Nigeria’s External Affairs Ministers, 1960-2008

In theory and in practice Africa has always been the primary focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy. History and the political realities of colonial and post-colonial Africa dictated much of this trend. In other words, African-nationalism and Pan-Africanism were two of the factors that helped shaped the thinking, the disposition and implementation of the country’s national security and foreign policy agenda. In spite of the occasional call for a rethink, there has been no noticeable change in Nigeria’s foreign policy protuberance. And even though the formal colonization of the continent has ended, the Cold War as we know it is over, and Communism has passed on, Nigeria has not be been proactive and forward-thinking in her approach to national security issues. Nigeria, it seems, is trapped in time.

The world is changing. We are confronted with new and old concerns relating to ethnicity and subnationalism, poverty and hunger, weak institutions and poor governance, corrupt leadership and criminalities, and ecological difficulties associated with the activities of the multinationals, HIV/AIDS and several other human and basic security concerns. And then there are the global problems: fragmenting states, terrorism, and the exploitative and predatory policies of the Western world towards Third World countries. Also, there are the (sometimes) dangerous and unconscionable activities of the new but powerful states like China, Israel and India. The aforementioned are enough to cause a shift in Nigeria’s involvement in the world, but that has not been the case.

Ebenezer Okpokpo, writing in the African Studies Quarterly (1999), posited that “the scope of Nigeria’s foreign policy should no longer be limited to continental affairs. It should be focused world-wide and geared toward the promotion of our cultural heritage, and scientific, economic and technical cooperation with viable partners. Its goal should aim at enhancing our national development, and military arrangements with NATO countries in order to give peace a permanent character in our societal needs and our sub-region.” A future treatise — Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Ten Years Into the 21st Century” — will critically examine and build upon the points made by Okpokpo.

My task here — to be concluded in part 2 — is to achieve two basic objectives: (1) engage in a brief study of the men and women that have been at the helm of Nigeria’s foreign policy; and (2) attempt to understand why, in more than two decades or so, Nigeria has not had illustrious foreign affairs ministers; and why the country also seem to manages its foreign policy from the desk of the President. Furthermore, in view of the loud silence coming out of Abuja vis-à-vis regional, sub-regional and global events, one could be forgiven for believing Nigeria does not have a foreign/national security policy.

Of all the External Affairs Ministers Nigeria has ever had, Jaja Nwachukwu, Arikpo Okoi, Joseph Garba and Bolaji Akinyemi seem to be the most noteworthy. Okoi holds the distinction for being Nigeria’s longest serving External Affairs Minister (1967 to 1975) yet, not much has been written about him. Not much is known about him. Of the four Nwachukwu and Okoi are, in the estimation of many, the “first amongst equals.” Dr. Jaja Anucha Nwachukwu was also Nigeria’s first Speaker of the House, and was also, at various times, Nigeria Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. It was said that he was never tainted by corruption, ethnicity, or by self-aggrandizement. Not only was he loved, he was well respected at home and abroad.

I never met or saw Ambassador Nwachukwu. But his excellent and enviable reputation preceded him. In another time and place, he would have been enshrined in the nation’s consciousness, monuments built in his honor. Ambassador Joseph Garba was Nigeria’s External Minister from 1975 until 1978, and was also at the United Nations from 1984 until 1989. Joseph Nanven Garba was born in 1943, at Langtang, Plateau State. He became, at 19, the youngest officer in the Nigerian Army. Sadly, he passed away at 58 without achieving his dream of becoming Nigeria’s President. He will forever be linked to the coup that displaced General Yakubu Gowon; but more than that, he will be remembered for his vigor, his vision and vitality in Nigeria’s Foreign Service.

Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was a scholar, a teacher and a diplomat. He was, from 1975 until 1983 — before General Babangida appointed him Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minster — the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. He is credited with creating the Technical Aid Corps (Nigeria’s version of the Peace Corps), and was also the draftsman for the Concert of Medium Power; and was also a supporter of Nigeria’s Nuclear ambition. His reputation and democratic credentials were somewhat tainted when he called for a coup d’etat against the administration of Ernest Shonekan. Also, but for historical circumstances, he most likely would have been Nigeria’s foremost Foreign Minister. Akinyemi was brilliant, competent and farsighted.

Why he (Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi) has not been returned to the Foreign Ministry is beyond my wits. There is precedence in such appointment and reappointment. General Ike Sanda Nwachukwu was Nigeria’s Foreign Minister from 1987 until1989, and again from1990 until 1993. Of all Nigeria’s top diplomats, Dr. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Minister between 1984–1985, has served in the United Nations system the longest.

Since flag independence, Nigeria has had twenty External Affairs Ministers. Of these, two have been women — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Joy Ogwu — both of whom had about the shortest and most uneventful tenures, one year or less. Other External Affairs Ministers have been Nuhu Bamalli, 1964-1966; Henry Adefope, 1978-1979; Ishaya Audu, 1979-1983; Emeka Anyaoku, 1983-1983; Rilwan Lukman, 1989- 1990; Mathew Mbu, 1993-1993; Babagana Kingibe, 1993- 1995; Tom Ikimi, 1995-1998; Ignatius Olisemeka, 1998-1999; Sule Lamido, 1999-2003; Oluyemi Adeniji, 2003-2006; and Ojo Maduekwe, 2007-.

Between 1999 and 2007, with Olusegun Obasanjo as the President, External Affairs Ministers were nothing more than the President’s companions on foreign trips. President Obasanjo micromanaged Nigeria’s foreign affair the same way he micromanaged the energy sector. But during the tenure of Jaja Nwachukwu, Arikpo Okoi, Joseph Garba and Bolaji Akinyemi, the world knew who Nigeria’s External Affairs Ministers were. These diplomats were visible and of substance. They articulated Nigeria’s foreign and national security policies. Fortunately for the country, the heads of government they served, for the most part, allowed these Ministers a free reign. Recent External Affairs Ministers and their ministries have been operating without clear vision and without claws and fangs. As a consequence, Nigeria’s role and place within the global arena have diminished.

Almost one year into the administration of President Yar’Adua, the External Affairs Minister Chief Ojo Maduekwe, seems to be Missing-In-Action. If Yar’Adua is anything like his predecessor, then, Maduekwe will have no prayer, no voice and no significant role in the shaping and in executing the country’s foreign relations. As far as domestic matters goes, no one is quite sure of where the President is headed; same is true of international affairs. Even so, one is interested in knowing what the scope of involvement of this President will be. So far, nothing impressive has been articulated, and nothing significant has been ventured.

Written by
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
Join the discussion

  • Someone should please kindly help email me the contact address of the ministry of external affairs. The South African Embassy has held back my money (their so-called deposit for visa entry: N110,000.00) for four months now. They have a tactic to hold this money back, by expecting you to come for the money when your visa has expired. And when your visa expires, it’s a come-today, come-tomorrow situation. What is happening to our external affairs?

  • Information like this is important espeacially to Nigerian youths if we consider the problems Nigeria is facing today. This is how to learn from past experiances and make the corrections.

  • This is good. I will be happy if the author can contact me for similar information on NUHU BAMALLI cfr, Dlitt, MP The first minister of state 1960-64 Minister of ext affairs 1964-66 coup.

  • Please, concerning this article titled: “Nigeria’s External Affairs Ministers: 1960-2008”, I humbly want to correct the family name of Nigeria’s first External Affairs Minister. The correct family name is: WACHUKU and not “Nwachukwu” as written in this article. His correct full name is therefore: Jaja Anucha Wachuku. For more information, please visit the Wikipedia profile on Jaja Wachuku, at: