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Unity without unification: the development of Nigeria's 'inside-out' approach to African political integration, 1937-1963.

Addressing a seminar on the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity) held at Abuja, Nigeria, in mid-May 2001, Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria, expressed much optimism regarding the potential of the organization. Specifically, he suggested that its design benefited from an analysis of the failures of the integration process in Africa. African states, according to Obasanjo, had failed to integrate primarily due to a lack of political will of their governments "to subordinate domestic political and economic interests to supranational institutions with long-term regional goals." (1) More importantly, Obasanjo stated that "the African Union is the final goal of African Unity that African leaders have been pursuing for more than 40 years." He then told Nigerians that the "management of their political, social and economic affairs [would] be integrated into those of the African continent." Nigeria, he declared, had not only shared this Pan-African vision, it had always worked toward its achievement. (2)

Neither of the latter two assertions is beyond question. Regarding the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), Obasanjo's declaration that the African Union represents the culmination of a consensual quest that is more than four decades old is an exaggerated claim? Moreover, considering the tenor of Nigeria's African policy since gaining its independence, such a role for Nigeria would have been revolutionary. Such claims raise several questions: Which Nigerian leaders should be included amongst those African leaders who pursued the goal of union for over four decades? Which Nigeria has always shared this vision of union? Both questions give rise to a third query: What has been Nigeria's attitude toward surrendering its sovereignty?

This paper focuses on the nature and sources of Nigeria's attitude toward African political integration before the founding of the OAU (1963). In so doing, it examines the emergence of the discourse on Nigerian identity during the quarter century that preceded the establishment of the OAU. It argues that the domination of the emerging Nigerian political scene in the 1920s and 1930s by non-Nigerian Africans, efforts to undo that trend, and a growing awareness of Nigeria's material wealth produced a strong sense of national identity and power. At the same time, it fostered a tendency toward isolationism which precluded absorbing or dominating, as well as being absorbed or dominated by other states. This 'inside-out' or country-first approach toward African political association represented an ideological compromise between Nigeria's need to retain its identity and sovereignty, and the necessity of participating in international affairs. That compromise found expression in the concept of 'unity without unification.'

The Realist Identity of the OAU

Before 1963, two antagonistic political and ideological alliances, the Casablanca and Monrovia blocs, dominated interstate politics in Africa. These groups essentially differed over what type of political association independent African states should form. The Casablanca bloc, composed of radical states (e.g., Morocco, Ghana, and Guinea), wanted a political union or fusion of African states; the Monrovia bloc, a group of moderate to conservative pro-western states (e.g., Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal), merely sought functional, or non-political cooperation (i.e., transportation, communication, and education) among African states? As political scientist Zdenek Cervenka explains, "the Casablanca group was convinced that political unity was a prerequisite for the subsequent integration of African economies, while the Monrovia group maintained that African unity should be approached through economic cooperation only." (5) The OAU thus represented "a compromise between [these] radically differing views of African unity." (6) As such, it is viewed as "a largely negative agreement--not to move too much to the left nor too far to the right." (7) Does it not follow then that the OAU, like all compromises, would prove to be ineffective and lack both stability and identity?

This generally accepted view regarding the establishment of the OAU is flawed. Such a perspective substitutes the views of particular states and their leaders for the positions of the Casablanca and Monrovia groups. Apart from statements of affirmation of the Casablanca group to "preserve and consolidate our identity of view and unity of action in international affairs," and the goal of its African Political Committee to coordinate and unify "the general policy of the various African States," there is nothing in the African Charter of Casablanca (1961) which suggests that its members wanted a political union of African states. (8) Furthermore, as journalist Colin Legum points out, "although Dr. [Kwame] Nkrumah [, the first president of Ghana and one of the founders of Pan-Africanism] argued strongly at the Casablanca Conference for political union, his proposal was not accepted." (39)

The goal of association, advocated by both groups, was the promotion of African unity. The Monrovia group defined this as "unity of aspirations and of action considered from the point of view of African social solidarity and political identity." (10) The closest provision to the idea of functional cooperation advocated by the Monrovia group concerns the establishment of a "technical commission of experts" who would develop "detailed plans for economic, educational, cultural, scientific and technical cooperation, as well as for communications and transportation among African and Malagasy States." (11) The Casablanca Charter also sought to create "an effective form of co-operation among the African States in the economic, social and cultural domains," and considered one of the most urgent tasks of its African Economic Committee to be the establishment of "postal and telecommunication links among the various African Capitals." (12) Both groups thus appeared to have been closer in their aims than they differed.

The principles that African states adopted at Addis Ababa to regulate inter-state relations, the principles that gave identity to the OAU--equal sovereignty of member states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states--were ideas championed by the Monrovia bloc. As such, this group shaped the identity of the OAU, which can be defined as pro-sovereignty, pro-fragmentation, anti-integrationist, and realist. (13)

Analysis of Nigeria's Contributions in Shaping the Identity of the OAU

Attempts have been made to establish causal connections between Nigeria, its leadership, and its foreign policy orientation and the making of the realist identity, or conservative outlook, of the Monrovia group and the OAU. While celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organization, Ike Nwachukwu, Nigeria's foreign affairs minister under President Ibrahim Babangida (1985-93), recalled with pride the contributions of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa's government (1960-66), which, he asserted, "was largely responsible for translating the dream of African unity into practical reality." Balewa accomplished this, Babangida continued, by hosting crucial preparatory meetings in Lagos so that the "principles outlined by the Nigerian delegation at the Pan-African Summit in Addis Ababa in 1963 were adopted and incorporated into the OAU Charter. It is therefore not an exaggeration to suggest that the OAU was conceived in Lagos and born in Addis Ababa." (14) These principles, according to international relations specialist Obajide Aluko, "can be found in one form or the other under Articles II and III of the Charter of the OAU which owed much to the views of Sir Abubakar [Tafawa Belawa], and ... other leaders of the Monrovia group." These were the same principles that guided the formulation and conduct of Nigeria's African policy. (15) In fact, as Aluko points out, the Charter was drawn up by Teslim Elias, Nigeria's justice minister and attorney-general. (16)

