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National interest and Nigeria foreign policy under Obasanjo’s administration An evaluation on the Nigeria-Cameroun border dispute over Bakassi peninsula

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National interest and Nigeria foreign policy under Obasanjo’s administration An evaluation on the Nigeria-Cameroun border dispute over Bakassi peninsula



  • Background of the Study

The history of Nigerian foreign policy since 1960 has constantly been changing, though the principles guiding her foreign relations remain the same. Nigerian leaders are largely responsible for these unstable external relations. Since Nigeria’s foreign policy is deeply rooted in Africa with strategic emphasis on political and economic cooperation, peaceful dispute resolution, and global nonalignment Ogunbanjo (2012) Nigerian leaders also have their attention fixed on the successful implementation of these principles. However, the influence of personality on Nigeria’s relations with other countries cannot be totally ignored as different leaders adopt different styles in conducting external relations.

Examining the personality of the leader both at the theoretical and practical levels is therefore important in understanding Nigeria’s foreign policy. Again, analysis of Nigeria’s foreign policy show that her leaders operate within four “concentric circles” of national interest. The innermost circle represents Nigeria’s own security, independence and prosperity and is centered on its immediate neighborurs – Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger; the second circle revolves around Nigeria’s relations with its West African neighbors; the third circle focuses on continental African issues of peace, development and democratization; and the fourth circle involves Nigeria’s relations with organizations, institutions and states outside Africa (Adebajo, 2008). With this in mind, each Nigerian head of state or president work to ensure that no single part is defected in pursuing the country’s foreign policy. Evidences abound on how past Nigerian heads of state or presidents have worked within these four concentric circles.

At independence, Nigeria as a sovereign state began to conduct her foreign relations under the political and governmental leadership of its Prime Minister, the late Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa whose administration emphasized Africa to be centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. His own foreign relation was pro-west particular with Britain, Nigeria’s erstwhile colonial master. With the bloody military coup of January 15, 1966, the late Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi came to power only, to be killed in a counter coup staged six months later. This development brought the General Yakubu Gowon to power. Gowon borrowed a leaf from Balewa by being pro-West in his foreign affairs. He entered into agreement with Britain, the United States and other Europeans countries. However, his administration reluctantly allowed the Soviet Union to open its embassy in Lagos.

The Gowon led Federal Military Government was sacked in a bloodless coup which led to the assumption of power by the late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed and the General (now Chief) Olusegun Obasanjo who was his second in command and Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters.

The assumption of power by these two men served as a catalyst in the history of international relations as far as Nigeria was concerned. Their government injected new innovations and dynamism into the nation’s foreign affairs. Mohammed was prepared to counter the imperial moves of the Western powers especially the United States who had emerged as a major power broker in Africa particularly in Angola. Britain and Portugal also became targets of the new military administration while not leaving Cube, a surrogate of the Soviet Union both of whom were present in Angola, challenging the United States (US) presence there. These Western Powers, Cuba as wells as South Africa became the target of Mohammed/Obasanjo military regime in Africa. One basic fact that must be stressed is the fact that this was the age of the Cold War during which the US and the Soviet Union were competing for military supremacy and searching for satellite countries who would support them in their bid to permanently polarize the world into Capitalist and Communist Blocs under the US and Soviet Union respectively.

Given the above situation the Muhammed Obasanjo regime arose as a diplomatic gadfly ready to sting these powers in its resolve to emancipate African countries that were still under the tyranny of colonial masters; eradicate neo-colonialism, racism and apartheid on the African continent particularly in Portuguese colonies in Africa and racism/apartheid in Southern Africa.

With all these involvements in international politics, Nigeria became a regional power and center of influence, particularly in Africa. This combined with a viable economy until the mid-1980s, Nigeria was a toast of many states seeking either its influence or support on global issues or financial assistance. Concomitantly, Nigerians were respected abroad, while the tendency to emigrate abroad was not popular. Fraudulent tendencies on the part of Nigerians abroad were at the lowest ebb.

