In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nigeria

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies
  • Nigeria in Africa

International Relations Nigeria
Gerald McLoughlin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0090


Nigeria is an important actor on the African and global stage. Its foreign practitioners and analysts often define Nigerian interests as operating within four concentric circles. The innermost circle represents Nigeria and its immediate neighbors; the second circle revolves around Nigeria’s relations with its west African neighbors; the third circle focuses on continental African issues; and the fourth circle involves Nigeria’s relations with entities outside Africa. The degree to which Nigeria may influence the four circles is a matter of debate—the fact that it does is not. It is an active participant in the United Nations and in global international affairs. Nigerian leaders often state their ambitions to play a larger role on the international scene. It helped found the two principal organizations of African states, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It remains willing and able to use its military regionally (see Question of Intervention) and, to some degree, outside the region. It has been a major contributor of forces to security operations on the continent and has also long been the largest African contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa and beyond. Nigeria has become an important partner for the United States as well (see US-Nigeria Relations). These developments have generated and animated a vigorous international relations literature on a global scale. Nigeria itself has created high-quality research universities and think tanks since independence. Nevertheless, strong debate continues over how to apply international relations theories and even whether or not the case of Nigeria challenges the applicability or even the validity of these theories (see Nigeria Challenges International Relations Theory). The formation of Nigerian foreign policy and, even its nature, are also subjects of vigorous research and even controversy (see Formation of Nigerian Foreign Policy). This has led to a controversy as whether or not so-called traditional international relations theory (and, in particular, neorealism) applies to Nigeria. Given the volume of material generated, this short article, even with a narrow focus on Nigeria and international relations, cannot attempt to be complete. It will attempt to list some of the more useful and frequently cited generally available work (which also means that it will cite almost exclusively English-language material) on Nigeria and international relations with a strong bias for Nigerian voices. The article will include works from the last few decades of post-independence Nigeria to give the reader a sense of intellectual continuity and change. The article will also focus on international relations commentaries and analyses rather than raw data.

General Overviews

The vast literature on Nigeria lies outside the scope of this article. However, Osaghae 1998 places its foreign policy in a specific historical and social environment with an understated academic approach. This background is partially responsible for the continuity in Nigerian policy as noted in Akindele and Ate 1986 and most famously described by Stremlau 1981. The long-term continuity is in contrast to the sudden changes of fortune Nigeria has experienced. Ilifee 2011 uses the life of President Obasanjo as a window into Nigeria and the world from the 1960s to 2010. In Garba 1991 another architect of Nigerian foreign policy provides a first-person account of foreign policy in the 1970s and why pan-Africanism remains an enduring force in Nigerian foreign relations today. West 1993 expands on this theme in a spirited and optimistic defense of the benign side of Nigerian foreign policy. This is in sharp contrast to Sesay and Ukeje 1997, which examines the dramatic weakening of Nigerian foreign policy in the 1990s. World Bank has produced a series of reports on contemporary Nigerian international economic policy.

  • Akindele, R. A., and B. E. Ate. “Nigeria’s Foreign Policy, 1986–2000 AD: Background to and Reflections on the Views from Kuru.” Africa Spectrum 21.3 (1986): 363–370.

    NNNTwo scholars take a comprehensive overview of Nigerian foreign policy in 1986 and explain why it will remain greatly unchanged by different political regimes. Although dated, it is still an excellent history of Nigerian foreign policy and a good argument for the existence of permanent Nigerian interests.

  • Garba, J. Diplomatic Soldering, The Conduct of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy 1975–1979. Ibadan, Nigeria: Spectrum, 1991.

    NNNThese are fascinating memoirs by one of Nigeria’s leading diplomats and advocate of pan-Africanism. It sets Nigerian foreign policy firmly in the pan-Africanist context.

  • Ilifee, John. Obasanjo, Nigeria and the World. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2011.

    NNNOlusegun Obasanjo was Nigeria’s military head of state (1976–1979) and president (1999–2007). His extraordinarily diverse career makes a useful introduction to Nigeria’s first fifty years of independence and Nigeria’s foreign policy over the decades.

  • Osaghae, Eghosa E. The Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

    NNNThis is an excellent academic and understated overview of Nigeria’s politics, economy, and foreign relations. Rich in detail and context, it provides a useful review of earlier thematic treatments of Nigeria.

  • Sesay, A., and C. U. Ukeje. “The Military, the West, and Nigerian Politics in the 1990s.” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society 11.1 (1997): 25–48.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1025170902945

    NNNThe authors analyze the root causes of Nigeria’s decline in international influence in the 1990s and the reaction of the Western world in a concise discussion of Nigerian foreign policy.

  • Stremlau, John S. “The Fundamentals of Nigerian Foreign Policy.” Issue: A Journal of Opinion 11.1–2 (1981): 46–50.

    NNNThroughout the first twenty years of tumultuous postcolonial history, Nigerian foreign policy has been surprisingly consistent according to Stremlau in this oft-cited essay.

  • West, Hollie I. Basic Currents of Nigerian Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1993.

    NNNStanding in contrast to many other analyses of Nigeria, this presents the case for a more idealistic and optimistic view of Nigerian foreign policy. It is a good read for undergraduates in particular.

  • World Bank.

    NNNOften updated analyses of Nigeria in an international context.

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