Nigeria's vast oil wealth, a population that includes one in
every five Africans and a willingness to wade into regional turmoil
have made the country a power in West Africa and a political force
across the continent.
"When there are crises, the countries have looked upon Nigeria
to be an arbitrator," said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former
Nigerian minister of finance and foreign affairs. "It has
always been like that. If you are the older brother, the stronger
brother or sister, you have to help those who come after you.
It is engrained in our cultural approach."
its foreign policy on African affairs, Nigeria has deployed troops
on peacekeeping missions to calm conflicts, sent diplomats to
negotiate political disputes and committed resources to organizations
that promote development and economic cooperation between African
Nigeria is the region's largest economy representing 55 percent
of West Africa's gross domestic product, the most populous nation
on the continent at an estimated 130 million people and the continent's
largest oil producer.
"They're the big guy on the block in every way," said
Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and a fellow
at the Council on Foreign Relations.
This heavyweight status puts Nigeria in a natural leadership
role, one that both its democratically elected and military leaders
have embraced since gaining independence from Britain in 1960.
Joining with other newly independent African countries, Nigeria
helped found the Organization for African Unity in 1963 to promote
African independence and solidarity. The OAU became the African
Union in 2001.
Along with South Africa, the continent's other superpower, Nigeria
commands a broad influence within the AU. From May 2004 to September
2005, Nigeria's President Olesegun Obasanjo served as the AU chairman.
The AU Force Commander Maj. Gen. Collins Ihekire is Nigerian,
and many of the union's peacekeepers come from Nigeria. Abuja,
Nigeria's capitol, has been the site of peace talks between the
Sudanese government and the rebel groups in Darfur.
Nigeria also played a pivotal role in founding the Economic Community
of West African States, or ECOWAS, in 1975 as a regional economic
organization of 15 member countries.
From the trade-based foundation of ECOWAS originated the Economic
Community of West African States Monitoring Group, or ECOMOG,
to unite the region's armies to contain the civil war that erupted
in Liberia in the early 1990s.
Nigeria contributed significant financial backing, troops and
resources that made ECOMOG's creation possible. From 1990
to 1997, Nigeria troops made up 12,000 of the organization's white
helmets. As the war spilled over the border to Sierra Leone, ECOMOG
sent troops in 1998 to push back attacking rebels until United
Nations forces arrived.
Liberia's war ended in 2003 and the country's president, Charles
Taylor, entered exile in Nigeria as one of the conditions.
In 2006, Obasanjo transferred Taylor to a war crimes tribunal
in Sierra Leone to stand trial for his role in the civil war.
Nigerian forces are present in all of the United Nations peacekeeping
missions in Africa: Cote D'Ivoire, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the
Democratic Republic of the Congo and Western Sahara. In total,
Nigeria commits 2,462 soldiers to U.N. missions across the globe,
according to the United Nations.
In 2005, however, 11 Nigerian police officers of the U.N. mission
in Congo were suspended after they were found responsible for
Though Nigeria has years of experience securing peace in other
countries with the help of outside training and resources, its
military may be better equipped to handle operations in other
countries than to suppress conflicts within its own borders, according
The Nigerian military has failed to curb an uprising in the Niger
Delta region that threatens to shut down the region's lucrative
oil industry, either because of a lack of resources or willingness
by Obasanjo's government.
Peacekeeping remains the cornerstone of Nigeria's regional influence
but the relatively wealthy nation exerts an economic influence
on the region as well.
Nigeria is the only country to set up a trust fund in the African
Development Bank for poorer countries to borrow money. After drafting
economic reforms within its own borders, Nigerian leaders helped
policy makers in other countries with their own reforms.
The Nigerian government also organized and finances a program
to send doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals to
work in other countries.
Obasanjo played an instrumental role in creating the New Partnership
for Africa's Development by encouraging other heads of state to
create a continent-wide strategy for development.
He also has promoted Nigeria's role on the international stage,
not only as one of Africa's leading countries, but as a one of
the most populous countries in the world.
Despite this role as a leader and peacekeeper, Nigeria is not
completely free of conflict with its neighbors. In 2006, it settled
a long-standing border dispute with Cameroon over the Bakassi
Peninsula and agreed to withdraw its troops from the area as part
of an agreement arranged by the International Court of Justice
Nigeria's neighbors may be wary of its power, but on the whole,
they respect and appreciate Nigeria's status as a leader, said