Nigeria, Cameroon and unwanted headaches
Besieged by an unending campaign of terror by Boko Haram in the northeast, secessionist agitations in the southeast, and vicious attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen in north central states and elsewhere, Nigeria is a country in need of an urgent reprieve.
Unfortunately, that reprieve seems to be more of a mirage than an actuality.
The theatre commander of the Nigerian troops fighting insurgents in the northeast recently claimed victory against a sect that has proved many times that it can reinvent itself to withstand the heat from the Nigerian troops.
While that the reinvention may not come with the pre-2016 ferocity, the unrest in Cameroon, a country that, like Nigeria, is battling the insurgent scourge, is threatening to worsen the already dire security situation in Nigeria.
Much like Nigeria, again, Cameroon’s major problem is no longer the insurgents that have killed about 25,000 people in both countries, according to SBM Intelligence estimate [read the full SBM report here], the push for independence by its Anglophone region is now casting a blanket of violence on the country.
What began as a simple request for the use of the English Language in courtrooms and posting of English-speaking judges instead of French-speaking ones to the English-speaking region of the country has morphed into a movement that may compound Africa’s refugee troubles.
The separatists, on October 1, 2017, declared the northwest and southwest regions as the self-proclaimed ‘Republic of Ambazonia’. There is no need to seek an expert view to know that President Paul Biya, a man who has ruled Cameroon for more than 34 years, will haunt the separatists.
Already, hundreds of people have reportedly lost their lives, hundreds more have been imprisoned, and at least 15,000 have escaped across the border to Nigeria, SBM noted in the report published on February 19, 2018.
However, for Nigeria, which has its own internally displaced people to cater to, the influx of Cameroonians escaping from the violence in their country is another headache to a troubled head. Nevertheless, the situation would be a lot better if it remains just that.
With both countries sharing a 1,975km-long border, either side of which are violent crises, the possibility of the proliferation of small weapons is high. Also scary is the presence of fighters, trained, semi-trained or untrained, ready to handle these weapons.
Added to that is the penchant for Cameroonian troops to violate the sanctity of the Nigerian border. In recent months, the Cameroonian military have entered into Nigeria, chasing Anglophone secessionists, without prior permission from the Nigerian authorities. This is in spite of Nigerian authorities handing over 47 leaders of the separatist movement who were arrested in Abuja in January, even though Nigeria does not have a standing extradition agreement with its neighbour.
Besides, the crackdown on the separatists by the country’s military is creating a set of radicalised, maybe untrained, army who have become willing to fill the ranks of the Ambazonian Defence Forces (ADF).
Already, they have been launching attacks from Nigerian territory in recent weeks, aided significantly by a porous border.
“The truth is that many militants are hiding among the refugees, and they just cross the border at will through the forest,” Lawrence Asuquo, head of immigration at Ikom, told AFP.
“They launch attacks on the Cameroonian army and they run back to Nigeria. It’s almost impossible to track them.”
Apart from the security problems that Nigeria faces, there is also an economic dimension to the crisis.
Figures from Cameroon’s Ministry of Commerce show that Nigeria is the country’s largest trade partner, with 22 per cent and 17.8 per cent of imports coming from Nigeria in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Currently, annual trade exchanges are approximated to be worth ₦217 billion, excluding “the robust informal trade linkages on both sides of the almost 2000km border shared by both countries.”
However, if the crisis festers and Cameroon continues to violate the integrity of the Nigerian border, there is the likelihood that the trade volume, formal or informal, between the two countries would reduce drastically.
Both Nigeria and Cameroon are still reeling from the effect of Boko Haram insurgency. An unending separatist agitation is the last thing they need at this time.