1:1Background of the Study
The civilian regime of Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria pursued the same foreign policy and the same objectives adopted by various regimes right from the period of independence. Although the style tends to differ based on the idiosyncrasies of the number one citizen and his foreign affairs team, but the outcome has always remained basically the same. Promotion and protection of the national interests, promotion of African economic integration and support for African unity, promotion of international co-operation, respect for international law and settlement of international dispute are the major objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy as enshrined in section 191 of the Nigerian constitution which various governments tried to adhere to in pursuance of the country’s foreign policy. The focus on Africa as the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy has always been maintained right from 1960. Tafawa Balewa laid the foundation. Shortly after independence, he demonstrated his commitment to the course of Africa by sending a large contingent of Nigerian soldiers and policemen to take part in the UN peace-keeping operations in Congo.1 He also led the attack on South Africa’s domestic policy of Apartheid which segregated the South African population along racial lines.2 Subsequent regimes reinforced the African centred foreign policy in various ways such as playing a leading role in the formation of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS), supporting the struggle for independence in Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia; Murtala/Obasanjo military regime played a significant role in the struggle. Hence, Olusegun Obasanjo still maintained Africa as the central place in the Nigeria’s worldview and policies when he returned as a civilian Head of State in 1999.3
Prior to May 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as a new civilian president, the Nigerian armed forces had ruled the nation continuously for fifteen years. In this same era, Nigeria which was previously celebrated in the world as the foremost African nation fell into the pit of infamy, especially between 1993 and 1998.4 This was as a result of the combination of domestic and external circumstances and the personal idiosyncrasies of the different military rulers which led to policy shifts, twists and turns.5 Hence, the events that made Nigeria to become isolated before the transition to democracy in 1999 can be traced to when Shehu Shagari, a democratically elected president was removed from office through a coup d’état
It is important to note that democracy is partly an instrument for good foreign relations. However, Nigeria lacked this instrument between 1983 and 28 May 1999. On 31 December 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari terminated the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari and placed many Nigerians in detention without any plan for a transition to democracy. Omo Omoruyi posits that there was no readiness on the part of Buhari to return power to the civilians.6 Transition to democracy was not part of his agenda all through his stay in office before he was removed. The situation became worse under the leadership of Ibrahim Babangida due to his high level of deception. He gave different dates of handing over.7 He promised to hand over power four times: 1990, 1992, January 1993, and August, 1993 and four times he failed.8
The decision of the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida to annul the presidential election in 1993 was a major setback to Nigeria’s foreign relations. It was perhaps the most credible election in the history of Nigeria. This was confirmed by majority of Nigerians and foreign observers. The annulment of the election happened at a time when most countries particularly the G7 had made democracy, good governance and human rights essential determining elements in international politics and in their relations with developing nations. Hence, Babangida’s regime gave a lethal blow to Nigeria’s image abroad and its foreign policy in particular.9 Nigeria’s role as Africa’s spokesman began to diminish rapidly.
Worse still, the June 12 Saga was still lingering when General Sani Abacha took over from Ernest Shonekan, the leader of the Interim National Government without any agenda on how to improve Nigeria’s foreign relations. This was reflected in his speech: “…for the international community, we ask you to suspend judgment while we grapple with serious task of nation building… Give us the chance to resolve our problems in our own way.”10 The late General Sani Abacha’s statement is an indication of how he ruled in his own way without adherence to the tenets of rule of law and democratic norms. The violation of human rights which characterized his regime led to the imposition of various sanctions on Nigeria. Abacha’s regime jailed MKO Abiola, the apparent winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election. And Kudirat Abiola who was struggling to restore the mandate of her husband was assassinated. 11 The execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his fellow activists from Ogoni land, the imprisonment of Olusegun Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and the alleged killing of the latter while serving his jail term12 are some of the human rights violations which heightened the disagreement between Nigerian government and members of the international community. Therefore, Nigeria could not escape from the international sanctions. Apart from one of the ECOWAS summits held in Abuja, Abacha never attended any international summit.13 Hence, the need to bring Nigeria back to the comity of nations became inevitable.