The reference to Balewa, his personal preferences, social habits, religious inclinations, government, and the state of domestic politics during his rule as the source of these principles is usually meant to blame him for the weaknesses in Nigeria's foreign policy. Such criticism posits that the Balewa government "maintained a consistency between its domestic and foreign policies in the sense that a streak of conservatism ran through both." (17) If so, one can argue that the limitations of Nigeria's foreign policy in the early 1960s constituted an "external projection of the defective nature of the process and substance of the country's domestic politics." More specifically, the "absence of an articulated national ideology, or even nation-wide political consciousness," left the formulation and conduct of Nigeria's foreign policy open to "confrontation between radical and conservative elements in the country." Confrontation produced compromises, and since Balewa was "not averse to compromise ... Nigeria's foreign policy tended towards deliberate vagueness, timidity and vacillation." As a consequence, Nigeria "opted for a weak Organisation [sic] of African Unity." (18)

This argument suffers from its eclecticism, hypothetical character, and poor comparative and historical insight. Oladapo Fafowora, a Nigerian diplomat in the late 1970s and early 1980s, maintains that Balewa's "policy of moderation and accommodation" caused him to turn a deaf ear towards the "popular demand for the immediate political union of Africa." Given such domestic variables as the pursuit of opposing foreign policies by Nigeria's constituent regions and Balewa's fear of alienating those groups, together with the country's weak economic situation during its peaceful transition from colony to independent nation, the "Balewa government was compelled by sheer force of logic and prudence to respond to African issues in an eclectic and hesitant manner." This approach, Farfowa insists, reflected Balewa's "personal predilection." (19)

Contrary to Fafowora's claim that there was an "absence of a national consensus on foreign policy," (20) the three regional parties (Northern People's Congress (NPC), Action Group (AG), and the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) in the north, west, and east, respectively) hardly disagreed on political unification. (21) In addition, the process of colonial transition in Nigeria was no less peaceful, nor was the economic situation in Ghana or Guinea much better than that in Nigeria. Furthermore, in a situation where domestic factors were so deterministic, the impact of Balewa's "personal predilection" is unclear.

Political scientist Gordon Idang's explanation for Nigeria's conservative attitude toward African political integration under Balewa is no less eclectic and problematic. Presented under the rubric of "domestic pressures exerted on the political leadership," the factors that explain Nigeria's conservative approach toward African unity, according to Idang, include the projection of "the same caution and verbal compromise that characterized her domestic politics" (considering its federal structure and ethno-cultural diversity) onto international relations. Since a radical foreign policy would entail "some alteration or removal of national boundaries so as to create a supranational unity," the ethnic equation in Nigeria would be altered to the point of "intensif[ying] tribal jealousies and inter-group tensions." Idang also maintains that Nigeria's foreign policy was shaped by the negotiated character of its constitutional development which stressed "the importance of discussions and negotiations in all inter-group relations." Furthermore, it was affected by the preoccupation of Nigeria's leaders with domestic concerns that hampered their ability "to focus on foreign affairs as the leaders of the small radical states." He adds that Nigeria obtained its independence "with a minimum of bitterness and ill-feeling," making it less anti-European or desirous of "weakening residual Western influence" in Africa. (22)

It is not the patchy nature of this explanation that is intriguing, it is the definition of the situation for which the factors listed above constitutes an explanation. Regarding Nigeria's interest in organizing an African political association, the problem here is uncovering the "many moral and religious underpinnings in the government's foreign policy thinking." (23) These factors were manifested in "such abstract phrases as inviolability of national boundaries, legal equality of all states, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states and the need for international peace and morality." (24) While Idang concludes that Balewa, by subscribing to these principles, was "more moralistic than realistic," he claims that Nigeria was a "'status quo' state" that valued "national independence and territorial integrity, and ... a functional rather than a political or revisionist approach to ... intra-African politics." (25) By what logic or definition of a realistic foreign policy is such an outlook, defined by these principles, "more moralistic than realistic?"

In their study of Nigeria's foreign policy, political scientists Ray Ofoegbu and Chibuzar Ogbuagu try to explain Nigeria's subscription to the principles of "respect for the sovereign equality of all nations" and "non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations." With regard to the former, they argue that because of its size and wealth relative to other African states, Nigeria's intentions, even if noble, might be interpreted by African states as expansionist. Nigeria thus adopted this principle to avoid any misrepresentation of its actions. Concerning the latter principle, because of its membership in the United Nations (thus committing itself to support the principles espoused in that organization's charter), and because it was a multi-ethnic state, Nigeria wanted to "avoid foreign manoeuvres [sic] likely to generate internal instability and civil war, or likely to inhibit processes of national integration." (26) But Nigeria was not the only African member of the United Nations in 1960, and virtually all African states are multi-ethnic. Why, then, did other African states not behave like Nigeria? Moreover, what are the peculiar Nigerian sources of these defensive principles already identified as endowing the OAU with a realist and conservative identity?

