Boko Haram : The Cameroonian Angle

Five years after Boko Haram declared war on Nigeria, the
Cameroonian authorities continued to play the ostrich,
pretending that the sect was a Nigerian affair. This is in spite
of the fact that the two countries are neighbours and some
parts of Nigeria that Boko Haram attacks are concentrated,
were once part of Cameroon before the 1961 UN plebiscite. The
boundaries that separate the two countries blurred due to the
fact that families from both sides of the frontier divide
interact as if there were no international demarcation.
However, the inevitable creeping of the insurgency across the
boundary into Cameroon started happening when Boko Haram
began abducting foreigners based in Cameroon in exchange for
hundreds of millions of FCFA paid by the Biya regime that
went to procure arms and ammunitions for their struggle.
As at today, Madam Akaoua Babiana Amadou Ali, the wife of
the Vice Prime Minister of the Republic of Cameroon, Ahmoudu
Ali, has spent 64 days in the custody of the dreaded Boko
Haram insurgents, and all efforts to free her from captivity in
the sect’s controlled territory in Nigeria are yet to yield the
desired results. Her abduction on Sunday, July 27, during a
massive attack on the northern towns of Amchide and Kolofuta
by over 200 fighters of the sect, has remained unforgettable.
Vice Prime Minister Ali had returned to his country home in the
Far North to celebrate the Muslim festival after the Ramadan
fasting. The fighters swooped on the premises, shooting and
killing, leading to the death of two brothers of the Vice Prime
Minister and the abduction of his wife and two of her
bodyguards. In all 17 persons were killed in the brutal
encounter in the two towns in the Far North.
This strike at the heart of the Cameroonian government,
through the abduction of the spouse of a top government
functionary, constituted the wake-up call to the Biya
government which has since deployed more than 3,000 troops to
the Far North Region to counter the ever increasing incursions
of the militant sect into Cameroonian territory.
Although President Biya had declared war against Boko Haram
after a crises meeting in Paris on May 17, 2014 that brought
together himself, the French President Francois Hollande as
well as Presidents Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, Yayi Boni of
Benin, Idriss Déby Itno of Chad and Mahamadou Issoufou of
Niger, Biya still considered Boko Haram as merely “these people
who attack only from midnight, whereas during that time our
forces are resting” and not a force to reckon with.
The attack on the Vice Prime Minister’s residence occurred a
day after the Maroua Military Tribunal sentenced 14 Boko
Haram militants, who are suspected to be Nigerians, to prison
terms ranging from between 10 and 20 years, on terrorism
charges. The fighters were captured by the Cameroonian army
in action, and the military tribunal’s judgment was considered
to be very swift as a way of deterring others from venturing
into the Cameroonian territory to carry out their act of
terrorism. However, while the tribunal passed the sentence on
the captured fighters other Boko Haram insurgents invaded
the residence of the Mayor of Kolofata, Seini Boukar Lamine,
and took him hostage. Mayor Lamine was also referred to as
the Sultan, a Muslim leader in the area.
Though the Cameroonian army on July 29 freed all hostages in
the attacks in the two towns, except the wife of the Vice Prime
Minister who had been ferried across the border into Nigeria,
the Cameroonian forces were shocked by the sect’s exploit. To
show their effrontery, as at August 9, the sect members
demanded for a ransom of $400,000 for the release of the
woman, but the deal was botched.
After those three bloody days of face-off with Boko Haram,
the Cameroonian Army spokesman, Lt Col. Didier Badjeck,
boasted to the country thus: “very soon Boko Haram will be but
a bad sourvenir.” It was not to be after all, as a day after he
raised the hopes of the people, another prominent businessman,
Musa Wabri and son of business tycoon and baron of the ruling
Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Movement (CPDM), Alhaji
Wabiri, was abducted by Boko Haram in Mourdessa on Nigeria’s
border. Since then it has been a daily battle with Boko Haram.
Though Boko Haram is seen in Cameroon as a Nigerian
phenomenon which has spilled over into Northern Cameroon,
there is evidence that the sect actually has a foothold in the
Central African country. For instance, the ease with which the
sect kidnapped seven French nationals in 2013 showed that the
insurgents were not total strangers to Cameroon. On February
27, 2013, the President of the Association of Imams of
Cameroon, Sheikh Ibrahim Mbombo Moubarak, came hard on
Cameroonian imams for allowing the sect members to preach
hate sermons in Cameroonian mosques. Sheikh Moubarak
alleged that the imams he criticized even went to the point of
praising and cheering the sect members whenever they
preached their warped sermons.
