Nigeria’s Non-Alignment Policy | Meaning, History & Origin

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Nigeria’s Non-Alignment Policy

Nigeria's Non-Alignment Policy
Nigeria’s Non-Alignment Policy

Nigeria became a member of the Non-Aligned Movement at the independence in 1960. The tone for Nigeria’s non-alignment policy was laid by Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in a speech he made at the House of Representatives on 7th October 1960, six days after Nigeria’s independence.

In the speech, he declared that Nigeria would not join any power bloc and that Nigeria would follow an independent line and “no matter from where the truth comes whether it is from the East or from the West, Nigeria will go to the path of truth”.

The Prime Minister then observed that:

“Many times I hear people say that our policy is not a good one and that we should come out openly and say that we belong either to the West or we belong to the East. I think, Sir, those people are wrong because good may come from the West and good may come from the East and therefore if we bind ourselves to only one group it may mean that we have to close our eyes to whatever good may come from the other group, and I think, sir, that will not be to the advantage of our country”.

On the surface, Balewa’s position appeared reasonable. The point being made by Tafawa Balewa was that Nigeria would not want to tie herself down to any particular ideology. This policy otherwise known as neutralism enjoins member-states not to align themselves with either the western bloc led by the United States or the socialist countries dominated by the former Soviet Union.

By pursuing a non-alignment policy, it was expected that Nigeria would be in a good position to assess an issue objectively rather than blindly commit herself to an issue or a party.

Notwithstanding the official policy of the government that Nigeria was nonaligned, the Balewa government was decidedly pro-West and was neither non-aligned nor neutral in its policies.

In this respect, Akinyemi (1984) reasoned that:

“The consensus among Nigerian scholars now is that the 1960 – 66 foreign policy was politically and economically aligned.”

There is abundant evidence that can be adduced to support this claim. First, the capitalist nature of the Nigerian state reinforces her alignment to western powers such as Britain.

Second, the foreign capital and aid which sustained the Nigerian economy came largely from the western financial markets and the government had a responsibility to develop “friendly” policies “that would not drive the capital away”.

Another example of the failure of the Tafawa Balewa government to disengage itself from the West was Prime Minister Balewa’s warning to the UN General Assembly in 1960 that “we shall not forget our old {Western) friends”.

To demonstrate its commitment to the West, the Balewa government signed the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact with Britain in 1960. On issues that related to disarmament, Nigeria has always supported the western powers.

Nigeria was also one of the Commonwealth countries that insisted that South Africa must be expelled from the body when she became a republic in 1962. Again, in 1960 Nigeria rejected the Soviet Union’s offer of a loan “at 21/2 percent and without strings” to Nigeria on the ground that “it is better to deal only with those we are accustomed to”.

Thus, the non-alignment posture of the Tafawa Balewa government was a “smokescreen for adherence to a pro-west position”. In the words of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa could hardly take any major foreign policy decision without first consulting the British government.”

As said before, the pro-West policy of the Tafawa Balewa government was slightly altered by the Yakubu Gowon government during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. The failure of her western friends to support the country politically and militarily during the war made Nigeria to seek for help in Eastern Europe.

Nigeria signed several military, economic and cultural agreements with many East European socialist states and signed an agreement with the former Soviet Union for the establishment of an iron and steel industry in Nigeria. In spite of these, Nigeria still maintained close relations with the Western countries, her traditional allies – a case of old friends are better than new ones.

But a friend in need is a friend indeed. Immediately the Gowon regime was sacked by some military officers in 1975, Yakubu Gowon himself headed for Britain where he did a degree in Political Science.

The Murtala Mohammed government which overthrew the Gowon government in July 1975 was a bit more decisive in its non-alignment policy.

Despite the pressure mounted on the government by the United States of America government, the Murtala regime recognized the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) during the Angola crises and “gave N13.5 million and military supplies to the MPLA government and launched a diplomatic blitzkrieg among African states on behalf of the MPLA for recognition.”

As expected, this radical policy thrust brought the Murtala / Obasanjo regime into confrontation with the Ford Administration of the United States which insisted that Nigeria must toe the western position on Angola. Notwithstanding threats from western governments, the Murtala government maintained its neutralist position on Angola and other foreign policy issues.

The assassination of General Murtala Mohammed on February 13, 1976 did not result in a radical change in the country’s newly found dynamism in her non-alignment policy.

The dynamic position of the Murtala / Obasanjo regime apparently manifested itself in the nationalisation of British Petroleum (BP) over its business connection with companies in apatheid South Africa. The regime even adopted a low profile and self-reliance policy which discouraged importation of goods especially from the industrialised western countries.

Successive Nigerian governments (military or civilian) have adopted the non-alignment policy as an article of faith although there are subtle variations in the application of the policy. For example, while the Shagari Administration only paid lip service to non-alignment, the Buhari regime rejected the directives of the western-inspired international financial institutions that it should adopt structural adjustment programme, a demand which the Babangida regime enthusiastically embraced.

The application of the policy by the civilian governments of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan which may be classified as right wing governments does not depart markedly from the position of Tafawa Balewa or Shehu Shagari on non-alignment.

Admittedly, the situation is not helped by the emergence of a unipolar world since the end of the Cold War and the gradual decline of nonalightment itself.

The nature of the country’s foreign policy (and in particular, its nonalignment policy) is determined primarily by its domestic policies. The environment in which Nigeria’s non-alignment policy is operated is described by a perceptive observer as follows:

“The Nigerian economy is one of state intervention at one end and open market operation at another pole at one and the same time.”

It is one in which the modern sector operates alongside the traditional sector. Most capital inflow come in for direct investments Loans were obtained to finance the provision of infrastructural facilities that would create the enabling environment for investments.

The loan burden has subjected the national economy to the dictates of the Iinternational Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Economic plans tend to be the joint initiation of national public officers and the officials of these international institutions.

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