Anti-Imperialism and the Defense of National Identity: Development of the 'Inside-Out' Approach, 1937-63

Although Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, Nigerians had been preoccupied with their country's future role in world affairs since the late 1930s, particularly in African politics. Regarding African inter-state affairs, two streams of thought are evident. One relates to Nigeria's possession of a unique identity (based on its human and material resources) that marked it for a position of leadership in Africa, an identity that must not be submerged or compromised. The other can be characterized as a response to the problems of racial discrimination and those of war and peace, a deprecation of imperialism and domination of one people by another. The first idea crystallized into a nationalistic but defensive mentality that expressed itself as a desire to avoid domination by other states; the second, a pacific and self-effacing mentality expressive of a wish not to dominate. These apparently contradictory tendencies solidified in the reticent and realist orientation of Nigeria's policy toward African political integration after it gained its independence.

The Discourse on National Identity and Power

It has been argued that a Nigerian consciousness could not have emerged during the interwar period because the sum-total of external influences generated a racial, not a national consciousness. For "native-born Nigerians," with no encouragement "to think of Nigeria as an individual national entity or to feel that they were Nigerians," race, African, and nationality meant the same thing. During that period, nationalists often thought of nationality in terms of race or 'tribe.' (27) True, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), the dominant party in Nigerian politics between 1923 and 1937, was not a party of 'native-born Nigerians' due to the dominant position 'repatriates' occupied in its leadership. This, however, changed with the emergence of the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM) led by Hezekiah Davies, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Obafemi Awolowo.

Founded in 1936, the NYM promoted the "development of a united nation out of a conglomeration of peoples who inhabit Nigeria." (28) The NYM's construction of a Nigerian identity and definition of its selfhood were a response to the overwhelming influence of non-Nigerians in the NNDP. Its platform, 'Nigeria for the Nigerians,' represented a direct attack on the NNDP. Stating that racial distinction was not a component of the NYM platform, Davies, the leading theoretician of the party and author of its charter, declared that the NYM sought to prove that Nigerians did not lack the capacity for leadership. The NNDP's adoption of non-Nigerian Africans, he complained, "strengthens the belief of those who say that Nigerians have no leaders and that they have to look for them from outside." The NYM wanted to show that Nigerians possessed both the "manhood and capacity" for leadership. (29)

The other source of challenge to the NYM was the fact that Nigeria did not have an international identity distinct from that of West Africa. In 1936, Davies questioned why tiny St. Lucia was represented on a map, but Nigeria was included in a large patch of land simply labelled 'West Africa.' (30) A year later, during a lecture in Lagos titled "The Opportunities of the Nigerian Youth," Davies outlined his ideas regarding Nigeria's future leadership of Africa. His choice for the theme of his lecture, he explained, was based on "the uniqueness of West Africa, particularly Nigeria," in the overall plan of constructing the new Africa. Although his explanation for thinking that "Nigeria has the best opportunity of leading the people of Africa to emancipation" was primarily based on the relative lowly position of blacks in East and South Africa, Davies truly believed that Nigeria was destined to become a great nation. (31)

The Second World War had a major influence on the development of Nigerian nationalism. James Coleman, a scholar of Nigerian nationalism, identifies the more militant leaders of the postwar nationalist movement as veterans of World War II. For them, the color bar had virtually ceased to exist once they had fought alongside British troops who turned out to be as human as their Nigerian counterparts. (32) The war and the promise of the Atlantic Charter to politically transform dependent territories each shaped the conception of Nigerian identity. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's restriction of the self-determination provision in the Atlantic Charter, which ignored the significant contribution by colonial peoples to British war effort, betrayed the reverence of Nigerian nationalists for Britain and significantly reduced the benefits they expected from the outcome of the war.

Against the backdrop of this perceived British betrayal, Kingsley Mbadiwe, a leading NCNC politician in the 1950s, wondered why the English Constitution should not be applicable in Britain's colonies. (33) His rejection of Churchill's interpretation of the self-determination provision in the Atlantic Charter, however, did not push him to embrace any kind of radical nationalism beyond demanding complete independence for Britain's colonies. Once independent, Nigeria would remain part of the British Commonwealth. (34) Apart from his belief that Germany would not be a better benefactor than Britain, Mbadiwe's conservative response to Churchill's interpretation of the self-determination provision of the Atlantic Charter stemmed from his conviction that "man is fundamentally co-operative, and that diversity in human nature is in no way a liability, but rather an asset which enriches the common experience of our mortal lives." (35)

Azikiwe proved to be more parochial in his assessment of the implications of international conditions in the early 1940s for the future of Nigeria. In Political Blueprint of Nigeria (1943), he recognized the constrained but "creditable role" Nigeria was playing in the war against Germany. Yet, it did not appear likely, from Churchill's interpretation of the self-determination provision of the Atlantic Charter, that Nigeria would be granted its independence after the war. Consequently, Nigerian nationalists would have "to prepare [the] ground for a national awakening" to be used as a weapon against the forces of colonialism. How, he wondered, could Nigeria, "a concrescent factor in the study of world affairs," which possessed abundant human and natural resources, comprising one-fifth of the territory, one-half of the population, and one-third of the revenue of British colonial Africa, and thus capable of being ranked among the economic powers of the world, lack the political power to transform its resources into a democracy that could provide a high standard of living for its people? (36) Azikiwe insisted that "we must gain political power in order to establish a free and autonomous Nigerian State." That autonomous Nigerian state would be "equal in status and in no way subordinate either to the Dominions or to the Mother Country, in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs," though it might freely associate as a member of the British Commonwealth. (37)

