Chad’s Military Takes the Lead in Campaign against Boko Haram: Can Nigeria’s Embarrassment Equal Multinational Military Success?

Andrew McGregor

From Tips and Trends: The AIS African Security Report, March 2015

Chad Troops in MaliChadian Troops in the Field in Mali

In a six-week campaign, Chad’s military has mounted an air-supported ground offensive against Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants that has crossed into both Nigeria and Cameroon. In the process, Chad has shattered Boko Haram strength in the Lake Chad border region but now finds further progress stalled as Abuja denies permission to pursue the fleeing gunmen further into Nigeria. With Chadian operations having scored major successes against Boko Haram, there is now a danger the still inefficient Nigerian military will attempt to take over operations on its own territory to bolster the electoral chances of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election on March 28.

Chad’s Military Intervention in Nigeria

A brigade size group (1500 to 2000 men) was sent with some 400 military vehicles to the Lake Chad border region on January 16, 2015. The legal framework for Chadian intervention in the region was already established by the 1998 agreement between Chad, Nigeria and Niger to form a Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) to combat cross-border crime and militancy. Since their arrival in January, Chad’s military has reported a series of spectacular, if numerically unverifiable victories, including a battle at Gambaru in which the army reported the death of 207 Boko Haram militants to a loss of one Chadian soldier killed and nine wounded (Reuters, February 25, 2015) [1]. Nonetheless, the poorly coordinated offensive is still taking a toll on Boko Haram, reducing its strength and expelling it from towns (and economic support bases) taken in recent months. Boko Haram counter-attacks persist, but most are driven back without great loss.

  • On January 29-30, Chadian forces crossed into Nigeria for the first time, using jet fighters and ground forces to drive Boko Haram fighters from the village of Malam Fatori in Borno State after a two-day battle (ThisDay [Lagos], February 1, 2015; Daily Trust [Lagos], January 30, 2015; al-Jazeera, January 30, 2015).
  • On January 31, 2015, Chadian forces reported killing 120 Boko Haram fighters in a battle in northern Cameroon centered around the town of Fatakol and used two fighter jets (most likely Sukhoi Su-25 recently obtained from Ukraine) to bomb the Nigerian town of Gambaru (Reuters, January 31, 2015; AFP, January 31, 2015).
  • On February 3, Chadian troops backed by armored vehicles took Gambaru after a fight of several hours (Independent, February 4, 2015). One Chadian battalion commander who took part in the attack on Gambaru had little praise for the Boko Haram fighters that had resisted months of Nigerian operations in the area, saying “yesterday’s offensive made us realize that the fighters of the sect, mainly composed of minors, are only cowards” (Alwhihda [N’Djamena], January 30).

The rapid success of Chadian forces against Boko Haram fighters in the border region revealed the sham war that Nigeria’s military has mounted against the Islamists – Malum Fatori, for example, had been held by the militants since October, even though it fell to the Chadians in one day. Chad has succeeded by using aerial bombardments on Boko Haram targets prior to massive assaults with ground troops and armor. These tactics stand in contrast to those of the Nigerian military, which has become notorious for poor ground-air coordination and failing to press attacks, often citing inferior arms or ammunition shortages. Nigerian warplanes were blamed for the death of 36 civilians when two fighter-jets attacked a funeral party in the Niger border town of Abadam on February 17 (Reuters, February 18). [2]

Nigeria – No Longer a Regional Military Power

Nigeria’s foreign minister, Aminu Wali, has tried to explain why Nigeria requires international assistance in combatting Boko Haram:

It is not that the Nigeria army isn’t fighting, it actually is. But in the context of an unconventional war, that is something else. The same thing applies to the war on terror. So the conventional armed forces aren’t adapted to this kind of conflict. We have to retrain them so that they will be capable to fight this particular conflict that they’ve never known before (RFI, January 30, 2015).

