On March 28, Nigeria, the largest economy and most populous country in Africa, will hold its presidential and federal legislative elections. Given its economic, political and cultural influence in West Africa, these elections will be vitally important to the continent and the United States. So why the near silence here? If the U.S. wants to encourage democracy and free-trade prosperity around the world, we need more. We need conscience. We need commitment. We need U.S. leaders, including our President, to step up. We need a Bill Clinton or a Colin Powell. We need a leader who commands respect and, yes, attention. What’s also needed is for the U.S. to send a high-profile delegation to Nigeria to not only oversee a free, peaceful and fair election process, but to “warm up” our relationship with this vital country. From the standpoint of democracy and economics, Nigeria is too big to fail. While it has come very far in a very short time, it remains on the precipice, with multiple issues that include security, corruption and a somewhat tenuous grip on a free and democratic process and truly puts power in the capable hands of its people. I’ve observed several elections in Africa. To me this is a no-brainer not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s very much in the interest of the United States. Before us is a chance to encourage the development of true democracy – and we can do it, thankfully, without sending troops and putting American lives at risk. Clearly, as democracy in Nigeria has matured, so have its leaders and political class. It is a major force for stability in West Africa and remains the largest contributor of peacekeepers in the sub-Saharan area. For these two reasons alone, it should be the focus of U.S. policymakers to ensure that its progress is sustained and that peace and security prevail. But there are pivotal economic factors as well. Consider that from 2009 to the present: Nigeria’s GDP increased from $169 billion to $510 billion, making it the largest economy on the continent. An estimated $4 billion was invested in its agriculture sector alone. Life expectancy increased from 47 years to 57. Rice production in Northern Nigeria increased by 1.1 million metric tons As an indication of its new economic strength, the number of Nigerian-owned crude oil tankers increased from 60 to 400. A world-class mortgage securitization program is being planned to build affordable housing and attract billions of dollars in foreign capital I believe we should do what we can to ensure this progress continues and does not reverse, and I am not alone in these concerns. Very recently, 14 current and former global leaders of the National Democratic Institute observation missions to Nigeria called for Nigerian election authorities to adhere to the March 28 date for presidential and legislative elections. Signatories to this statement included, among many others, the Hon. Madeleine Albright, Chairman of the National Democratic Institute and former U.S. Secretary of State. Keep in mind I am not arguing for interference. Election observers are sworn to neutrality. This is why observers, domestic and foreign, play a crucial role in ensuring the integrity of elections and enhancing the socio-political development of nations around the world. Yes, the European Union and the U.S. will be participating in the monitoring of these elections, but considering what’s at stake, the U.S. effort is muted. We should be participating strongly, not to demonstrate concern, but rather to show encouragement and make it clear to the post-election Nigerian government, regardless of who prevails, that the U.S. applauds its economic progress and supports its fight against the atrocities of Boko-Haram and the government’s efforts to mitigate other security issues. It’s time for the U.S. to offer a firm handshake to the people of Nigeria, signaling that we understand the important role that Nigeria plays in the west Africa region and for the continent. We also understand how important Nigeria is to the United States! After it’s verified that Nigeria can conduct credible, free and fair elections, the naysayers will be proven wrong and the clear, strong voice of democracy will ring out across a beautiful country and a beautiful people.