In singling out Nigeria for special international status and distinguishing Nigerian nationality from African nationality, Azikiwe merely extended the logic of NYM philosophy. His effort to justify a position of power relative to his country's resources added to the conceptualization of Nigerian identity. That identity came sharper into focus in Nwafor Orizu's Without Bitterness (1944). Writing during the Second World War, Orizu's anti-imperialism was unqualified. Imperialism, Nazism in its current form, was anti-democratic, arrogant, and immoral, the result of "economic, political, and cultural immoderation." (38) A progressive world, Orizu argued, needed be based on a scale of values, particularly human values. Like the individual (moral) man, he reasoned, every nation must have a conscience "to seek its own good, and a conscience to parallel personal interest with the interests of others." (39) The interest of the state must be compatible with that of humanity. The underlying principle of Orizu's humanism was "the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God." (40) This left no room for parochialism or hegemony. The ideal African state must not seek to be hegemonic. "The object of the state," he wrote, "must be based on unreserved love for humanity as a whole. No state can enjoy the full measure of life till all enjoy an equal measure." Whereas the old world of imperialism knew only "the rule and domination of one nation over another," the 'new African' would champion cooperation. (41)

During a period of solidification of colonial boundaries and definition of national identities based on those borders Orizu was limited in his choice of a framework for African cooperation. Before the 1930s, 'West Africa' (occupied by Liberia, Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Nigeria) was a reference point for discussion about future statehood. None of these states, however, were considered feasible candidates for statehood. The appeal of West African statehood did not stem from the possibility, rather it was popular because its nationals, being English, intermingled freely. In arguing against the notion of West African statehood, Orizu's commitment to an emerging Nigerian identity crystallized. West Africa, he argued, had never been one country, and differences in the region had deepened following the European ' Scramble for Africa.' West Africa was therefore not homogeneous, a situation that "a realistic planner must take care not to forget." (42) In a similar vein, Africa was not a country but a continent with nations at different levels of development possessing different resources. Even internationally recognized African countries, like Liberia, Ethiopia, and Egypt, had "fewer possibilities for a rapid growth" than countries such as Uganda, French Equatorial Africa, and Nigeria, which were largely ignored because of their colonial status. (43) New disparities that would further set them apart were bound to emerge. It followed that the problem of independence should be solved by particular territories before any attempt could be made to establish a voluntary federation of West African states. According to Orizu's 'inside-out plan,' the particular colonial territory should first become sovereign and then consolidate that sovereignty, leading to "a strong Gold Coast, a strong Gambia, and so on," as a prelude to federation. He wrote:
 The problem of independence must be settled by each country for
 itself; but after that stage, West Africa as a whole can have a
 voluntary federation. This is the procedure which I have termed the
 inside-out plan.... Federation sounds plausible and patriotic. It
 is also a future possibility. But it is an illusion for our
 immediate political strategy. (44)

The 'inside-out' plan did not provide a detailed scheme for union. Instead, it offered an approach toward solving the problem of African political association. Orizu seemed to suggest that the equality that would follow independence could settle the issue of federation. But he was not an apostle of regional union. He already appreciated, whether West Africa was united under British leadership or not, that there would be a struggle for power not among the component sovereignties, but identities. This point is worth noting in order to highlight the premium Orizu placed on sovereignty and legal equality. Ideally, co-equal status (following sovereignty) might strengthen federation, but national identity would undermine it. When Orizu declared that Nigeria was "a distinct unit unto itself" and that Nigerians "need not sacrifice the identity which our forefathers have safeguarded for us," (45) it was another way of expressing his opposition to the effacement inherent in union.

The ultimate consequence of the school of nationalism pioneered by the NYM was the formal birth of a Nigerian state based on a territory defined by European imperialism. At the level of thought, but not yet of consciousness, it also had become possible to discuss projecting "the emergent Nigerian Personality" onto the international stage. (46) On the eve of independence, the fundamental elements of an emerging tradition of discourse concerning Nigeria's identity and international status were already evident, namely attributing power to Nigeria based on its territorial expanse, population, and possession of abundant mineral resources relative to other African states. These qualities were taken as measures of Nigeria's international importance, reflecting faith in its potential.

In July 1959, Azikiwe, during an address in New York City marking the fiftieth anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, explicitly linked resources to power in an effort to visualize Nigeria's future. Nigeria, he claimed, had been made "powerful through the number of its inhabitants and the extent of its resources." (47) Like Orizu, Azikiwe had his own 'inside-out plan': First, Nigeria should develop close economic ties with its neighbors by encouraging the formation of a customs union and abolishing tariffs. It then might be possible to gradually eliminate boundaries between states. Next, Nigeria should encourage the construction of an international road system in West Africa that would merge with road systems in other parts of the continent. Finally, pervasive cultural exchanges involving students, dancers, and traders would create a sense of unity, which, as the Nigerian experience demonstrated, would facilitate the emergence of a common African nationality. In other words, the social, economic, and political integration of African peoples would provide the basis for a United States of Africa. (48) Still, Azikiwe realized that it would be capital folly to assume that hard-bargaining politicians who had suffered through the ordeal of imperialism to win their political independence would easily surrender their newly-won power to embrace a political leviathan populated by people alien to one another in their social and economic relations. While gradual integration would prepare Africans for a future union, that future, Azikewe conceded, is "not within the life-time of the heroes and heroines who have spearheaded the struggle for freedom in Africa.... " (49)

If the Nigerian or Nigerian identity were to be defined on the eve of independence, occupation of a common territory under a central government would certainly serve as its plausible basis. A more common bond and source of national identity was the idea that Nigeria had been positioned by history or Providence to lead Africa. This idea of Nigerian power and destiny, as a defining characteristic of Nigerian identity, attained the level of a consciousness that made it possible to talk about a personality structure characteristic of the post-1940 Nigerian.