However, the post-Shagari administration’s military regimes played deciding roles in the image- destruction of the Nigerian state in foreign affairs. Thus, the period covering 1980-1999, Nigeria’s foreign policy during this period received some setbacks. First, the draconian policies of the Buhari regime attracted wide criticism from the international community. Second, the failure of the economic diplomacy of Gen. I.B. Babangida through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and subsequent annulment of June 12, 1993 general elections led to the breakdown of domestic policies in the country. Third, the Bazuka foreign policy style of late Gen. Sani Abacha further deteriorated the foreign image of Nigeria especially with its key allies in Europe and America. These were the situations when President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, at inauguration in May, 1999, inherited a nation with a battered image and without credibility externally. In his determination to regain Nigeria’s lost glory and re-integrate it tothe civilized world, he engaged in a deft shuttle diplomacy across the major capitals of the globe. The president, during his extensive foreign trips, have addressed the UN, ECOWAS, the Group of 8 (G-8), Group 77 (G-77), the Commonwealth, African Union (AU) and EU.

The nation has achieved significant gains through the regime’s shuttle diplomacy. Apart from the psychological relief following its re-integration and accommodations into the world affairs, Nigeria had assumed the leadership of several international organizations notably the ECOWAS, AU, and G-77. It had hosted very important international summits including those of the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government and the AU in 2004, the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) in 2005, and severally, the ECOWAS since 1999. The nation had also hosted the All Africa Games in 2004. Obasanjo had been the guest of honour to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in May 2004 (Okpoto, 2000). All these imply that the international system has restored its confidence in Nigeria. The regime’s economic diplomacy also has yielded economic dividends for the nation. In addition to increased Development Finance Inflow (DFI) and foreign investments, the Paris Club had cancelled $18 billion (60%) of the nation’s over $30 billion external, a gesture, which signifies the Club’s confidence in the nation’s economy and credibility as an external debtor (Inamete, 2001). Generally, Nigeria’s increasing profile in its foreign relations implies that the nation has regained its role as a leading player in multilateral politics and diplomacy.

It can be said therefore that period covering 1999-2007 Nigeria’s foreign policy received a new turn in restoring the image of the country through a global shuttle diplomacy of President Olusegun Obasanjo Therefore, the focus of this present study is to examine the role played by President Olusegun Obasanjo in restoring the image of the country, analyze his foreign policy posture and give a critical appraisal of the success and failures in terms of domestic and international repositioning.

  • Statement of the Problem

One of the reasons adduced in the literature replicating itself within the causal factors responsible for outbreak disagreements and disputes between states, it is none other than boundary related disputes. The world in general and indeed Africa in particular is sated with such disputes.  Nevertheless, boundary or territorial disputes between nation-states are based on rival or competing interests. The protracted disagreement between Cameroon and Nigeria over the legitimate ownership of the coveted Bakassi Peninsula and the neighbouring bordering territories from Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean, obviously settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), offers an analogy of judicial arbitration of disputes at the international tier of judicial resolution.

Relations between Nigeria and other state and non–state actors in international politics from 1999 onward were based on democratic principles. The tit-for-tat diplomacy of late Gen. Sani Abacha, de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 to 1998 had greatly damaged the image of Nigeria. The government was accused of human rights abuses and was repeatedly condemned by the U.S. State Department. There were break in relationship with many countries with threats of economic sanctions from others. Apart from this, the government was characterized by an inconsistent foreign policy which made Nigeria a scorn in the comity of nations. The coming of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the various reforms which he embarked upon actually brought Nigeria out of the messy situation that Gen. Sani Abacha led the country into. For President Olusegun Obasanjo to have achieved such a feat in restoring the image of the country deserves scholarly attention.

