Wed, 16 Dec 2020 Feature Article

The Media And Nigeria’s Foreign Policy In The Fourth Republic

The Media And Nigeria’s Foreign Policy In The Fourth Republic


Many studies have substantiated that there is a dialectical linkage between the media and foreign policy making and implementation; especially in a democratic setting where the media is said to be the fourth estate of the realm. The aim of this study is to find out the link between the media and foreign policy making and implementation in Nigeria especially with respect to Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. The focus of the paper is on the print media. The paper identifies and discusses some of the major areas that have been at the centre of the media’s imagination with respect to foreign policy. The media’s contribution to the discourse on foreign policy is arrayed alongside the objectives of Nigerian foreign policy. We opine that the media has had impact on Nigeria’s foreign policy making and implementation process. Nonetheless, the paper argues that the media still have move to do especially in terms of foreign policy agenda setting and framing. To achieve this goal media-government relationship must be strengthened. In the event, the paper recommends that the Nigerian media must take very proactive and dynamic measures in rousing the policy antenna of the foreign policy elite and mobilising the interests of generality of the Nigerian peoples to participate in foreign policy matters. In the event, the media would have profound impact on the Nigeria’s foreign policy machinery.

The Problematic: Theoretical and Methodological Matters

The question of as to whether there is a link between the media and foreign policy has long been resolved. Myriads of disciplines especially cutting across mass communication, sociology, psychology, political science and international relations have entered into the fray of the debate from the angles of their different professional knowledge and background. This paper draws its disciplinary inspiration from political science especially international relations. Specifically, the paper interrogates the link between the media and Nigeria’s foreign policy with special reference to Nigeria’s the Fourth Republic.

The advent of modern information and communication technology has completely altered the nature and character of the contemporary media. It is this revolution in ICT that has birthed such global media giants like CNN, BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera and Fox TV. CNN was the first global news network (Whittemore) and its global cable broadcast revolutionised not only the media space but the contours and perspectives of contemporary international relations so much so that the former Secretary-General of the United Nations had contended ‘CNN is the sixteenth member of the Security Council’ (Minear, Scott, and Weiss 1996, p:4). The impact of the media to reshape the production and consumption of events in the international system; and its impact on policymaking led to the theory that is referred to as the ‘CNN effect.’

There have been many definitional, theoretical and methodological disputations as to what is the CNN effect. It is important to note, however, that these differences are largely differences of degree and not type; and therefore, our intention here is less to resurrect the pyrotechnical exchanges of this debate as it is to examine how the fundamental values of this theory in whatever hue and strand has imposed itself on the foreign policymaking process. Some major theoretical and methodological frameworks that have been deployed in the study and analysis of media and foreign policymaking are agenda-setting McCombs, Shaw, and Weaver 1997); agenda-building (McQuail, 2011), manufacturing consent (Chomsky and Herman, 2001); framing (Reese, Gandy, and Grant 2001); indexing hypothesis (Bennett, 1990); and positioning hypothesis (Shaw and Miller 2002); realist theory (Morgenthau, 1990); substitution theory (Regan,2000); telediplomacy (Ammon, 2001); and, mediapolitik (Edward, 2001).

The theoretical and methodological fertility on the subject media and foreign policy led Eytan Gilboa (2005) to contend that there is ‘The Search for a Communication Theory of International Relations.’ Gilboa (2005, p:330 ) argues that two criteria are critical in the comparative assessment of the media and policymaking: a.) the impact of the media on specific foreign policy decision in comparison to the relative impact of the other factors, and b.) the application of this procedure to several relevant case studies. Livingston (1997) in his application of the CNN effect in the analysis of media and policymaking identify three key elements, a.) an accelerant to decision making, b.) an impediment to the achievement of desired policy goals; and, c.) a policy agenda-setting agent. In the matter of relating theory to praxis, Robinson (2000; 2002) contends that the media is most likely to meaningfully influence foreign policymaking in a situation of policy uncertainty and media coverage of a foreign policy is critically framed and empathizes with the victims.

These theoretical postulations appear to take for granted the peculiarities of media ecologies. The media in a democratic environment is completely different from the media in an authoritarian setting; while in the former it is free and operates with a measure of philosophical and psychological independence, in the latter it operates in fear and under the pangs of editorial tyranny. This taken-for-granted function of the media is almost always the case of media analysis in advanced democracies. Despite the variations in editorial ecologies, the one indisputable fact is that wherever the media exists its core functions are to inform, educate and entertain. Given these noble roles and its institutional power, the media is imbued with the theoretical and professional mandate to set agenda for the intellectual and material edification of society.

