…Sect’s negotiators demand $400,000 ransom
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.
THE DAILY BATTLE WITH A RELENTLESS SECT:
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.
FIERCE BATTLES BETWEEN BOKO HARAM AND CAMEROONIAN ARMY:
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.
COMPLICITY OF INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE SUSPECTED TO SUPPORT THE SECT:
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 kingpins.
CAMEROONIAN ARMY, NIGERIAN SOLDIERS, AND REFUGEES:
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.
FUTURE OF THE FIGHT AGAINST THE SECT:
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 Cameroon.
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