In October 2014, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon agreed to coordinate their military efforts against Boko Haram, though follow-up was slow. Nigerian relations with Cameron have been historically strained by rival claims to the Bakassi Peninsula in the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea, which was eventually awarded to Cameroon through international arbitration in 2009. Since then, Cameroonian oil infrastructure in the region has been subject to attacks by a hybrid criminal/separatist movement seeking unification with Nigeria.[3]

Since the joint offensive began, Nigerian military performance has improved, which the government chalks up to newly purchased arms and Special Forces reinforcements being sent to help the ill-equipped, poorly-led and occasionally mutinous Nigerian 7th Division, which took over responsibility for the sector from the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF) in August 2013 (at one point troops of the 7th Division’s 101st Battalion fired at former division commander Major-General Ahmadu Mohammed, who only narrowly survived – see ThisDay [Lagos], May 16, 2014). The retaking of Baga by Nigerian troops on February 21 deprived Boko Haram of a major base and gave a boost to the political fortunes of President Goodluck Jonathan, but the town could have been taken weeks earlier if the Nigerian Army had not rebuffed Chad’s offer of a joint offensive, according to Chadian Army spokesman Colonel Azem Bermandoa (Reuters, March 3, 2015). Baga was the scene of a firefight in April 2013 in which the JTF and Boko Haram displayed a callous disregard for the lives of civilians in the town, killing over 185 people. The town was taken by Boko Haram in January 2015 when fleeing Nigerian troops allowed the militants to massacre hundreds of civilians (BBC, February 2, 2015).

Northeast Nigeria MapNortheast Nigeria – Zone of Chadian Operations

Colonel Bermandoa has likewise complained that Chadian forces took the ancient Nigerian town of Dikwa in mid-February but were ordered by the Nigerians to evacuate it so the Nigerians could launch an airstrike on the community. Chadian forces were compelled to retake the town on March 2 at a cost of one dead and 34 wounded (AFP, February 19, 2015; Reuters, March 2, March 3, 2015; Premium Times [Lagos], March 2, 2015; RFI, February 3, 2015).

Cameroon and Niger have played secondary but important roles in the offensive, pouring their forces into their border regions where they have repulsed attacks, cut supply routes and prevented Boko Haram fighters from slipping away across the borders.

Why Chad is Fighting in Nigeria

Landlocked Chad’s main trade routes cross through areas of Nigeria and northern Cameroon that have been blocked by Boko Haram occupation and operations, leading to shortages of goods (including food from Nigeria), interruption in the important export trade in Chadian cattle and rapidly rising prices for most goods (Wall Street Journal, February 26, 2015).

Economic effects have also been felt in northeastern Nigeria, where the important supply of smoked fish from Lake Chad has been disturbed as a consequence of trade routes being cut by the militants and the fear of fishermen on the Nigerian side of the lake that they will be conscripted into Boko Haram, resulting in shortages and soaring prices for fish in Nigeria (AFP, February 25, 2015).

Boko Haram leader Abubakr Shekau threatened to launch a war against Chad, Cameroon and Niger in a January 2015 video in retaliation for their alleged pro-French sympathies. The Boko Haram leader also took the opportunity to mock the Nigerian military, which has long complained a lack of equipment and arms is preventing them from properly engaging Boko Haram:

All this war equipment that you see being displayed in the screen are gotten from [the captured Nigerian towns of] Baga and Doro. Your army kept deceiving the world that you can’t fight us because you have no arms. Liars! You have all that it takes; you are just coward soldiers (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

In late January, Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi used a video to issue new threats to Chad and its MJTF partners:

We say to Niger and Chad that if they stop their assault on us and we will stop our assault on them; otherwise, just as you fight us we will fight you. We will inflame a war of which you have not before tasted its bitterness. Withdraw your soldiers before you regret what will come soon and you have no time to regret. (Premium Times [Lagos], January 28, 2015).

Boko Haram made its first attack on Chadian soil on February 13, using motorized canoes to set a fishing village on fire before being repulsed by Chadian soldiers in what the local Chadian governor described as a “publicity stunt” (Reuters, February 13, 2015).

Most Boko Haram members, including its leaders, belong to the once powerful Kanuri community whose former Bornu Empire straddled the modern borderland between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Though most of Boko Haram, including its leadership, are Kanuris, most of the militant group’s victims have also been Kanuri, dispelling any notion that the Islamist movement somehow represents the Kanuri community. Nonetheless, it is clear that Boko Haram members have been able to utilize family ties and other types of kinship to facilitate the cross-border movement of arms, supplies and personnel across local borders. Given this cross-border movement, it seems likely that Chadian security forces will have a close look at the local Kanuri community in southern Chad during their deployment in the region.

Keeping the military busy in the south may also appeal to the Déby regime; the last attempt by factions of the military to mount a coup was less than two years ago, while Déby himself came to power in a 1990 coup. However, continuous deployment to various theatres runs the risk of internal military breakdown and Chad is already committed to maintaining 1,000 men of its small army in Mali as part of UN peacekeeping operations.
Aware of the danger of reciprocal attacks from Boko Haram, Chad’s security forces have stepped up security, mounting roadblocks, securing the entrances to the capital, N’Djamena, guarding assembly points such as schools, markets and places of worship and rounding up suspected Boko Haram sympathizers in N’Djamena. Many of those arrested belong to the Kanuri community, though Interior Minister Abderahim Bireme Hamid insists that “The arrests are not targeted at a particular social group or community, but those suspected of being close to Boko Haram” (Xinhua, January 28, 2015).

