National interest: a case of philosophical inconsistency

September 27, 2011
National League East
by j-dub1980







Victor I. Lukpata (Ph.D)

Management Development Institute

Calabar – Nigeria.





As a concept, national interest may offer guidance and a basis for broad consensus, but the term is so vague that everyone might label any foreign policy pronouncements with such as attractive name. It is because of this start reality and for purpose of clarity of focus that many analysts in the field of international relations would like to think of national interest simply as national security interest. In accordance with the postulation of Walter Lippman, National Security denotes that “a nation is secured to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wishes to avoid war and is able if challenged, to maintain them by victory in case of war”. With this flash on the concept of national interest, let us pause a while to critically examine the philosophical inconsistency associated with the term and to unfold how this can influence foreign policy behaviour of states.



The notion of national interest is vague; and so, it is difficult to give a precise definition of the term. In spite of that national interest is defined as the general long term and continuing purpose which the states, nation and the government see themselves as serving. The national interest of a state is rooted in the social consciousness and in the cultural identity of a people. In other words, the national interest of a state is a product of social values which the people have. In practice, the national interest of a country is synthesized and checked by political leaders or policy makers. That is why national interest is defined as “what policy makers say it is”. The national interest of a country is the interest of its leaders. It may also be the interest of a group such as the bourgeoisie or proletariat depending on which class is in power. It may as well be the interest of the king. In his address at the All Nigeria – Conference on Foreign Policy NIPPS, Kuru on 7th April, 1986, President IBB maintained that he would like to think of national interest as national security interest. This is because to him the concept of national interest has become so vague and elastic. We have been warned by social scientists that national security has many ramifications. They argue that threat to national security has many tangible ingredients which may be more menacing than external military threat. It can take subtle forms such as subversion of core values through economic sabotage, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, espionage, and cultural subversion. We are all aware of the damage which these elements can cause on a nation’s psyche and survival. National security interest can be used to refer to such concepts as “self-preservation”, “self-defence”, and even “survival”. In short, national security means that the state should survive. It means it should live without serious threat to all values that are regarded as important or vital (Babangida, 1986).


The term national interest is characterized with inconsistency. People do hide under the cover of national interest to project and protect their own individual, or group interests. This is true in the sense that most foreign policy behaviours are quite inimical to national interests of states. The analysis below will suffice to prove right this assertion:


According to G. Aforka  Nweke, two Nigerian patrol boats at Ikang, a border town with a population of 15,000 in Cross River State, spotted non-Nigerian Patrol Vessels inside Nigerian territory. Moving forward to identify the vessels the Cameroon gendarmes in those vessels opened fire on one of Nigeria’s Ppatrol boats, Killing five patrolmen and wounding at least three others. After the killing of the five Nigerian soldiers, a heavy barrage of bullets also came from Cameroon gendarmes pitched at tree tops in the river side forest. The second Nigerian Patrol boat fought its way to retrieve the attacked boat and casualties. For some days after the shooting a Cameroon helicopter continued to fly over Ikang at a very low altitude. When the then Governor of Cross River State, Clement Isong, paid his first visit to Ikang area after the incident, Lt Col. F. Ehigiator of the 13 Infantry Brigade in Calabar not only confirmed the episode but also told him that Cameroon gave Nigeria a surprise attack. This incident occurred on 16th May, 1981 and in spite of several aggressive response form politically–conscious and articulate Nigerians, who perceived the incident as a threat to national security-the core or vital interest of Nigeria, president Shagari blatantly failed to take military action against Cameroon. The military option could have been justified on at least two grounds, namely, national interest and self-defence. Since the attack by Cameroon was a direct threat to Nigeria’s vital interest, defined in terms of national security, it was justifiable for the Federal Government in the language of the speaker of House of Representatives, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke to return fire for fire. The Nigeria-Cameroon border crisis can be compared with the Sino-Soviet border dispute of 1969 (between Kazakstan and Sinkiang) in which five Soviet border guards were believed to have been killed. The national interests, that is, national insecurity of both countries were at stake. Both reacted with force and China, the apparently weaker side, went to the extend of building up the Gaullist equivalent of a nuclear force de Frappe (strike force) directed against the Soviet Union. On 2 March, 1969, the Frontier groups of both countries clashed over Damansky Island in the USSURI River, with heavy casualties 31 dead and 14 wounded on the Soviet side. Therefore, the inability of the Nigerian Federal Government to take military action against Cameroon in the wake of the attack on Nigeria by Cameroon on 16 May 1980 was quite inimical to the national interest of Nigeria. (Gabriel Olusanya and Raymond Akindele 1990:398).


EXPULSION OF ILLEGAL ALIENS FROM NIGERIA: The action of Shagari administration with respect to sudden expulsion of illegal aliens from Nigeria was a behaviour that was quite inimical to Nigeria national interest. The decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria announced on 17 January, 1983 by the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Ali Baba giving all illegal immigrants numbering between two million and three million, fourteen days to leave the Nigeria created the worst international crisis for Nigeria. This decision it should be noted created a near-universal and unexpected hostility towards Nigeria to the amazement of many Nigerians. It involved Nigeria in severe acrimony and sharp disagreement with friendly as well as hostile international actors in some respects worse than international reactions to the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70. For instance, the state Department in Westhampton described the decision as shocking and that it represented a violation of every imaginable human rights. The European Economic Community (EEC) issued a press statement from Brussels deploring the quit order. The pope, John Paul II denounced the expulsion as a grave, incredible drama and he went on to describe it as producing the largest single and worst human exodus in Nigeria. Mr. Michael Foot, then the Opposition Leader in the British House of Commons, wrote a letter to the Nigerian High Commission in Landon, Alhaji Shahu Awak, in which he referred to the expulsion order and the manner in which it had been implemented as an act of heartlessness and a failure of Common humanity. The Western mass media were even more Violent in their attack on the Nigerian Government. In an editorial entitled “Inhuman and Heading for Disaster”, the London Guardian referred to the quit order as bordering on inhumanity, high-handedness and irresponsibility.Because of this singular action by the administration of Buhari Nigeria’s image abroad was put in a bad light and other West African Countries such as Ghana, Ivory Coast thought it wise to reciprocate by expelling Nigerian nationals in those countries (Gabriel Olusanya and Raymond Akindele 1990:400).



The adoption of Structural Adjustment Programme as a foreign policy decision during Akinyemi’s tenure as Foreign Affairs Minister under the administration of President emeritus Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida is another foreign policy behaviour that is inimical to the national interest of Nigeria. To most Nigerians who were and are the victims of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), many key functionaries in government as well as the organized private business interest group, the minister’s bold policy initiatives were regarded as a serious error of national distraction from the fundamental and pressing business of arresting the depression in the Nigerian economy. The structural Adjustment Programme. (SAP) as you know brought so much untold hardship to Nigerians that a four-day workshop on SAP and the Nigerian Environment organized by the Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST) held in Benin-city on May 1993 to examine the effect of SAP on the country’s renewable resource utilization, the housing industry, agriculture and waste disposal and called for a “complete review of the programme”,- THE GUARDIAN, May 17, 1993. In the same vain, a conference on Alternative To SAP was

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