This paper is therefore foregrounded in the agenda setting theory. The theory argues that by virtue of the media power in providing the platform for public discourse, it influences both the trajectory of the production and consumption of public thought. This it does through its decision to present or not to present an issue for the public’s consumption. In the contemporary information age, the traditional media monopolization and determination of the information that reaches the public space has been unhorsed by the radical revolution in information and communication technology that has brought in its wake plethora of media platforms. Consequently, these media platforms compete with the traditional media and in many instances surpass them in reportage especially in terms of instantaneity and simultaneity. This development has led to media theoreticians propounding of an agenda setting theory that is often the case theoretically triangulated with framing and agenda building theories in the analysis of contemporary media phenomenon.

The agenda setting function of the media is embedded in three fundamental layers: media agenda; public agenda, and policy agenda. Media agenda deals with what the media itself is interested in achieving by setting a given agenda; public agenda on the other hand deals with issues of public interest, the impact of such issues on the public and public responses to them; and policy agenda is concerned with how issues on the media agenda reflects in the imagination and responses of public policy makers. Framing theory deals with the mode, style, perspective and ideological framework of presenting a news item. It deals with the ideological intention of the news presenters and the goals they want to achieve. Oftenest, as is the case, the intent is to promote a discourse; to amplify the critical dimensions of a question; to enhance interpretations; make moral evaluations and recommendations (Gitlin, 1980; Tuchman 1978).

For the media and foreign policy, the question that arises is: how has the Nigerian media set, build and frame agenda for the realization of her foreign policy objectives? The foreign policy agenda of Nigeria is constitutionalised in Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which deals with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in Section 19 (a-e) to include: a.) promotion and protection of the national interests; b.) promotion of African integration and support for African unity; c.) promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of the universal peace and mutual respect among all nations, and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; d.) respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication, and e.) promotion of a just world.

The media covering of these lofty foreign policy objectives of Nigeria is critical to the public and foreign policy makers’ understanding of their success rates. The way the media set the issues relating to Nigeria’s foreign policy helps the generality of the public to digest and participate in the interrogation of the issue; how the news item is framed influences the general public’s reaction. Agenda setting and framing helps the general public understanding of the policy process. Since the turn of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the Nigerian media has played this role in immeasurable ways. The media has been central in mobilising the Nigerian public to critically participate in the democratization and democratic consolidation process. The media has also been pivotal in setting the agenda in the area of foreign policy especially as it concerns Nigeria’s international image, the Bakassi peninsula conflict, Nigerian diaspora, and xenophobia.

The Nigerian Media: Multiple Temporalities and Contemporalities

The media is a necessary institutional accoutrement in any society: traditional or modern. This is true with Nigeria, no less. The traditional media in Nigeria ceased its predomination of the media space with the advent of colonial modernism. The modern media took root at twilight of the nineteen century with the publication Iwe Irohin in 1859. The media therefore predates Nigeria. The major aim of the was to aid the project of missionization and proselytization. From the time of the establishment of these media to the period of independence in 1960, it is arguable that more than one hundred newspapers had flourished in Nigeria. The historiography of the media in Nigeria is lush with factors that influenced the ownership, establishment and collapse of these media houses that we need not tarry in explication (Omu, 1978). What is of paramount concern for us here is the fashioning of the philosophical and ideological responsibility of the media in its multiple temporalities.

Though the ancestry of the Nigerian media is rooted in religion, it is its ideological and political activities that have established its reputation. At the point of its establishment in the middle to late nineteen century, Nigeria was in the colonial foetus of political birth. The colonialists’ interests were not at par with the colonized and this disparity in social vison and political development pitched both side at loggerhead. The media stepped into the fray and radically waged a relentless nationalist struggle against colonialism. Some of the newspapers at the time were (Oso, Odunlami and Adaja 2007) Lagos Observer (1882), The Eagle and Lagos Critic (1883); The Mirror (1887); Lagos Echo (1890); Lagos Weekly Record (1890); The Chronicles (1908); The Pioneer (1914); Lagos Daily News (1925) and The Nigerian Daily Times (1926).