Anti-imperialism and the African Pacific Community

For several centuries, Africa was the object of Arab and European political incursion and domination. But even within the continent, such a predatory relationship existed among groups depending on power differentials. In contrast, nineteenth and twentieth-century European imperialism was unique in being colonial, and in creating the form of the modern state in Africa. This produced a national consciousness based on European colonial territories. How right would it be for a former victim of imperialism, after gaining its independence, to extend its sovereignty over another former colonial state? Is it right for a people who have been an object of imperialism and fought against it to become imperialistic themselves? The answer to this question became the basis for the anti-imperialist strand in Nigeria's Pan-Africanist thought.

Following his return to Nigeria in 1937, Azikiwe, through his participation in Nigerian politics, facilitated the polarization of the nationalist movement. But he also enriched it with new ideas. This included the idea of 'new Africa,' fully, but not exclusively, defined in Renascent Africa (1937). Azikiwe's exposure to racial discrimination in the United States led him to speak in terms of the Negro race rather than the emerging territorial identities created by European colonization. His brand of Pan-Africanism was exclusive, precluding both the non-Negro African and the non-African Negro. This stemmed from the indigenous cultural essence with which the notion of 'new Africa' was imbued. Azikiwe defined the African as "any indigenous black person," and 'new Africa' as a "psycho-social" condition that described "the renascence of Africans and the reformation of African society." The Renascent African, he declared, "must be reckoned with as a concrescent factor in the peace of the world." (50)

In Renascent Africa, Azikiwe highlighted "man's inhumanity to man" as the principle source of Africa's social crisis. The pacifist personality of the Renascent African implied the rejection of all forms of discrimination, "be they racial, national, tribal, societal, religious, political, economic, or ethical," and "the realization that an African is an African no matter where he was born, whether at Kibi or at Zungeru." (51) What about the question of attachment to colonial territories? As far as the realization of Africa's destiny was concerned, individualism and heterogeneity were injurious. The instinct of self-preservation would prove beneficial only if directed toward the goal of consolidating African against non-African interests?2 If the pursuit of self-government and statehood in its parochial form discouraged the emergence of the 'new Africa,' those aims should be abandoned. (53)

Azikiwe's early notion of Africa was racial, limited to its 'aboriginal' black inhabitants which he constituted into a pacific community. Beyond this community, inter-group relations were to be rational, the instinct of self-preservation concerted and directed against non-Africans for the ultimate hegemonic end of fulfilling the destiny of Africans, namely the spread of their civilization throughout the world. (54) Hence, despite its resources, from which its power and destiny were inferred, Nigeria should be self-effacing and unassertive. It "should not seek to impose its leadership on Africa or elsewhere and it should not attempt to browbeat the rest of the continent or any other nation to bend their knees in acknowledgement of the existence of a colossus that it is." Instead, it should "co-operate with Africa and the rest of the world towards the maintenance of peace.... (55)

The dehumanization occasioned by colonial imperialism and the racial hatred of Nazism also shaped Obafemi Awolowo's anti-imperialism stance. Shortly after World War II, he declared that the "conquest of one nation by another in an unprovoked act of aggression cannot be justified by any standard of morality." (56) While the use of the word "unprovoked" implies that hegemony might be justified and legitimate under certain conditions, Awolowo's elaboration of the anti-imperialist theme during the inaugural meeting of the Action Group of Nigeria in April 1951 was unqualified. Imperialism, he declared was sustained by force or by the subordination of the will and dignity of the subject group in order to bolster the prestige of the hegemon. "[T]he rule of one nation by another, he averred, is unnatural and unjust.... There can be no satisfactory substitute for self-rule." (57)

Unlike Azikiwe and Orizu, Awolowo's primary interest in advocating a passive and non-imperialist international posture for Nigeria was not to foster any elevated notion of universal peace (although peace was his ultimate goal). Rather, his motive was pragmatic, his attitude sober, stemming from his criticism of the means and ends of power politics. Accordingly, he defined defense and foreign policies in reticent and ascetic terms. To Awolowo, defense policy meant "to discourage or resist external aggression," and foreign policy "to cultivate external friendship," external friendship becoming perforce the interest of a state. (58)

In advising Nigeria not to "cast as much as a glance in the direction of power politics," Awolawo argued that his country's sustenance was costly and fraught with indecent excesses: scarce resources would have to be diverted from welfare programs to build "a mighty array of armed forces" and staff "incurious embassies" in diplomatic posts around the world. This, he feared, would produce a hunger for neighboring territories, insincere diplomacy, and unnecessary rivalry. Nigeria, he asserted, was not cut out for this brand of international conduct. Apart from the fact that Nigeria had appeared on the scene too late, it lacked the ingredients of modern power politics (i.e., nuclear energy, technology, and adequate resources). Under these circumstances, welfare politics, the politics of butter over bullets, would be more realistic. It was "quieter and safer" to be at the "comparatively obscure" foothills of the chilly summit where the great powers played their dangerous games. (59) Nigerians, like their neighbors, were peace-loving people. Nigeria respected the integrity of its neighbors, just as its integrity was respected. (60) Such ideas, according to Awolowo, offered the proper guidance for Nigeria to pursue a conservative African policy.