Territorial claims, ideology, colonialism, nationalism, religion and natural resources have typically been the main sources of conflict throughout the world. While the influence of some of these is waning, struggles for the control of valuable natural resources have remained a persistent feature of national and international affairs for decades. In addition to helping some of the most corrupt and oppressive regimes to remain in power, natural resources have been fuelling conflicts within and between African countries. Such conflict situations typically take the form of territorial disputes over the possession of oil-laden border areas, factional struggles among the leaders of oil-rich countries, and major inter-state wars over the control of vital oil and mineral zones (Klare 2004). The border between Cameroon and Nigeria extending from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea has been a bone of contention between the two territories dating back to 1913. However, the knowledge that the Bakassi Peninsula harbours important deposits of oil/gas reserves triggered mounting hostilities and military confrontations in the early 1990s between Cameroon and Nigeria.Against the backdrop of rival national interests, the ICJ succeeded via the employment of international laws, theories and policies in declaring the Cameroons as having sole sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula. The verdict of the ICJ was passed on the basis of the Anglo-German colonial accords of 1913 and the successor legal agreements concerning both territories.

The peaceful method, by which this particular case was resolved, merits it to be hailed as a conflict resolution success landmark, for the bilateral and multilateral actors involved. In showing that the disagreement triggered an escalation of diplomatic friction between both nation-states, it is necessary to remember how both nations also went into a miniature war in the year 1981 or in 1993. The Lake Chad basin area was also involved as a major stake in the dispute, on the basis of the fact that it is located between the borderlands of both nations. It is after the ruling from the ICJ on the 10th of October 2002 that the diplomatic tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon were eased.

Nevertheless, there were some Impedance to the implementation of the verdict, seen in the fact that within five years of the ICJ’s ruling on the sovereignty of the peninsula, on the 10th of October 2002, Nigeria expressing some doubts and denouncement on the same verdict. For example, on the 22nd of November 2007, the Nigerian legislature vehemently rejected the transfer of the Green Tea accord to Cameroon, when it cited the 1999 Nigerian Constitution’s Section 12(1). This constellation can in part be blamed on the lack of an enforcement mechanism by the ICJ or the United Nations, which leaves the observance of the verdict at the discretion and good faith of the countries involved in the conflict. This aforementioned absence of an enforcement structure by the ICJ therefore introduces the dual issues of national interests and the moral obligation to abide by international law. National interest is regarded as the economic, cultural or military goals and ambitions of a country. A primary facet of national interest is the survival and security of the state but in the Bakassi dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon, the pivotal facet was economical which also translates to state survival. It is against this that the following research questions were drawn:

  • How did the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon affect the economic interest of Nigeria?
  • What are the challenges posed by the Ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon on Security interest of Nigeria?
  • How did the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon affect the territorial integrity of Nigeria?
    • Objectives of the study

This study seeks to ascertain National interest and Nigeria foreign policy under Obasanjo’s administration; taking a critical evaluation on the Nigeria/Cameroun border dispute over the Bakassi peninsula. Specifically, it is set to achieve the following objectives:

  • To examine the effects ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun on Nigeria’s economic interest.
  • To determine challenges posed by the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun on security interest of Nigeria.
  • To ascertain how ceding Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun affect the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
    • Research Hypotheses

The following hypotheses were formed to guide the study:

  1. H0:There is no significant effect on ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun on Nigeria’s economic interest.

H1: There is significant effect on ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun on Nigeria’s economic interest.

  1. H02:The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun has no effect on security interest of Nigeria.

H12:The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun has effect on security interest of Nigeria.

  1. H03: The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun does not affect the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

H13: The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun affects the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

  • Significance of the Study

The subject of possession of the Bakassi Peninsula was a long-standing or lingering disagreement that encompassed or entailed many bids by leaders of both states to quell. As a matter of fact, the claims laid by both Nigeria and Cameroon to the Peninsula led to the outbreak of violence on many occasions. The dispute was deemed embarrassing for both states, on the basis of the fact that they both have a chronicle of avoiding or preventing territorial campaigns. Nevertheless, for both populace who have historically deemed Bakassi an appendage of their territorial borders, it was unfathomable. On the part of Nigeria and Cameroon, the subject was a very touchy issue.