The media sooner than later was caught in the web of Nigeria’s ethnopolitical and social cleavages. The differences arising from this plurality of social forces was magnified in the march to independence in 1960 as majority of the newspapers became mouthpieces of the regionally and ethnically based political parties. This scenario had two major implication on the media. Firstly, it bred intra-mural rivalry and tension (Agbaje, 1992); and secondly, it led to the difficulty of the media to mobilise the nation with a common battle cry. In the words of Oso, Odunlami and Adaja (2007, p:12-13) one of the major implications of these cleavages on the press and nation-building in Nigeria is that ‘…it has become very difficult to use the press to mobilise the citizenry on a pan-Nigerian platform for political and democratic struggle. The perception of ethnicity as an underlying factor in news coverage and production vitiates the effectiveness of the Nigerian press as an organ of the public sphere.’

The ownership structure of the Nigerian media has been a mixed bag of experiences and this has also affected the editorial and sociological character of the media. It started on the note of laisser-faire ownership; sooner than later, it experienced state control especially during the period of military rule. For instance, the Murtala/Obasanjo military takeover of 1976 led to the takeover of the New Nigerian and Daily Times; through the instrumentality of Decree No.2 of 1977 the federal government took over all state-owned television stations in 1976; and through such draconian military decrees such Decree No. 4 of 1984 (Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation) the press was gagged. It is important to note here that the Nigerian media has in the course of its evolution been subjected to many laws that have attempted to bridle its professional voice such as Official Secret Act (1962); Press Registration Act (1933); Newspapers Act (1917); Emergency Powers Act (1961) and the Seditious Meeting Act (1961) amongst many others.

The military had profound impact on the military. Two points stand out on the impact of the military on the media especially within the contest of this discourse. It is ironic that the same military that is a strange bed fellow to the free media were the ones that deregulated and expanded the media space especially with the privatisation of the broadcast media. It was the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida that established the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) via Decree No.38 (1992). This has led to massive quantitative transformation in the ownership of private radio and television broadcast stations. In the wake of the Fourth Republic, President Olusegun Obasanjo consolidated on the gains of this expansion by expanding the broadcast media space by establishing well over one hundred FM and NTA stations across the nation.

Secondly, the draconian measures of the military especially under General Sani Abacha drove a section of the media underground. This led to many journalists running outside the country, joining prodemocracy groups and the establishment militant tabloids to confront military rule. The unceasing reportage of the atrocities of the military regime by both the domestic and international wings of the opposition led to the internationalization of the political crisis in Nigeria. This invariably led to bad press and poor image for Nigeria in international cycles.

The Nigerian media waged a relentless war against the military junta of General Sani Abacha until his death in 1998. After his death, the struggle was no longer to do away with Abacha but to open up the political space for democratic participation. The media discharged this onerous responsibility with admiral courage and tenacity of purpose. The quest to oust Abacha and return the country to the path of democracy witness the joining of forces by a constellation of media forces in the country. Doubtless, they were organisational and operational hiccups, such as the regionalisation and ethnicization of the June 12 struggle, but overall, the resolve of the media was by far stronger than its limitations. The transition to civil rule was eventually rolled out and President Olusegun Obasanjo elected thus heralding the inauguration of the Fourth Republic.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the ground norm of Nigeria’s constitutional democracy in the Fourth Republic. One of the landmarks of the constitution is the constitutionalization of the responsibility of the media as the fourth estate of the realm. According to Chapter 2 Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, ‘the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government of the people.’ Among some of the fundamental objectives that the media is expected to uphold are Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives captured in Section 19 (a-e) to include: a.) promotion and protection of the national interests; b.) promotion of African integration and support for African unity; c.) promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of the universal peace and mutual respect among all nations, and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; d.) respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication, and e.) promotion of a just world.’

The Media and Foreign Policy in Nigeria

There can be no little doubt that the media play important roles in the foreign policy system of the modern state. The difference that may likely separate the quality of intervention of the media across nation-states is a difference of degree not kind. And the reasons could be borne out of a myriad of factors which are immediately outside the ken of this work. In the instant case of Nigeria, the media has proven to be a factor in the foreign policy making and implementation process (Akinyemi 1979; Fafowora,1990; Udeala 2016). The Nigerian media on account of professional, organizational and administrative factors have not played critical roles in Nigeria’s foreign policy architecture as would be expected of it (Alimi, 2005). In the Fourth Republic, which is the scope of this work, the Nigerian media has played important roles in the honing and shaping of foreign policy in a number of ways.