Prior Performance in Military Interventions

Chad’s expeditionary force in Mali performed well in 2013 and did much of the fighting to expel the various armed Islamist groups that had seized northern Mali. However, heavy losses from ambushes and suicide bombings compelled President Déby to announce he was withdrawing the Chadian contingent because “The Chadian army does not have the skills to fight a shadowy, guerrilla-style war that is taking place in northern Mali” (Reuters, April 14, 2013).

Some observers have contrasted the Chadian military’s performance in Mali with their more controversial intervention in the Central African Republic from 2013-2014, where they were accused of political manipulation, arming the Séléka [4] rebels and brutality towards the non-Muslim population that culminated in the massacre of 30 unarmed civilians and the wounding of 300 others when they opened fire on a crowded Bangui market without apparent provocation. [5]

While there was much that was questionable and even indefensible in the performance of Chad’s army in the CAR, it must be recognized that the troops were carrying out N’Djamena’s own agenda in the country, which both modern Chad and pre-colonial sultanates in that region have always regarded as a political and economic hinterland (and prime source of slaves for Chad’s pre-colonial Islamic sultanates) whose rulers were determined by their northern neighbors. In this case, Déby pursued an agenda that involved installing a pliant, Muslim-dominated government in the CAR that would secure the oilfields of southern Chad and prevent opposition forces from using the CAR as a staging-post. Ultimately, pursuit of this policy led to large-scale protests against the Chadians in Bangui and the withdrawal of the Chadian mission.

Chad – A Growing Military Favorite of France and the United States

Chad’s more serious approach to military development and reform has attracted the support of the United States, which now finds serious flaws in its former Nigerian security partner. U.S. training programs and arms sales have broken down in recent years as a result of American concerns with human rights abuses, corruption in the officer corps, infiltration of the Nigerian security forces by Boko Haram and the failure of Nigerian forces to act on U.S.-supplied intelligence (New York Times, January 24, 2015). American concerns with infiltration are not unjustified; a number of senior Nigerian officers have been charged with divulging intelligence to Boko Haram.

Chad is currently host to Flintlock 2015, this year’s version of Flintock, a U.S.-led multinational military exercise conducted by Special Operations Command Forward – West Africa in the interests of improving cooperation and capacity in Saharan counter-terrorism operations. The three-week exercise, which began on February 16, involves more than 100 soldiers from the U.S. 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) as well as trainers from a number of Western nations.

Though President Déby was publicly musing about expelling all French troops from Chad only a few years ago, there has since been an about face on this policy, with Chad welcoming a boost in French forces as part of France’s major redeployment of its military forces in Africa, a shift in focus to mobile counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency units and bases known as Operation Barkhane. As part of this redeployment, French forces in Chad were boosted from 950 to 1250 men, with N’Djamena providing the overall command center at Kossei airbase, with two smaller bases in northern Chad at Faya Largeau and Abéché, both close to the Libyan border. Chadian opposition parties and human rights organizations were dismayed by the new agreement, which appears to legitimize and even guarantee the continued rule of President Idris Déby, who has held power since 1990 (RFI, July 19).

France is currently mounting reconnaissance missions in the Lake Chad border area and is supplying intelligence, fuel and munitions to the military coalition as well as providing ten military specialists to help coordinate military operations from Diffa in Niger (Reuters, February 5, 2015).

Despite the presence of roughly 200 ethnic groups in Chad, the military continues to be dominated by members of President Déby’s northern Zaghawa group despite being only somewhere between 2 to 4% of the population. This situation, however, seems to trouble President Déby more than it does his French and American allies.

The MJTF is slated to be replaced by an expanded and African Union-mandated version of 8750 men that will include troops from Benin as well as Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. Logistical and intelligence support will be supplied by France and the United States. Command of the new force will rotate amongst member nations, beginning with Nigeria. The force is proposed to include the following contributions of troops: Nigeria 3500; Chad 3500; Cameroon 750; Niger 750; Benin 250 (BBC, February 25, 2015). A mandate for the mission from the UN Security Council is being sought with French support; this would provide greater funding and access to equipment and training.

