Impact Of Terrorism In Nigeria On Foreign Policy

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1.1       Background to the Study

The main focus of actors of foreign policy formulation process is to articulate in vivid terms the national interest of a country which serves as a guide in their relations with other nations of the world. The efficient administration of foreign policy objectives is based on credible and widely accepted principles that helps shape a country’s image among the comity of nations.

After independence in 1960, Nigeria began her external relations as a sovereign state with its emergence as the 99th member of the United Nations, thus we shall analyze some of the forces that influenced Nigeria’s foreign policy over the years, and how they have manifested in the country’s contemporary foreign relations, and how they constitute variables in understanding today’s challenges and planning for the future. To a large extent, these numerous factors have helped shape and continue to shape Nigeria’s foreign policy in various ways. While there is the technical tendency to view Nigeria’s foreign policy as starting from 1960 when the country gained its political independence from Britain, Nigeria, on the contrary, did not start on a clean slate. Rather it brought with it a century-old colonial relationship with her erstwhile colonial master: Britain and this largely influenced her foreign policy ever since. The enduring impact of British influence on Nigeria’s foreign policy and its ruling elite continued to have extensive effects on Nigeria’s pro-west stand, in spite of her non-aligned claims until the late 1960s when the lessons of the Nigerian civil war of 1967- 1970 forced Nigeria’s foreign policy elites to reevaluate their stand towards external actors. The radical impact of the civil war on Nigeria’s foreign policy was quite significant, according to the International Peace Academy report of July 2003:

Nigeria’s leaders to drew some major lessons from the experience: first, that the country’s survival as a sovereign state could not be taken for granted; second, that, based on France sending arms to secessionist Biafra through Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire, there was a compelling need to have friendly governments in neighboring countries – a reality which partly explains why Nigeria in the aftermath of the civil was spearheaded the creation of ECOWAS; third, that the existence of minority white owned regimes in Southern Africa, which backed Biafran secessionists during Nigeria’s civil war, was a threat to Nigeria’s security.1.


Hence, the tragedy of the civil war helped to unveil the diplomatic naivety of Nigeria’s foreign policy makers to the reality of the international system. Dr Asobie described this era as the “Age of Innocence”. Thus, the military regime of General Gowon made an attempt to reinvent our foreign policy to reflect the regional hegemonic inclinations of Nigeria, in external policies which brought about the co-creation of regional organization: ECOWAS. Yet, most of the principles that strengthened foreign relations at that time were largely selfless and more or less reactionary towards events in the international environment. In the same vein, they lacked genuine developmental momentum and were merely a continuation of what was obtainable in the first republic.

However, the emergence of the Generals Murtala/Obasanjo’s regime in 1975-1979, added some quantity of radicalism and dynamism and thus marked the Era of Awakening in the history of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This was largely informed by the conviction of the duo to use foreign policy as a tool for advocating the genuine cause of Nigeria and Africa at large. In this effect, they did what previous Nigerian leaders couldn’t dare to do: oppose the hegemonic powers of the west and nationalization of Barclays Bank and the British Petroleum among others. The radical policies of Gen. Murtala marked a turning point in the foreign relations of Nigeria and endeared him to many pro-Third World nations. Unfortunately the regime of Gen M. Mohammed didn’t last long because he was killed in a botched coup, while General Obasanjo kept to the agreement of his former boss and on 1st October, 1979 he transited power to a civilian government. With the emergence of President Shagari’s civilian regime in 1979, the foreign policy pattern of Nigeria dramatically shifted. The regime began to reverse some of the radical foreign policies of its predecessor. Indeed, because of the character of the regime, i.e. civil-democratic, there was multiple centre of foreign policy decision making. Therefore, it could not have taken drastic and radical decisions like the past military regimes.

Retrospectively, Nigeria experienced the most severe rule in the series of military period that followed the Shagari’s administration which began with General Buhari’s regime in 1983. However, with the emergence of General Abubakar after the sudden death of General Abacha in 1998, a new democratic experiment was ushered in by his regime. Consequently, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as the first civilian President of the fourth republic on 29th of May, 1999. Because of the harrowing effects of the past regime of General Abacha on Nigeria’s international image, Obasanjo embarked on a ‘Shuttle Diplomacy’ that sought to re-build the county’s image in the international environment.


Therefore, it is quite instructive that all civilian democratic regimes are faced with the challenge of rapidly formulating and implementing strategic foreign policies that can deliberately change the developmental course of the country. As such, this challenge would even be more difficult for the present administration in the face of the high level of consciousness that characterize global citizens in this phase of globalization, in which Nigerians are not exempted. Terrorism on the other hand is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear to bring about political change. All terrorist acts involve violence or equally important the threat of violence. These violent acts are committed by nongovernmental groups or individuals, i.e. by those who are neither part of nor officially serving in the military forces, law enforcement agencies, intelligence services or other governmental agencies of an established nation-state.