Firstly, the restoration of Nigeria’s poor international image. In our background analysis of the period preceding the advent of the Fourth Republic we alluded to how a combination of political and social factors sullied the image and reputation of Nigeria. The image crisis of Nigeria was worsened by the rising tide of petty crimes, scam letters, armed robbery, kidnapping and the Hobbesian-like state of insecurity that pervaded the country. Salamone (2014, p:75), an American anthropologist and specialist on Nigeria, in his comment on Nigeria’s image in America at the time states that:

The general view of Nigeria portrayed in the American media is that of a dangerous country, filled with internal sectarian interests. Christians are pitted against Muslims. Men are opposed to women. The Sharia law is seen as repressive and outmoded, a medieval device to keep women subjected to men. The men are oversexed and even brutish, having four wives to do their bidding. Men are seen to keep their wives at home, at least Muslims men. Moreover, the sharia allows men to stone their wives or daughters for disgracing the family. Even if raped, women can be stoned for disgracing their families. Indeed, Americans feel that with all their regional, religious, ethnic, and linguistic divisions, it is somewhat of a miracle that Nigeria remains a nation today.

The description couldn’t have been gorier. With poor international image and a pariah status, Nigeria was psychologically crestfallen and lacking in the requisite moral stamina and political energy to pursue her foreign policy objectives. The immediate foreign policy agenda of the government was the restoration of Nigeria’s battered image and the restitution of her political carriage, dignity, and respectability. Given the media’s professionalism, publicity and propaganda resources, the government mobilised the media both to facilitate in the execution of this onerous assignment. The federal government established sixty-seven digital television stations and thirty-two digital FM stations across the country in what the then minister of Information, Jerry Gana had termed ‘federal government effort in regarding information dissemination as an internal part of democracy in the country.’ The government also commenced the process of recovery of the Abacha loot; in order to achieve this foreign policy agenda, President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked on so many shuttle diplomacies.

The Nigerian media was not in doubt of the onerous task that lay ahead if the it had to play any meaningful role in the exorcising of the ghost that hovered on the firmament of Nigeria’s global image. The media deploying its agenda-setting and framing power embarked on massive editorializations, feature commentaries, columns, letter writings, public relations, publication of critical opinions on Nigeria’s international relations and the engagement in plethora of media diplomacy all aimed at remobilising the citizenry and galvanization of internal opinion to support Nigeria’s foreign policy drives especially as it related to her image re-engineering agenda.

This strategy paid off. No sooner than it had started, Nigeria’s traditional allies lent support to her and this translated into assisting Nigeria to track Abacha loot and return same to Nigeria; she began to be courted in international cycles and concomitantly her confidence level role exponentially and she had begun to exert influence on global issues. At the African level, she resumed her position of prominence in African affairs—bilaterally and multilaterally—and this is emblematised by the leading roles Nigeria played in the formation of the New Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) in 2001 and the transformation of the Organisation of African Union (OAU) into African Union (AU) in 2002. It is also worthy to note that at the time too, Nigerians began once more to be elected into major positions in international organisations such as the United Nations and African Union.

Secondly, the Nigerian media played a key role in setting and framing the debate on Nigeria-Cameroun conflict over the Bakassi peninsula. In an empirical study on the involvement of the media in the Bakassi conflict, Alemoh and Udoh (2015) demonstrated how the Nigerian media— particularly The Guardian, Punch, New Nigerian and Vanguard—were critically crucial in shaping the conflict. The findings of the study indicated that 62.5% of respondents agreed that the editorial boards of their newspapers were honestly convinced that press coverage could facilitate a non-violent resolution of the Bakassi peninsula conflict. In point of the media intervention and Nigeria’s foreign policy, the study underscored a convergence (Alemoh and Udoh 2015, p: 10):

… there seem to be a convergence in the newspaper coverage of the Bakassi Peninsula conflict and the principles outlined in the Nigeria foreign policy thrust. The main area of convergence is in keeping of peace in the African continent which is a paramount tenet of the policy thrust….enshrined in the policy thrust derived from the basic principles in the 1999 Constitution Section 19 (a)-(e) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: promotion and protection of the national interests; b.) promotion of African integration and support for African unity; c.) promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of the universal peace and mutual respect among all nations, and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; d.) respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication, and e.) promotion of a just world.

