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Essay: US – Nigerian relations

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  • Published: 21 September 2015*
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No country is self sustained, neither can it dwell in isolation, hence once a state is liberated and attains independence, it legally acquires the administrative capacity to conduct its affairs in relation with other sovereign entities in the international sphere. This consideration is usually in accordance with the priority of the states national interest. Frankel stated; (cited in Ghosh, 2009:62), that national interest ‘refers to some ideal set of goals, which a state would like to realize if possible, in its relations with other states in the international system.’Moreover, ‘The pursuit of national interest over the years presupposes that a nation preoccupies itself with the provision of security, military and economic for its citizenry’ (Omede, 2003).
The perspective views of the above scholars of international relations translates, what external relations amongst nations comprises of with reference to issues bordering on economic, political, security and socio-cultural factors. Nigeria’s political life has been dominated by military coups and long military imposed transitional programs to civilian rule. The military has ruled Nigeria for approximately 28 of its 43years since independence (CRS Report for Congress, Nigeria: Background and U.S relations. January 26, 2007). Nigeria suffices as Africa’s most populous state, with abundance in natural resources with immense reserves in oil and gas. Nigeria attained international recognition, as a reckonable force in Africa; by virtue of its population, geography and most especially its mineral resources, which facilitated her position as a power on the continent with which world powers sort to liaise with.
Nigeria’s relations with the United States date back to the 1960s, though constantly changing the principles which govern their relation remains the same. Over the years Nigerian leaderships have implemented dictions which at times, have conflicted with U.S policy interests however, the two countries have always found common grounds in which to resolve their differences and improve their relations. The sole aim of this paper is to discern the relevant intertwining factors which bind both parties in relations and the issues which had in-avertedly affected their relationship over the years.
Chapter 1:
The first official recognized contact between Nigeria and the United States was when Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York represented President Eisenhower at Nigeria’s independence ceremony on October 1, 1960. Of which, a message from the American President was delivered to the Nigerian people. President Eisenhower’s message assured Nigeria’s leader of U.S support but cautioned on the possible threats coming from without- an ostensible reference to the former Soviet Union. On account of President Eisenhower’s message, this stressed the need for Nigeria to become an ally of the west.
However, on the contrary the Prime Minister late (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa addressed the fact that, he did not want the country’s newly found independence to be dragged into the rivalry between the east and the west. He declared this, in the Nigeria admission speech to the United Nations stating that, as a matter of policy Nigeria would remain neutral to any power bloc. The U.S policy towards Nigeria in the cold war was guided by two key issues; the containment of communism expansion, the provision of aid and the strengthening of bilateral economic ties (Ayam, John A. Journal of Third World Studies. Vol. 25, No. 2. Fall 2008).
According to the U.S State Department, ‘the primary interest of the U.S in Nigeria was to see it grow and prosper within the free world, as a leader and good example for other African Countries.’ It was in this context that a five man U.S delegation visited Nigeria in June 1960 to study the areas of possible economic cooperation. On the basis of the economic mission’s recommendations, in 1961 the United States announced that, it would provide Nigeria with $225 million in economic development aid over five years.
On October 1, 1963, Nigeria became a Federal Republic and severed whatever ties were left with Britain. The federal system of government adopted by Nigeria, was fashioned after the U.S model, given the similarities in population and seize of both countries. During the first six years of independence that is, between 1960 to1966 Nigeria had bilateral ties with the United States and this had serious political consequences for its foreign policy. The United States in particular provided more than 50 percent of $949.2 million for the 1962-1968 National Development Plan (African Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 3.No 4, 2013.p. 204).
Nigeria after independence had been saddled with numerous ethnic issues mostly resulting from the political ruling class at the time, which were predominately Northerners. Given the population and geography, Nigeria suffices as multi-ethnical state with various tribes and cultures encompassed, however due to colonial exigencies Nigeria was unevenly demarcated to facilitate smooth governance instead of a more ethnic coherence.
Lord Lugard with the expansionist agenda for the benefits of the British and the British economy brought these ‘two strange bed fellows’ together through the Amalgamation of Nigeria Act of 1914 (Nicolson, 1969). This solitary action had been the bane of Nigeria’s existence also; coupled with the rising length of corruption amongst statesmen in the first republic, lead to the military take-over in the late 1960s.
The size of the Nigerian Armed Forces was small but disciplined and used mainly for ceremonial duties until January 1966 when they became involved in the Nigerian politics (Janowitz, 1971). The first military intervention in Nigeria was through a very bloody coup led by Major Nzeogwu on 15 January, 1966 about five years after independence on 1 October, 1960 (Osoba, 1996).
The coups and counter coups that started in 1966 ended in the Nigerian civil war in 1967(Canadian Social Science, vol. 8no. 6, 2012, pp.45-53). The outbreak of the Nigerian civil war in 1967 marked a decisive and crucial turning point in the evolution of Nigerian-U.S relations. Oyema, (2013) observed that ‘Americas support for Nigeria was delicate and complicated. America developed pro-Biafra sympathies and rallied with the secessionist movement’.
Thus, the American indifference and perceived reluctance to support the Nigerian government during the war led to Nigeria’s strange romance with the Soviet Union. Subsequently the Soviet Union became the major arms supplier to the Federal Military Government of Nigeria at the outset of the war when the U.S embargoed arms on both sides (Elombah, 2012). U.S perception was that; the Nigerian civil war was, by definition an internal war, and the U.S respected the sovereignty of Nigeria. They further stated that, the U.S did not interfere in political disputes (U.S State Department, July. 12, 1967).
Immediately after the war Nigeria normalized and strengthened its relations with the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. According to: (Stremlau, 1977) Gowon learned through personal experience that, U.S policy during the 1960s was guided by the self-interested principles of realpolitik where as he stated, ‘government have no friends or enemies, just interests.’ U.S position on the issue was affirmed in a telegram by the U.S Ambassador to both the administration of Johnson and Nixon which stated;
‘I (Ambassador Mathew) can only express fervent hope that administration, present and incoming, will take firm stand against any US military involvement.’
Due to the cause of U.S actions during the Biafra war Nigeria chose to redress their external policies towards the U.S which evoked a chain of subsequent events under the next military administration. The government of Murtala/Obasanjo in August 1975 maintained a confrontational foreign policy. Nigeria challenged the activities of the U.S government in Africa and worked on the integration of West African countries. Acknowledging the continued power of oil, the U.S took Nigeria seriously for the fear that, ‘Nigeria might use its oil as political tool in its relationship with the United States’ (U.S Congress, 1979:49).
The Nixon administration then announced that, U.S would ‘intervene militarily to ensure the continuation of oil to western countries’. In 1975 the Nigerian military invaded and occupied the U.S Information Service Headquarters. This was followed by Nigerian government refusal to receive the U.S Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger on three occasions.
The U.S Embassy was also attacked by demonstrators for alleged American complicity in the Angolan civil war and alleged American involvement in the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed (Lyman, 1988). Nixon’s public declaration foresighted the military use of force, to protect the industry. Despite these perceived threats, Nigeria used their oil leverage to accumulate substantive power and money throughout the 1970s (Okoji, 2000). The U.S Nigerian relationship in the next decade deteriorated further more, due to the new military leaderships that ensued later.
The three synonymous military leaderships which affected the course of Nigeria’s history and its foreign relations with the U.S were between the timeline of the mid 1980s to the late 1990s.Where the U.S specifically refused any diplomatic relation with Nigeria owing to the alarming rate of human right violations and the punitive level of corruption in the country at the time.

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