Relations with Other Nation-States

Northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon share a border that in the past two decades has been a site of increasing conflict, particularly due to militant Islamism among members of Boko Haram and disputes over the oil rich area known as the Bakassi Peninsula. These issues are tied to the drying of Lake Chad due to climate change; locals who once relied on Lake Chad’s ecosystem now compete over limited resources in the context of widespread poverty and political instability.[1] The border dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon was decided by the International Court of Justice in 2002, referred to as the Greentree Agreement, at which point Nigeria agreed to transfer land to Cameroon and Nigerian troops were withdrawn from the Peninsula. The agreement was reaffirmed in 2013.[2]

Diplomatic relations between China and Nigeria became closer in the 1990s during the Sani Abacha regime, when the United States imposed certain economic and diplomatic sanctions on Nigeria. Currently, Nigeria is China’s third largest African trading partner behind Egypt and South Africa.[3] China is also a large and important market for Nigerian oil and is heavily invested in Nigerian oil production, which has included supplying military assistance to combat anti-corporate militant activism in Nigeria’s Delta region.[4] While some perceive Chinese interest in Africa as a new type of “scramble for Africa,” as it often has a negative impact on local communities and businesses through environmental degradation and economic exploitation, for some China presents an alternative to what is perceived as Western exploitation, neglect, and neo-colonialism.


The United States relies heavily on Nigerian oil, though the recent North American shale oil boom is decreasing demand, much to the chagrin of Nigerian business and political leaders. The United States has been involved with anti-terrorism efforts in Nigeria since the 9/11 attacks by Islamist militant group al-Qaeda.[5]


During the Abacha regime in the 1990s, American President Bill Clinton imposed various sanctions on Nigeria in protest of human rights violations against government opposition, particularly the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. However, Clinton did not introduce oil sanctions, which was suggestive of the importance of Nigerian oil imports during that period. Human rights groups criticized Clinton’s decision, stating that oil sanctions would have swiftly ended the Abacha regime.


Lastly, Nigerian immigration to America is currently altering America’s religious landscape as Nigerian Catholic priests become more prominent in American church leadership, and Nigerian Pentecostal movements flourish. The United States has a large Nigerian population with roots in transatlantic slavery as well as in more recent immigration waves. In particular, the rise of military dictatorships triggered a massive immigration, especially among educated Nigerians, doubling the Nigerian American population between 1989 and 1990.[6] At the same time the difficult economic climate, particularly following the ballooning inflation after the controversial World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Programs launched in the ‘80s, many highly (and often foreign) educated Nigerians left the country in search of better employment, causing a type of brain-drain. In the past decade, most African immigrants to the United States have been from Nigeria, which has had a direct impact on America’s religious composition. Nigerian Pentecostal churches such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God are growing in American cities, and Nigerian priests frequently lead Catholic congregations as numbers of American priests dwindle and enrolment in Nigerian seminaries grows.[7]


President Buhari was invited to the White House in July 2015, shortly after his election. The invitation is a show of interest and support for the country’s new leader by the United States. The United States has also pledged $5 million toward the efforts of the multinational joint force combating Boko Haram, in addition to the  $34 million that has already been contributed to regional efforts in Nigeria.[8]



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[1] Abiodun Alao, Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa: The Tragedy of Endowment (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2007).

[2] Piet Konings, “Settling Border Conflicts in Africa Peacefully: Lessons Learned from the Bakassi Dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria,” in Land, Law and Politics in Africa: Mediating Conflict and Reshaping the State, ed. Jan Abbink, Jon Abbink, and Mirjam de Bruiin (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 191–211.

[3] John E. Anegbode and Cletus E. Onakalu, “How Ready is Nigeria for Chinese Investments?” in The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment in Africa, eds. Toyin Falola and Jessica Achberger (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 267–278.

[4] Dino Mahtani, “Nigeria turns to China for defence aid,” Financial Times, February 28, 2006,, accessed October 25, 2013.

[5] Olayiwola Abegunrin, Nigerian Foreign Policy Under Military Rule, 1966–1999 (Westport: Praeger Publishing, 2003), p. 153.

[6] Jeanne Armstrong, “Global Origins: Africa, Asia, and Europe,” in Immigration in America Today: An Encyclopedia, eds. James Loucky, Jeanne Armstrong, and Lawrence J. Estrada (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2006), pp. 149.

[7] Andrew Rice, “Mission from Africa,” The New York Times, April 12, 2009,, accessed February 26, 2016; John Soltes, “From Nigeria to America, in Search of God,” The Brooklyn Rail, December 14, 2007,, accessed October 25, 2013.

[8] “Hope for a new chapter in U.S.- Nigeria relations,” The Washington Post, July 23, 2015,, accessed 12 February, 2016.