Terrorists attempt is not only to sow panic but also to undermine confidence in the government and political leadership of their country of target. Hence, Terrorism is targeted to have psychological effects that reach far beyond its impacts on the immediate victims or object of an attack. Terrorists mean to scare and thereby intimidate a wider audience, such as a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country and its political leadership, or the international environment as a whole. Generally, terrorist groups have few members, limited firepower, and comparatively few organizational resources. For this reason they rely on dramatic, often spectacular, bloody and destructive acts of hit-and-run violence to attract attention to themselves and their cause. Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence, and power they otherwise lack.

The term “terrorism” was first used in France to describe a new system of government adopted during the French Revolution (1789-1799). The “regime de la terreur” (Reign of Terror) was aimed to promote democracy and popular rule by ridding the revolution of its enemies and thereby purifying it2. However, the oppression and violent excesses of the “terreur” transformed it into a feared instrument of the state. From then on, terrorism has had a decidedly negative connotation. However, the word, did not gain wider popularity until the late 19th century when it was adopted by a group of Russian revolutionaries to describe their violent struggle against the rule of tsarist. Terrorism then assumed the more familiar antigovernment associations it has today.

More than 2,000 years ago the first known acts of what we now refer to as terrorism were perpetrated by a radical offshoot of the Zealots, a Jewish sect active in Judea during the 1st century ad. The Zealots resisted the Roman Empire's rule now known as Israel today through a determined campaign primarily involving assassination. Zealot fighters used the “sica”, a primitive dagger, to attack their enemies in broad daylight, often in crowded market places or on feast days essentially wherever there were people to witness the violence. Thus, like modern terrorists, the Zealots aimed their actions to communicate a message to a wider target audience: in this scenario, the Roman occupation forces and any Jews who sympathized or collaborated with the invaders. Between 1090 and 1272 an Islamic movement known as “the Assassins” used similar tactics in their struggle against the Christian Crusaders who had invaded what is today part of Syria. The Assassins welcomed the same notions of self-sacrifice and suicidal killing evident in some Islamic terrorist groups today. They regarded violence as a divine act that ensured its perpetrators would ascend to a glorious heaven should they perish during the task.

During the 1920s and 1930s, terrorism became associated more with the repressive practices employed by dictatorial states than with the violence of non-state groups like the anarchists. The word terrorism was used to describe the reckless violence and intimidation inflicted by the Nazi, fascist, and totalitarian regimes that came to power in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union respectively. The repressive means these governments employed against their citizens involved beatings, unlawful detentions, torture, so-called death squads (often consisting of off-duty or plain-clothes security or police officers), and other forms of intimidation. Such practices by governments against their own citizens still continue today. Recent history records the use of such measures by the military dictatorships that took power in Argentina, Chile, and Greece during the 1970s. But these state-sanctioned acts of violence are more generally termed terror to distinguish them from violence committed by non-state entities. As noted earlier, the word terrorism is generally reserved for acts committed by groups outside government.

After Second World War in 1945, terrorism reverted to its previous revolutionary associations. During the 1940s and 1950s, “terrorism” was used to describe the violence perpetrated by indigenous nationalist, anti-colonialist organizations that arose throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in opposition to continued European rule. Countries such as Israel, Kenya, Cyprus, and Algeria, for example, owe their independence at least in part to nationalist movements that used violent acts. The most spectacular terrorist incident of the anti-colonial period was the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem's King David Hotel, by a Jewish underground group known as the Irgun Zvai Le’umi (National Military Organization)3. The hotel was attacked because it served at that time as the military headquarters and offices of the British administration in Palestine. Ninety-one people were killed and 45 others injured: men, women, Arabs, Jews, and Britons alike. This particular bombing was ranked among the most deadly terrorist acts of the 20th century. The Irgun’s commander at the time was Menachem Begin, a future prime minister of Israel and 1978 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner. Begin is not alone among those once called terrorists who later ascended to the highest levels of power in their newly independent countries. Others include Kenya’s president Jomo Kenyatta, Cyprus’s Archbishop Makarios, and Algeria’s president Ahmed Ben Bella.

During the late 1960s and 1970s terrorism assumed more clearly ideological motivations. Various disenfranchised or exiled nationalist minorities as exemplified by the Palestine Liberation Organization also adopted terrorism as a means to draw attention to their plight and generate international support for their cause. The PLO sought to create a state in what was historically known as Palestine: the land that became Israel in 1948 and the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories occupied by Israel since the Six-Day War of 1967. A Palestinian group, in fact, was responsible for the incident that is considered to mark the beginning of the current era of international terrorism. On July 22, 1968, three armed Palestinians belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked an Israeli El Al commercial flight en route from Rome, Italy, to Tel Aviv, Israel. Although commercial planes had often been hijacked before, this was the first clearly political hijacking. The act was designed to create an international crisis and thereby generate publicity.

