WITH AROUND 36 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves-the largest in Africa and the eighth largest in the world-Nigeria is America's fifth-largest supplier of oil. In 2006, the United States imported an average of 1,139,000 barrels of oil per day from the West African country, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. By comparison, third-ranked supplier Saudi Arabia sold us a daily average of 1,456,000 barrels.
Nigeria's significance to American interests goes beyond energy supplies. At a time when the demands on the United States stretch beyond capacities, Nigeria has emerged as the principal African contributor to peacekeeping missions, including the embattled African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in the Darfur region. In December, Nigeria offered 1,800 soldiers-the first country to so step forward-to the stabilization force that the United Nations Security Council unanimously authorized for war-torn Somalia. Nigeria has also been at the forefront of regional and international diplomatic initiatives, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Africa's most effective sub-regional grouping; the African Union (AU) and its African Peace and Security Council; and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) peer-review mechanism.
Moreover, as the Bush Administration's democracy promotion exercise in the Middle East flounders amid Iraq's sectarian strife, the value of an oil-rich nation-with a Muslim population three times that of Saudi Arabia and a budding democracy-lending strong diplomatic support cannot be underestimated. Since 9/11, the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo has used its considerable heft in Africa (Nigeria's 140 million people make the country by far the most populous African state, with a demographic weight equal to second-ranked Egypt and third-ranked Democratic Republic of Congo combined) to forge an anti-terror consensus.