Realist Polities? Nigeria's Attitude toward African Political Integration

The bridge between a paradoxical anti-imperialist mentality that coexisted alongside a mentality of power and a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other states was addressed in several party manifestoes issued before the 1959 federal elections, and the foreign policy debates that immediately preceded Nigeria's independence one year later. The Northern People's Congress (NPC) promised to foster "better understanding and close cooperation between the various countries in Africa," but held that it was still premature to suggest a union or federation of West African states: "We do not exclude the possibility of that [sic] such a Union might be desirable at some future date, but for the present we feel that it will be better for us to direct all our energies to developing the potentialities latent in each country." According to that party's manifesto, a country's foreign policy should reflect "[its] history, its geographical position, and its declared aims." In its foreign policy orientation, the document continues, Nigeria must deal only on "a basis of equality and good-will with all countries with whom her interests are involved and which respect her sovereignty," and "live at peace with its neighbors." (61) The manifesto of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens/Northern Elements Progressive Union (NCNC/NEPU) also envisioned a Nigerian African policy based on "good neighborliness," honesty, and openness. While recognizing that Nigeria was a colossus, it should "not deliberately give cause to our African neighbors to be apprehensive," because it had no design to either "interfere in their domestic affairs or to seek to draw them into its political orbit." This 'good neighborliness' policy could promote "integration of an economic and sociological nature" thus paving the way for closer political ties between African states. (62)

During the debates in Nigeria's House of Representatives between January and August 1960, a broad consensus emerged concerning the question of Nigeria's conduct in Africa relative to its perceived identity and power. Balewa reiterated that Nigeria was "a peaceful country which has no territorial ambitions and no intention of attacking her neighbors," and stated that there was no evidence that Nigeria would be attacked. He argued that Nigeria only needed an "adequate" military force to safeguard its frontier; it had no cause to act in defense of its sovereignty. Nigeria's "visible strength," not its exertion, "will have a stabilizing effect in this part of the world." (63) Aminu Kano, president of the NEPU, added that Nigeria's African policy should be based on comradeship and an "equality complex," not domination resulting from a superiority complex. (64)

For Nigerianists who took notice of the extent of their country's population, territory, and resources (no perceptive Nigerian in the late 1950s and early 1960s could fail to see that Nigeria was ahead of other African states in each area), it remained uncertain how Nigeria would express its unique identity without becoming hegemonic. When Jaja Wachuku, Nigeria's external affairs minister from 1961 to 1964, observed that blacks everywhere eagerly awaited the formal birth of Nigeria, he was referring to the pride and self-redefinition that might accrue to a traumatized race from the emergence of a black power. "[W]e must not attempt to intimidate anybody," he declared, "but at the same time we must not forget our legitimate right, a mission to rescue the Black Africans from destruction, oppression and repression." (65)

The synthesis of these anti-imperialist and power mentalities resulted in reluctant and restrained outlook of Nigeria's proposed African policy that Belewa presented to Parliament in August 1960. This demonstrated Nigeria's determination to encourage the development of friendly association and common ties between African states. While this project would not be achieved without difficulties, such problems could be overcome if a multi-staged 'inside-out' plan was adopted. Existing cultural and economic links would serve as the foundation of this plan, which would be based on an agreement to improve inter-territorial communications and transport facilities, pool resources for higher education and scientific research, expand trade and travel, and perhaps establish an African common market. (66)

In his address to the General Assembly following Nigeria's admission to the United Nations in early October 1960, Balewa reflected on the synthesis of these tendencies. He acknowledged the advantages inherent in Nigeria's territorial expanse and population, but he nonetheless committed his country to a non-aggressive foreign policy. Nigeria would consider itself equal with, and would not impose itself on, any other state. It would maintain the colonial inter-state boundaries in the interest of peace and thus respect the sovereignty of every African state. Concerning the possibility of a political association of African states, Balewa advocated the formation of regional groupings that would consult one another on 'non-political matters' such as transportation, education, and communication. Such cooperation, he believed, would eventually make a political union feasible:
 ... I do not think myself that ideas of political union are
 practicable in the immediate future. I do not rule out the
 possibility of eventual union but for the present it is unrealistic
 to expect countries to give up the sovereignty which they have so
 recently acquired, and I am quite sure that it is wrong to imagine
 that political union could of itself bring the countries together:
 on the contrary it will follow as the natural consequence of
 co-operation in other fields. (67)

Expanding on his foreign policy address to the UN, Balewa, during the Nigerian Parliament's first foreign policy debate following independence, argued that conflict existed where there was hierarchy and a desire to dominate. Peaceful and stable relations, on the other hand, existed when there was equality between states. He warned that conflict would follow if Nigeria pursued a hegemonic policy. To achieve peace in Africa, the various states must maintain friendly relations with one another, each developing along its own line. If so, there would be no need for Nigeria to secure its boundaries with its neighbors or to interfere in their internal affairs. Recognizing that no African country would willingly surrender its sovereignty to another, the only peaceful path to leadership was for Nigeria to be "of good conduct and well-intentioned," a policy he characterized as 'Live and Let Live in Africa.' (68) If Nigeria followed that path, perhaps other states would recognize its leadership in African affairs.

Even though the discordant nature of post-independence domestic politics gave rise to dissenting views on Nigeria's African policy, (69) the conservative realist consensus was largely retained. As Balewa informed his fellow countrymen in May 1963 following the establishment of the OAU, "all the decisions [were] reached [in] accord [ance] with the policies of the Federal Government.... our stand has been vindicated." (70) These principles--maintenance of national sovereignty, equality of states irrespective of size, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, the sanctity of inter-state boundaries, and ad interim unity but not unification of African states--became the chief elements of Nigerian realism. They became the norms of interaction that confirmed Nigeria's self-restraint in Africa and prevented any other state from securing a dominant position on the continent. More importantly, these principles became articles of faith among the Monrovia states and the basic principles that framed the OAU Charter. In short, they became the rules for establishing the new African international order. (71)


There is hardly any study of Nigeria's foreign policy between 1960 and 1966 which does not characterize that policy as 'passive' or 'conservative.' It is often argued that the NPC (the coalition government, or the 'Balewa regime') and northern political elites were the sources of that conservatism. (72) In some studies, Balewa's "conservative outlook" (73) and his "nai've and unrealistic views of international politics" (74) are cited as the source of Nigeria's foreign policy. According to proponents of this view, Belewa was responsible for promoting the idea of functional cooperation among African states as a step towards unity. (75) Such claims, however, fail to take into account the pre-independence and consensual basis of Nigeria's passive foreign policy outlook. As this study has shown, even Awolowo and Azikiwe, despite their political differences after independence, shared Balewa's pacific and non-hegemonic vision. In fact, such thinking pre-dated the rise of national party politics in 1951.