Right-wing or neo-fascist and neo-Nazi, terrorism movements also began in many Western European countries and the United States during the late 1970s in response to the violence perpetrated by left-wing organizations. However, the right-wing groups lacked both the numbers and popular support that their left-wing counterparts enjoyed. Thus the violence of these right-wing groups while occasionally quite deadly was mostly sporadic and short-lived. The three most serious incidents connected to right-wing terrorists occurred in Bologna, Italy; Munich, Germany; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In Bologna a 1980 bombing of a crowded rail station killed 84 people and wounded 180 others4. The date of the bombing coincided with the opening of a trial in Bologna of right-wingers accused of a 1976 train bombing. Also in 1980 a bomb planted by a member of a neo-fascist group exploded at Munich’s Oktoberfest celebration, killing 14 and injuring 215 others5. In 1995 white supremacists carried out a truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which claimed the lives of 168 people6.

Two of the most important developments in international terrorism during the 1980s were the rise in state-sponsored terrorism and the resurgence of religious terrorism. An example of an attack believed to have been state sponsored was the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981 by a Turkish citizen who was allegedly working for the Soviet and Bulgarian secret services. Other examples include the Iranian-backed car- and truck-bombings of the American embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983 and Libya's role in the in-flight bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Religion was used to justify and legitimize, if not actually encourage, terrorist violence in the assassinations of Egypt's president Anwar al-Sadat by Islamic extremists in 1981 and of Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish militant in 1994. In both instances the assassins considered it a religious duty to halt the peace efforts of their victims. Muslim terrorists carried out the bombing of New York City's World Trade Center in 2001 and a vague Japanese religious sect was responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization carried out simultaneous suicide bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; a suicide attack in 2000 on a U.S. navy warship in the harbor of Aden, Yemen; and the suicide attacks of September 11, 20017.

The events of September 11, 2001, have no instance in the history of terrorism. On that day 19 terrorists belonging to Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization hijacked four passenger aircraft shortly after they departed from airports in Boston, Massachusetts; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C. The first plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City shortly before 9:00 am. Then about 15 minutes later, a second aircraft struck the south tower. Shortly afterward, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth aircraft crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania after its passengers, hearing by cell phone of the other hijackings, attempted to take control of the plane from the hijackers before they could strike another target. Before September 11, terrorists had killed more than about 1,000 Americans in the United States and abroad, during the modern era of international terrorism, which began in 1968. About three times that number perished on September 11. The attacks also showed a level of patience and detailed planning hardly ever seen among terrorist movements today. The hijackers stunned the world with their determination to kill themselves and take the lives of the hijacked passengers and crews as well as the lives of thousands of people working in or visiting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The United States reacted by declaring a global war against terrorism.

The emergence of terrorism in Nigeria owing to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Northern part of Nigeria has greatly undermined and weakened the country’s foreign policy drive. Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants’, the movement of the Sovereign States of Biafra (MASSOB) terrorists acts in Nigeria has brought about negative reactions from groups and nations that have been affected by its activities in the country, hence worsened Nigeria’s foreign relations with other countries of the world. Also, Bamgbose has explained that domestic policies and actions of sovereign governments, routine exercise of powers on matters which borders on day to day governance can accelerate into foreign policy controversies or dilemmas that can attract global attention8. The operation of terrorism in Nigeria has moved from the situation or area of domestic or internal politics to the international arena.

Terrorist acts in Nigeria by Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, the movement of the Sovereign States of Biafra (MASSOB) etc have generated so much interest from the international environment raising questions as to the potency of government’s strategy to deal with the menace. This is because the insolence boldness of these groups has continued unabated amidst government claims of winning the war, everyday claims of winning the war, everyday casualties increase at alarming rates after each attack making the general public to lose confidence in the government. The attacks on the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja in 2011 resulted to increased pressure from the international community on Nigeria to end the insurgency which had started as a petty domestic issue that was over looked by previous governments. The above became necessary due to the internationalization of the conflict which got to its apex when Boko Haram was indoctrinated into a Takfiri and Jihadist groups in 20099 and its subsequent links to international terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghred (AQIM).10 The aftermath of this particular event brought about its sophistication in operation as it migrated from a domestic or internal insurgency group to a global Jihadist movement with far reaching consequence leaving the Nigerian state with damaging effects to count from. 

According to the global terrorism index (GTI), Nigeria moved from 16th in 2008 to 11th in 2009 to 12th in 2010 and 7th in 2012. With GTI of 7.4 Nigeria is in worse situation than Sudan which is ranked 11th and Mali 34th11. Some international scholars and analysts have blamed the increase in terrorist activities in the country on ‘mirror politics’ which has characterized the country’s political scene since independence12. The scenario has led to Nigeria losing its respect in the international arena as no country will be inclined to establish a mutual relation with a country where bomb goes off at will on a regular basis.