In his words, “The leader of the sect, Mohamed Nour and his
third in command Mohamed Kabirou are all Cameroonians. They
have returned to Cameroon after being chased away from
Nigeria and have been preaching their ideology of hate here”.
It is strongly believed that the sect has connections to
Cameroon, one of which is associated with the April 6, 1984
failed attempt to overthrow the Biya government. Most of
those suspected to have hatched the plot came from Northern
provinces of Far North, North and Adamawa, led by the
Republican Guards. President Biya did not spare the people
from that region: thousands of Muslims of northern Cameroon
paid the highest price for it, making army officers and
members of the rank and file to flee mostly to Nigeria and
other neigbouring countries of Chad and Niger. With the
outbreak of insurgency by Boko Haram, the first theory was
that the Muslim-North was engaging on a bloody pay-back in
order to destablise the Biya administration.
However, there are reports that the sect had been conducting
mass recruitment of foot soldiers in Cameroon even before
they started an uprising in Nigeria in 2009. Then the Lamido
of Garoua, a Muslim leader, warned Cameroonian Muslims to
stick to the conservative Islamic teachings, so that they did not
get swayed by the grandstanding of the sect. He had said,
“We understand our Islam and we have no need for those who
think they understand Islam more than us.”
But this did not deter the sect, as they invaded villages
preaching their brand of Islam. One Oumarou Djam, a resident
of Lagdo village explained his encounter with the sect in 2011
thus: “They came here and told me that our problems are
caused by Western education and Western ideas. They
reminded me of the massacre of thousands of Muslims by the
Biya regime in 1984, adding that they would give me a lot of
money if I joined their group. They looked dangerous and
threatening so I told them I would reflect and let them know
my position on their proposals later. I am frightened that they
would return to pressurize me into doing their bidding.”
In an attempt to halt the recruitment of youths into the
fighting force of the sect, the Biya government approved a $
90 million road and railways construction project in the Far
North, basically as a way to create employment for them so
that they are not tempted to join Boko Haram.
From subtle recruitment of foot soldiers, Boko Haram has
grown into the kind of force that has become a nightmare to
the Cameroonian army. However, they have been confined to
border towns in the Far North Region. The towns include
Fotokol, Kolofata, Amchide, Ldama, Achigachia, Karewa
(briefly occupied by the sect, but retaken within 48 hours),
Garkara, and Vrekel.
Two senior military officers, Colonel Youssa Gedeon,
Commandant of the North Gendarmerie and Lt.-Col. Nkonga
Justa, Commander of the 34th Infantry Battalion, were sacked
for abandoning their posts during the July 27 Boko Haram
attacks on Bagaran and Kolofata. Since then, the army has
not been the same again. On August 6, there was a fierce
battle between the sect and the army in Ziganye Wasa and
Dabanga villages, near the border with Nigeria. The next day
the fighters attacked Tchakamai village in Mayo Sava and slit
throats of the Imam of that village and four others. They
carted away motorcycles.
On August 14, the sect attacked the gendarmerie brigade in
Mayo Sava in Bounderi, wounding the brigade commander and
several others who were later hospitalized. In between there
were all sorts of attacks, but on August 25 and August 26, the
sect launched shocking attacks. First, on August 25, a member
of parliament in Cameroon, Boukar Abba Malla, who negotiated
the release of some Cameroonian Boko Haram hostages was
himself abducted.
Then, the next day the army fought the sect members at
Gamboru Ngala around Fotokol border with Nigeria. The sect
wanted to blow up the Elbedei bridge linking the two countries,
but eight of them were killed. That same day, there was heavy
fighting between the army and the sect in Archigachia, Mayo
Sava Division, leading to the death of 16 Boko Haram sect
members and the wounding of one Cameroonian soldier. On that
same day, the sect attacked Herawa and Garkara towns, but
the army launched a counter-offensive that saw the routing
of the sect. But then it took three days before soldiers could
sack Boko Haram from that territory.
As a result of the frequent attacks, the Cameroonian army
had to initiate “Operation Alpha”, basically vowing to smoke out
any Boko Haram sleeping cells and to forestall any future
adventure by the sect into Cameroon. That was on September
2. On that day, the Cameroonian television announced that as
many as 100 Boko Haram sect fighters were killed in a fierce
fighting involving the use of artillery in Fotokol.