Thirdly, the Nigeria media was critical in the mobilization of public opinion to support foreign policy pursuits. The importance of public opinion in foreign policy is crucially central (Rosenau, 1961). The Nigerian media is noted to have been a major factor in the galvanization of public opinion to support foreign policy issues. It is a measure of the effectiveness of the media in this regards that the Nigerian publics on many occasions have risen to engage on key foreign policy issues. According to Iroh (2005, p:347) ‘… our foreign policy makers tended to react to negative public opinion towards new policy initiatives, as for instance, in the case of OIC, Anglo-Nigeria Defence Pact, Nuclear Test in the Sudan, and the September 11 attacks in the United States.’

The making and implementation of foreign policy is usually not opened to inputs from the generality of the people. It is almost always an arena of exclusive operation by the foreign policy elite. It is the media that explicates on the nature of the policy and mobilises public opinion. It is when this policy is well understood by the people that they react. In Nigeria, this has been the case of the Anglo-Defence Pact, the Nuclear Test in the Sahara by France and Nigeria’s parting of relations with Egypt in 1973 (Iroh 2005). In the Fourth Republic, the media have played crucial roles in the mobilising of public opinion on such important foreign policy issues as African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), NEPAD, AU, UN, ECOWAS, anti-corruption, economic development, poverty, education, social vices cannot be gainsaid.

Although the Nigerian media have played critically important roles in the agenda-setting and framing of foreign policy matters, it is not yet Uhuru. Foreign policy is a highly specialised area and as such it requires that media analysts commenting on foreign policy matters should be well trained and informed about the issues and nuances of international politics. What this entails is that the media houses must deliberately embark upon specialised training for journalists covering the foreign desk. For media houses that don’t have foreign desks it is advised that they would do so without hesitation. Pursuant to the realisation of this objective it is important that the media houses and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs enter into protocols of harmonious and cooperative working relationships.

The foreign policy elite must wean themselves of intellectual snobbishness. The idea that the foreign policy arena is a highly technical, professional, and secretive should be discarded post-haste. The media must be incorporated into the inner recesses of the foreign policy machinery as critically partners. As noted by Alimi (2005, p:338) the cause of the failure of acknowledgement by recipients of Nigeria’s assistances and diplomatic gestures is due to the fact that ‘there has been no systematic attempt to mobilise popular consciousness through the media in favour of the country’s foreign policy.’


The media is one of the critical pillars that upholds the pursuit of the foreign policy goals and objectives of any modern state. This is especially truer in a democracy. This paper set out to find out the nature of the nexus between the media and foreign policy in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. The Nigerian media is one of the most vibrant and dynamic media on the African continent; however, a combination of factors have stifled its ideological and philosophical vision. It was especially strangulated under the successive regimes of military rule in Nigeria. However, the return to democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999 and the constitutionalization of her responsibilities in the promotion of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state objectives have energised the media to pursue its professional responsibilities with renewed vigour and commitment.

In the Fourth Republic, specifically, the paper found out that the Nigerian media deployed its agenda-setting and framing power in putting issues relating to Nigerian foreign policy on the front burner of public discourse. This was done using platforms such as editorializations, feature commentaries, columns, letter writings, public relations and publication of critical commentaries on Nigeria’s international relations. These efforts paid off as Nigeria’s poor image was restored; and her pariah-hood status eradicated. This busting tonic energised Nigeria morally, politically and psychologically to participate in international affairs. This saw her participating actively at both the bilateral and multilateral levels in honing and shaping the trajectory of global affairs; in Africa particularly, she was instrumental in the establishment of New Partnership for the Development of Africa (NEPAD) and the transformation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to African Union (AU).

The Nigerian media reportage was critical in the peaceful resolution of the Bakassi Peninsula and mobilization of public opinion to support foreign policy issues. To a considerable level the media was successful in these dimensions. The media was constrained by lack of professional knowledge on the foreign policy making and implementation process, this was exacerbated by the snobbishness of the foreign policy elite that reflects in shrouding of foreign policy matters in secrecy and unwillingness to cooperate with the media. In most cases, the relevance of the media is only known in the event of backlash. To put paid to this scenario, the paper recommended that professional training in the area of foreign policy making and implementation should be given to journalists; foreign desks should be established in the editorial departments of those media houses that have none; cooperation should be established between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the media. In the event, the media would be placed in good stead to make meaningful contributions to the pursuit of Nigeria foreign policy objectives as encapsulated in Chapter 2, Section 19 (a-e) dealing with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.


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