The focus of this research work is therefore to examine the rise of terrorism in Nigeria and also look at the Foreign Policy of the Nigerian various governments amidst the security challenges posed by the extremely unpleasant or offensive trend and also the measures taken by government to pre-empt its expansion and continued threats to lives and properties with recommendations drawn forthwith.


    1.      Statement of the Problem

The high level of terrorist and violent attacks in Nigeria by the fundamentalist group (Boko Haram) has heightened fears among the populace and the international community and has eaten deep into its economy and as a matter of fact, the hostility has gone beyond religious or political coloration.

Terrorism has been a major issue facing Nigeria in recent times in terms of how it affects the nation’s relations with other countries in the international arena. It should be noted that not much scholarly work has been done on how tourism affects Nigeria’s foreign policy, in this regard; this project shall address some problems encountered. A major problem is how countries in the international environment have warned its citizens against coming to Nigeria because they believe that Nigeria is not safe enough for their respective citizens. For example, on August 5, 2016, the United States of America warned against travelling to 20 states in Nigeria due to security reasons. This warning was given by the United State Department of States. Such states include Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kastina, Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara13.

Furthermore, as a result of these terrorist acts in Nigeria by the various terror groups, many foreign companies in Nigeria have brought an end to its operations in Nigeria. Also, foreign companies who intend to come to Nigeria to invest have been discouraged as a result of the security challenges they might encounter. Also, under the administration of ex President, President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria had issues with its neighboring country; Cameroon which made its foreign relations with Cameroon go soar. Cameroon president, Biya blamed Jonathan for not doing enough to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency. He accused Jonathan for not forming a strong bond with leaders of neighboring African countries who were also battling the same insurgency, he was also accused of not responding and returning phone calls meant to discuss ways of combining efforts to confront these terrorist. These various actions by Jonathan led to Cameroon deporting more than 2000 Nigerians who were living in the country illegally as part of the security measures intended to prevent suicide attacks by Boko Haram Jihadists.

Also, as a result of some violent attacks by the Nigeria Delta militants in the oil producing regions in Nigeria against the oil pipelines, the oil production in Nigeria has drastically fallen from about 2.2 million barrels per day to about 1.1 million barrel per day bringing about a drop in the internally generated revenue which has made it difficult to Nigeria to achieve some of its foreign policy.

In the light of these various problems, this study shall be guided by the following research questions:

What are the factors that propelled the origin and spread of terrorism in Nigeria?

Does terrorism pose a threat to the development of Nigeria?

Does terrorism have any implications on Nigeria’s relations with other countries in the international arena?


    1.       Objective of the Study

The specific objectives are to:

  1. ascertain the origin and history of terrorism in Nigeria;
  2. determine the causes of terrorism in Nigeria;
  3. examine Nigeria’s foreign policies and relations from 1999-2015;
  4. evaluate how terrorism has affected Nigeria’s foreign policies in the international arena;
  5. ascertain the measures taken by the government in tackling terrorist acts in Nigeria and
  6. give recommendations on how to tackle this menace.


    1.      Significance of the Study

The significance of this study is that it would act as a guide to the government in their quest to quell the problem of terrorism as it affects the country’s relations with the outside world. Also judging from the fact that terrorism is currently a prevailing destructive force and it’s very spontaneous and topical, this study would help to proffer solutions. More so, this work theoretically would be useful to writers, scholars, journalists etc. in order to add to their existing knowledge of what they already know about terrorism in Nigeria and how this menace influence Nigeria’s foreign policies in the international community.

    1.      Scope of the Study

First, the study covered the origin and history of terrorism in Nigeria in order to give us a very clear understanding of how it affects Nigeria’s relations with other nations of the world in the international arena. However, the central thrust of this research is the period between 1999 and 2015, the period which marks the return of democratic rule in Nigeria. The period in view is quite significant because it ushered in a democratically elected leader in President Olusegun Obasanjo and brought an end of military rule on May 29, 1999 which also brings about a different form and approach to Nigeria’s Foreign Policy. 


    1.      Methodology

The research is done using analytical method. The study derives its data from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include oral information gotten from men in military, civil servants and politicians through interviews because they are experts and policy makers. The politicians are involved in the policy formulation processes that pertain to foreign environment and terrorism while men in force play active roles in combating terrorism and the civil servants make recommendations to politicians on foreign policy issues. Therefore, these information from these sets of people will be crucial to the research while secondary source which is also known as documentation. Due to the spontaneous nature of the issue under research, information shall be gathered from magazines, Journals, Newspapers, textbooks, internet materials which are relevant to the study.


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Impact Of Terrorism In Nigeria On Foreign Policy