The same limitations apply to the rather plausible argument that the diverse nature of the Nigerian polity mandated that Nigeria pursue a non-expansive and cautious African policy. Political scientist Kalu Ezera attributes the success of the Summit Conference of African and Malagasy heads of state (1962) to comradeship, compromise, pragmatism, and "a spirit of cautious approach to problems" that pervaded it. These virtues, Ezera claims, were characteristic of the moral and ethical principles that Nigeria cultivated in the process of managing a federation. (76) Balewa, too, justified the 'inside-out' approach to African unity by referring to the operating principle of unity in diversity in Nigeria. (77)

In defending Nigeria against charges that it failed to play a prominent role at the Conference of African and Malagasy States, Jaja Wachuku, Nigeria's external affairs minister in the early 1960s, notes that Nigeria still achieved its goals, albeit quietly. It did not act arbitrarily, always consulting with other states. The alternative to this approach, according to Wachuku, would have been the establishment of a Nigerian dictatorship in Africa. For Wachuku, and probably for the House of Representatives for that matter, this was unacceptable. "If we criticise dictatorship, he reasoned, "should we now start to practise dictatorship?" (78) To understand Wachuku's argument, one should recall that the consciousness and purpose of the Nigerian state emerged during a period that witnessed the collapse of European colonial imperialism and Nigerian troops fighting against Nazi imperialism. Despite its material advantages which suggested that Nigeria would assume a dominant role in African politics, the prevailing anti-imperialist and pacific climate vitiated the development of a hegemonic mentality in that country. Nigeria's immediate post-independence foreign policy thus proved to be both logical and 'realistic.'


(1) Olusegun Obasanjo, "The African Union: The Challenges of Cooperation and Integration," The (Lagos) News, August 20, 2001, 65.

(2) Ibid., 64.

(3) See, in this connection, resolutions of the All-Africa Peoples Conference held at Accra in 1958, and those of the summit meeting of the heads of state of Liberia, Ghana, and Guinea at Sanniquellie in 1959 in Colin Legum, Pan-Africanism: A Short Political Guide, rev. ed. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), 180, 248. This linkage is even more difficult to sustain if the African Union represents a significant departure from the operational principles of the OAU. See Tiyanjan Maluwa, "The Constitutive Act of the African Union and Institution-Building in Postcolonial Africa," Leiden Journal of International Law 16:1 (March 2003):157-170.

(4) Nigeria, Ministry of External Affairs, Nigeria and the Organisation of the African Union: In Search of an African Reality (Lagos: Third Press, 1991), 22-23.

(5) Zdenek Cervenka, ed., The Unfinished Quest for Unity: Africa and the OAU (London: Africa Books, 1977), 1.

(6) Immanuel Wallerstein, "The Early Years of the OAU: The Search for Organizational Pre-eminience," International Organization 20:4 (Autumn 1966):744. See also Tukumbi Lumumba-Kasongo, "Can a 'Realist Pan-Africanism' be a Relevant Tool toward the Transformation of African and African Diaspora Politics?: Imagining a Pan-African State," African Journal of International Affairs 6, nos. 1&2 (2003):104.

(7) Raph Uwechue, "The OAU--Time for a Change," in The Unfinished Quest for Unity, ed. Cervenka, ix.

(8) For the charter, see Legum, Pan-Africanism, Appendix 15.

(9) Ibid., 57.

(10) For the resolutions, see Ibid., Appendix 17.

(11) Ibid., 217.

(12) Ibid., 205-06.

(13) The meaning attached to political realism is not that which necessarily prescribes offensive, aggressive, and imperialistic behavior that perceives the state as "a gladiator engaged in perpetual combat." Ian Clark, The Hierarchy of States: Reform and Resistance in the International Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 67. Realism, both as an intellectual orientation and political praxis, is an essentially defensive outlook. Its focus is on the state, the interests of that state, and the power available for the defense of its interests. The main interest here is the continued existence of the state and the conservation of sovereignty, not its extension. The defining condition of realism is the maintenance of the status quo, a consequence of the mutual recognition of sovereignty. See Susan Strange, "The Westfailure System," Review of International Studies 25:3 (July 1999): 345.

(14) Nigeria, Ministry of External Affairs, Nigeria and the Organisation of African Unity, 295.

(15) Olajide Aluko, "Nigerian Foreign Policy," in The Foreign Policy of African States, ed. Olajide Aluko (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971), 168.

(16) Olajide Aluko, "Nigeria and the Organization of African Unity," in Nigeria's External Relations." The First Twenty-Five Years, eds. Gabriel O. Olusanya and Ricjard A. Akindele (Ibadan: University Press, 1986), 89.

(17) A. Bolaji Akinyemi, "Mohammed/Obasanjo Foreign Policy," in Nigerian Government and Politics under Military Rule, 1966-1979, ed. Oyeleye Oyediran (London: Macmillan, 1979), 150.

(18) Ibrahim Gambari, "Domestic Political Constraints on Progressive Foreign Policy for Nigeria," Nigerian Journal of Political Science 2:1 (1980):25.

(19) Oladapo O. Fafowora, "Nigeria in the African Setting," in Nigeria's African Policy in the Eighties, ed. National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (Kuru: National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, 1981), 31-32.

