Despite its occasionally turbulent political history, Nigeria has long been both a regional and international diplomatic force. The country is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional diplomatic and economic bloc of 15 member states with roughly 300m people. It is also a party to a raft of international trade agreements through the World Trade Organisation. Nigeria was a founding member of the Organisation for African Unity, now known as the African Union (AU), as well as a member of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and the UN.

GOOD NEIGHBOUR: Since the days of former President Obasanjo’s shuttle diplomacy, Nigeria has sought to expand its influence within Africa on a bilateral basis and through building closer economic ties, with some notable successes. The country is currently on track to surpass South Africa as the continent’s largest economy within the next five years.

As a key player within ECOWAS, Nigeria is expected to benefit from reducing barriers to the movement of people and goods across borders. ECOWAS is unique among many of the continent’s regional groupings in aiming not only for a Customs union and economic integration, but also a single currency and fiscal harmonisation. Doing so in any region in the world would be difficult, but in West Africa, where growth rates, the quality of governance and levels of political development vary significantly, it presents a particularly complex task.

The bloc has made progress in recent years at working towards these goals, following a rise in activity after the 1993 revision to the Treaty of Lagos, which deepened and expanded the framework for integration. For example, visas and permit entry requirements have been abolished for nationals from ECOWAS states travelling to Nigeria. The country has also removed tariff barriers for unprocessed goods coming from ECOWAS states, although it continues to maintain levies on industrial products.

REGIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT: In 2008 ECOWAS took a significant step towards the full establishment of a Customs union following an agreement on a tariff level for the fifth band of a regional common external tariff (CET). In November of that year, Nigeria – the last remaining member state to approve changes tabled earlier to the tariff regimen – agreed to a top band of 35%. The new CET structure was harmonised with the existing ECOWAS CET, which consists of four bands: 0% for essential social goods, 5% for essential and basic raw materials and capital goods, 10% for semi-processed intermediary products and 20% for finished consumer goods. The Nigerian economy accounts for approximately 55% of trade within the 300m-person bloc, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance, told the press in August. Even beyond the West African region, the country has played a significant role in continental affairs. Nigeria was one of the leading proponents of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and has more recently led demands for permanent African representation on the UN Security Council.

Perhaps the most consequential change that resulted from the revisions made in 1993 to the Treaty of Lagos concerned its effects on how member states related to one other. For example, it incorporated a more interventionist policy with regards to domestic affairs within member states, a significant shift away from more traditional notions of state sovereignty. The post-1993 ECOWAS treaty allowed for peacekeeping as well as conflict prevention measures when approved by ECOWAS heads of state. The relevant clause has since been invoked multiple times, in conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger and more recently, Côte d’Ivoire – all situations where Nigerian military units have played key roles or constituted the bulk of forces. This was further bolstered by the adoption of the ECOWAS Protocol on the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, which provides an outline of the objectives and methodology for peace in member states.

GLOBAL LEADERSHIP: Addressing the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly in 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan noted that Nigeria had received backing from both ECOWAS and the AU to pursue its goal of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. He also highlighted the diligence of Nigeria’s leadership in confronting armed conflict within its own borders, as well as the country’s contributions to peace-building efforts internationally. Nigerian peacekeepers have participated in missions in countries affected by conflict worldwide, from Haiti to Timor-Leste.

Since 1960, Nigeria has contributed more military personnel and resources to African peacekeeping operations than any other nation, deploying over 12,000 officers on UN, AU and ECOWAS missions, according to the Nigeria Police Force. The country is also the fifth-largest contributor, in terms of the number of soldiers, to UN peacekeeping globally.

WIDER HORIZONS: Like many sub-Saharan states, over the last decade, Nigeria has increased economic and political ties with Asian countries, particularly China. Some 41% of Nigeria’s imports came from Asian states in 2012, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. For example, bilateral trade between China and Nigeria topped $13bn in 2012, up from $2bn in 2002. This made China into one of Nigeria’s top trading partners.

During President Jonathan’s visit to Beijing in July 2013, the Chinese government committed to a $1.1bn low-interest loan to the Nigerian government for infrastructure projects including roads, airports and light rail. Chinese companies have already secured contracts worth $1.7bn to build roads across Nigeria, the BBC reported when the deal was announced.

Indeed, India surpassed the US as the largest importer of Nigerian crude in 2012, and total trade volumes between the two countries reached $16.6bn. Furthermore, Indian foreign direct investment surpassed $10bn in 2012, and included financing for key projects such as the $2.4bn Indorama fertiliser plant located in Port Harcourt in the south-east of the country. At the same time, Nigeria is the US’s top trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, due largely to petroleum imports, whereas the US is Nigeria’s number one foreign investor, with investment focused on the hydrocarbons and wholesale trade sectors, according to the US State Department. The US provided Nigeria with $625m in foreign assistance in the 2012/13 fiscal year, making the West African country the eighth-largest recipient of US aid.

In addition, Nigeria continues to receive assistance through various international organisations, including the UN, the IMF and the World Bank. In July 2013, the Nigerian federal government and UN signed a new development assistance framework that will focus UN assistance in four priority areas between 2014 and 2017: good governance, social capital development, human security and risk management, and equitable and sustainable economic growth.