It claimed only one soldier was wounded. But the reasons for
the unending supply of forces to the sect was uncovered on
September 11, when it was exposed that over 3,000
Cameroonian youths from the Far North had joined the ranks
of Boko Haram. However, since the “Operation Alpha” was
launched the strength of the sect in Cameroon dwindled, as
more exploits were made, culminating in the supposed killing of
the sect’s leader Abubakar Shekau. The army posted the
photograph of the man they termed Shekau on a Facebook
page bearing the name “Armee Camerounaise” but which the
army later claimed was not theirs, though the Nigerian army
also claimed to have killed a man who had paraded himself as
Shekau at about the same period.
In Cameroon, it is highly suspected that some influential
politicians, considered to be untouchable, may actually be
behind Boko Haram. For instance, on September 9, security
operatives invaded and searched the house of the late General
Benae Mpecke, a former presidential army chief on the
suspicion that the sect’s arms were hidden there. Incidentally
nothing was found at his residence.
However, in another raid on September 23, large quantities of
arms were found in Kodogo quarters, Kousseri, in the house of
one Mahamat Ali, originally suspected to be the local Boko
Haram chieftain but later found to be but an associate of
Abakar Ali, whom investigations unmasked as the Boko Haram
operations manager. Mahamat Ali, Abakar Ali and Issiaka Guere
were arrested and detained. The Cameroon military has since
invited the Nigeria Army to send a delegation to Cameroon to
take part in the interrogation of the arrested Boko Haram
Though it is established that Boko Haram has roots in
Cameroon, it is largely accepted that it is basically a Nigerian
problem. Hence the Cameroonian Army collaborates with their
Nigerian counterparts in the fight against the sect. There are,
at least, 3,500 Cameroonian troops, with support from France,
at the borders between Nigeria and Cameroon. Also, on August
24, after a fierce battle in Barki border with Cameroon, some
700 Nigerian soldiers had to cross over to the Cameroonian side
in what was considered by the Army spokesman Chris Olukolade
as tactical maneuver.
The Cameroonian Army was on hand to give them support, to
the point that President Biya spoke on national radio, ordering
the military and the administration in Mora to assist the
Nigerian soldiers to enable them return home. There are all
sorts of intelligence sharing between the two countries. Also,
there are about 30,000 Nigerian refugees, currently being
assisted in Cameroon. This figure is believed to be below the
actual number of Nigeria refugees in Cameroon because some
of those who crossed over from Nigeria found refuge with
family members in Cameroon. There are over 250,000 refugees
from the Central African Republic currently in Cameroon. So,
the country is sharing the burden of the rebellion in Nigeria
and the CAR.
From the middle of September, the attacks by Boko Haram on
Cameroon reduced, in as much as the Army is making some
kinds of breakthroughs. For instance, on September 20 there
was a mass desertion of Boko Haram fighters who crossed over
to Fotokol. They were taken into custody by the army. Also, the
following day, there was an expose that some 2,500 Boko Haram
recruits were being trained in the Nigerian town of Chuku
Ngudo, 17 kilometres from Fotokol. Also, all attempts by the
sect to launch massive attacks on locations have been repelled.
For instance, on September 21, the sect attacked Ldama
market near Turu, killing 19 persons. But the next day, the
army launched a counter-attack and killed 77 Boko Haram sect
members. After that the sect’s kingpins were arrested and a
large cache of arms were recovered from their residence. It is
hoped that these may be the last days for the sect in
The view from Cameroon right now is that with the heat being
put on the sect in Nigeria by the Nigerian Army leading to
mass desertions, and the difficulties they are finding now in
crossing over to Cameroon, the sect has been considerably
demoralized. But the Cameroonian government with its army
are not falling for any demoralization ruse.
If the Cameroonian army has been succeeding in repelling Boko
Haram attacks and smoking out its sleeper cells in the country,
it is thanks to a very efficient intelligence network that has
seen close collaboration between the military, administration
and the local populations. This follows appeals by government
through Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary who
recently declared:
“I am asking everybody in the country who has any information
of any kind that could help our armed forces to stop the
actions of these aggressors to use any means of
communications they have, either by making a telephone call,
sending an SMS message, email, through word of mouth or
direct denunciation, and make this information available to
administrative officials or the forces of law and order…”.
The situation has greatly improved though the Cameroonian
forces remain vigilant. This is unlike when Colonel Felix Nji
Formekong, second in command of the third joint military
region based in Maroua, the Far North Regional headquarters
declared: “The situation is very critical here now, and as I am
talking to you the Boko Haram elements are still in Kolofata
town in a clash with our soldiers”.
Chief Etahoben is the Editor and Publisher of the Weekly Post
in Cameroon


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