(20) Ibid., 31.

(21) See A. Bolaji Akinyemi, Foreign Policy and Federalism: The Nigerian Experience (Lagos: Macmillan, 1979), 179.

(22) Gordon J. Idang, Nigeria." Internal Politics and Foreign Policy, 1960-1966 (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1973), 18.

(23) Ibid., 13.

(24) Ibid., 14.

(25) Ibid., 17.

(26) Ray Ofoegbu and Chibuzo S. A. Ogbuagu, "Towards a New Philosophy of Foreign Policy for Nigeria," in Nigeria and the World: Readings in Nigerian Foreign Policy, ed. A. Bolaji Akinyemi (Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1978), 121-22.

(27) James S. Coleman, Nigeria. Background to Nationalism (Katrineholm: Broburg & Wistrom, 1986), 210.

(28) Obafemi Awolowo, Awo: The Autobiography of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (London: Cambridge University Press, 1960), 121.

(29) Daily Service (Lagos), October 5, 1938, 6.

(30) Hezekiah O. Davies, Memoirs (Ibadan: Evans, 1989), 67-68.

(31) 'For the full text of the lecture, see Ibid., 89-95.

(32) Coleman, Nigeria, 245.

(33) Kingsley O. Mbadiwe, British and Axis Aims in Africa (New York: Wendell Malliet, 1942), xxiv.

(34) Ibid., 68.

(35) Ibid., xv.

(36) Nnamdi Azikiwe, Political Blueprint of Nigeria (London: African Book, 1943), Preface.

(37) Ibid., 11.

(38) Akewke A. Nwafor Orizu, Without Bitterness: Western Nations in Post-War Africa (New York: Creative Age Press, 1944), 197.

(39) Ibid., 194.

(40) Ibid., 299.

(41) Ibid., 334.

(42) Ibid., 223.

(43) Ibid., 225.

(44) Ibid., 238-39.

(45) Ibid., 159.

(46) Federation of Nigeria, House of Representatives, Debates (Lagos: Federal Government Printer, 1960), February 19, 1960, 401. [Hereafter HR Debates, date, page number].

(47) Philip Harris, comp., Zik: A Selection from the Speeches of Nnamdi Azikiwe (London: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 20-21.

(48) Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria in World Politics (London: The Office of the Commissioner for the Eastern Region, 1959), 14-16.

(49) Ibid., 19.

(50) Nnamdi Azikiwe, Renascent Africa (London: Frank Cass, 1939), 7-8.

(51) Ibid., 24.

(52) Ibid., 91.

(53) Ibid., 254.

(54) Ibid., 118.

(55) Azikiwe, Nigeria in World Politics, 22.

(56) Obafemi Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom (London: Faber & Faber, 1947), 24.

(57) Awolowo, Awo, 223.

(58) Ibid., 305.

(59) Ibid., 306.

(60) Ibid., 307-08.

(61) [Northern People's Congress], NPC Federal Government Policy, 1959 (Kaduna: The General Secretary, 1959), 2-4.

(62) [National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons and the Northern Elements Progressive Union], Manifesto of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons and the Northern Elements Progressive Union Alliance for the 1959 Federal Elections (Lagos: The National Headquarters of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons and the Northern Elements Progessive Union, 1959), 23.

(63) HR Debates, January 14, 1960, 29.

(64) Ibid., January 15, 1960, 77-78.

(65) Ibid., January 15, 1960, 89-90.

(66) Ibid., August 20, 1960, 289-90.

(67) "The 99th Member Speaks at the U.N.O.," Federal Nigeria, September/October 1960, 14.

(68) HR Debates, November 24, 1960, 196-98.

(69) See Michael I. Okpara, Before the Dawn (Yaba: Bureau of Information and Publicity, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, 1960); [Action Group of Nigeria], Democratic Socialism." Being the Manifesto of the Action Group of Nigeria for an Independent Nigeria (Ibadan: Action Group Bureau of Information, 1960).

(70) Nigeria, Foreign Ministry of Information, comp., Mr. Prime Minister." A Selection of Speeches made by Alhaji the Right Honourable Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Lagos: Federal Ministry of Information, 1964), 103.

(71) Despite the existence of the African Union, African international relations have remained fragmented and quasi-regionalist. Africa is finding it difficult to functionally integrate. See Greg Mills, "Africa and Regional Integration: What Works and Why," South African Journal of International Affairs 11:2 (Winter/Spring 2004):24; Godfrey Chikowore, "The African Union and the Destiny of Africahood: The Southern Africa Development Community and Neo-Colonial Challenges to Pan-Africanism," African Journal of International Affairs 5, nos. 1&2 (2002):44. The proposed African Union Standby Force is to be established on a sub-regional rather than continental plaform. See Mike Denning, "A Prayer for Marie: Creating an Effective African Standby Force," Parameters 34:4 (Winter 2004): 106.

(72) Akinyemi, "Mohammed/Obasanjo Foreign Policy," 180.

(73) Eghosa E. Osaghae, Crippled Giant: Nigeria since Independence (Ibadan: John Archers, 2002), 50.

(74) Idang, Nigeria, 54.

(75) Olajide O. Aluko, Ghana and Nigeria, 1957-1970: A Study in Inter-African Discord (London: Rex Collings, 1976), 107.

(76) HR Debates, April 3, 1962, 403.

(77) Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Information, comp., Mr. Prime Minister, 101.

(78) HR Debates', April 14, 1962, 875.

EHIMIKA A. IFIDON is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of History and International Studies at the University of Benin in Benin, Nigeria.
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Date:Mar 22, 2007
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