nations. Subsequently, a revitalisation occurred under General Abubakar, who deviated from what had become the status quo, reinventing Nigeria’s external image and foreign policy position through his ‘restoration campaign.’ More so, following David Gray’s behavioural theory of foreign policy, this study examined how the behavioural patterns and aspirations of a minuscule cadre of decision-makers deeply affected Nigeria’s foreign policy formulation and implementation during the period under study. The findings of this study include national interest, the crux of any foreign policy, sometimes misaligned with domestic realities. In this regard, this study demonstrated how successive Nigerian governments replicated a ‘munificent’, ‘Santa Claus’ foreign policy which alienated key local developments such as economic hardship, and contributed to the tortuousness that the country’s foreign policy experienced during an era of military dictatorships in the late twentieth century. Through its findings, the study concluded by proffering recommendations to improve the country’s foreign policy, better advance her national interests– which ought to comprise the crux of her foreign policy objectives, – and help in eschewing a recurrence of past ineptitudes and errors.

Key Words: Foreign policy, military rule, Nigeria, behavioural theory,

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eISSN: 2070-0083
print ISSN: 1994-9057