First, the study is of paramount importance to decision makers and the would-be diplomats for it traces the historical development of Nigeria foreign policy since 1960.

Again, it helps to re-affirm the bold attempt made by the democratic government under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo to rebuild the lost image of Nigeria in the comity of nations by addressing the issues of corruption, debt and political tensions in the country.

Moreso, this research work will help in providing information on the domestic factors that influenced Nigeria’s foreign policy under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.

Furthermore, it is useful to scholars’ especially diplomatic historians, political scientists, economists and international relations experts in their research. Diplomats like ambassadors, high commissioners and staffers of foreign ministries will benefit from the work.

Finally, the political and military class will learn, through this study, the need for patriotism and also better ways for conflict resolution.

  • Scope and Limitations of the study

This study focuses on National interest and Nigeria foreign policy under Obasanjo’s administration; A critical evaluation on the Nigeria/Cameroun border dispute over the Bakassi peninsula. It looks at the influence of personality on the conduct of foreign policy. It addressed the challenges posed by the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon on the security interest of Nigeria; how it affected the territorial integrity of Nigeria and how it affected the economic interest of Nigeria.

In producing such a work like this, the problem confronting the researcher is not the scarcity of materials but its availability some of which are bias in their presentation. Moreso, this research work is contemporary and politically sensitive. The researcher therefore is confronted with the problem of interpretation of the actions of President Olusegun Obasanjo as some of the policies initiated are still an on-ongoing process.

    Finally, there is the question of time and fund which may serve as impediments to this research. Nevertheless, these limitating factors will greatly be managed to make the research work more objective in its presentation.

  • Theoretical framework

The theory adopted for this study was zero-sum game. In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant’s gain (or loss) of utility is exactly balanced by the losses (or gains) of the utility of the other participant(s). If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero.

Therefore the Bakassi peninsula dispute is a classic example of a zero-sum game type. A zero-sum game, according to M. Nicholson (1997), is the case of pure conflict where interests are totally opposed. Such purity, even if sinister, is rare in human life. Zero-sum games are also a situation where the outcomes of negotiation or effort at settling disputes are a win-lose situation. Nicholson emphasizes that in situations of strong hostility, a conflict game can approach zero-sum, adding that these games are not without application in the real world. The disturbing thing about the Bakassi peninsula dispute is that, given the zero-sum character of claims, it is going to be difficult to understand the entire case given only the positions of the two leading antagonists—Cameroun and Nigeria—without the introduction of more evidence. Hence the need of each of the country in protection of territorial integrity, economic interest, as well as the security concern of the two countries.

One would expect that with the introduction of more evidence from the Ambazonia side that both Cameroun and Nigeria authorities would react with cool-headedness, and withdraw their forces from Bakassi and the entire territory of Ambazonia. On the contrary, Nicholson warns that in such situations, “at the precise moment when rational assessment and rational decision should be paramount, such procedures are particularly under threat.”

  • Operational Definition of Terms

The following words as used in the research work were explained below:

National:        This means nation or a country.

Interest: The feeling of wanting to know or learn about something orsomeone

Policy:  A course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organization or individual      

Administration:      The management of public affairs; government.

Foreign:         …of, from, in, or characteristic of a country or language other than one’s own

Bakassi Peninsula: As used in this research work, Bakassi is a peninsula on the African Atlantic Gulf of Guinea. It lies between the Cross River estuary, near the city of Calabar in the west, and the Rio del Ray estuary on the east.

Economy: The state of a country or region in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money.

Growth:         Something that has grown or is growing.

Colonialism:  The policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Diplomacy:    The profession, activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad.

Imperialism:  A policy of extending a country’s power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means.

Partnership:  An association of two or more people as partners.

Conflict:        A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

Government:                 The group of people with the authority to govern a country or state; a particular ministry in office.

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