Conclusion

If Chad succeeds where Nigeria failed, the result might be a collapse in confidence in Nigeria’s federal government leading to a further break-up of the country as various regions and ethnic groups seek to provide for their own security. The trick will be how to integrate Nigerian forces into the multinational group’s operations despite a well-deserved lack of confidence in the Nigerian military’s ability to mount operations or safeguard intelligence, especially in the midst of a Nigerian presidential campaign pitting a northern Muslim against the southern Christian incumbent. At the moment, there is little cooperation between the various militaries in the Lake Chad region as each continues to operate largely independently – a state of affairs Abuja appears to favor. This appears to be a Nigerian vote in favor of continuing the regional status quo, in which multilateral cooperation is lacking, trade minimal and effective transportation networks so absent that it is impeding the struggle against Boko Haram. As one recent report noted, “it is still easier to fly to Europe from Nigeria than to any of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.” [6]

Given the resilient nature of Boko Haram, its appeal to local religious extremists and its growing connections to the international jihadi community, it is worth asking whether the Chadian deployment will have to be open-ended in order to prevent a Boko Haram revival even in the event current operations destroy existing militant formations. Nigeria’s military will not become reliable or capable overnight regardless of what types of weapons the government obtains during its current buying campaign from international illegal arms markets. An extended stay will be expensive for N’Djamena, which is suffering from a sharp decline in oil prices, but if the costs are covered by the West and compensation is offered in terms of French and American advanced training and arms for the elite corps of the Chadian military, the prospect might take on a greater appeal for Déby and his Zaghawa-dominated regime. However, Chad’s army remains small, and the current tempo of operations cannot be maintained for long. There is a window of opportunity now for the destruction of Boko Haram, but it is slowly being shut by political considerations in the Nigerian capital.

Notes

1. Boko Haram spokesman Abu Musab al-Barnawi recently described the Hausa-language term “Boko Haram” (loosely translated as “Western education is forbidden”) as a media invention designed to denigrate the Islamist movement, which he insisted be described in future using its full and official name: “We say that we did not name ourselves “Boko Haram. “Our call is not limited to prohibiting foreign schools and democracy. We are Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah Lil Dawa wal Jihad. Therefore, this name [Boko Haram] is an attempt to bury the truth. We carry out the support for the Sunnah and establish governance of Allah in the land” (Premium Times [Abuja], January 21, 2015).

2. An amateur video purporting to show a hot firefight between Chadian troops and Boko Haram fighters can be seen at a pro-Chadian government news-site: http://www.alwihdainfo.com/L-armee-tchadienne-enchaine-d-ecrasantes-victoires-le-Nigeria-predit-la-fin-de-Boko-Haram_a15031.html Though there is the continual sound of gunfire it is difficult to tell whether any of the rounds are actually incoming. There are no apparent Chadian casualties despite the failure of many of the soldiers to seek any kind of cover; at one point a soldier crosses in front of the Chadian firing line without suffering harm. More credible video of Chadian operations in Nigeria can be seen at: http://www.france24.com/en/20150219-video-chadian-army-clashes-with-boko-haram-nigeria/

3. For the Bakassi dispute, see: Andrew McGregor, “Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 8(43), November 24, 2013, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=37208&no_cache=1#.VPDWei5cvfY

4. Séléka was a coalition led by the now-exiled Michel Djotodia and composed of the following groups: Front démocratique du peuple centrafricain (FDPC – led by General Abdoulaye Miskine [real name Martin Koumtamadji], a career rebel/freebooter in the Chad/CAR border region); Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix (CPJP); Union des Forces Démocratiques pour le Rassemblement, UFDR; Convention Patriotique pour le Salut du Kodro (CPSK); and the Alliance pour la renaissance et la refondation (A2R).

5. United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Press briefing notes on Central African Republic and Somalia, Geneva, April 4, 2014, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14471&LangID=E

6. Onyedimmakachukwu, “It’s Time for Lake Chad Countries to Move from War Comrades to Business Partners,” February 24, 2015, http://www.ventures-africa.com/2015/02/its-time-for-lake-chad-countries-to-move-from-war-comrades-to-business-partners/

Attack on Chinese Company in Cameroon Drags Yaoundé into Campaign against Boko Haram

Andrew McGregor

May 30, 2014

An assault on a Chinese road-building camp in northern Cameroon is the latest in a series of regional attacks on Chinese workers and facilities. The camp with 52 staff was run by a Sinohydro engineering unit involved in road improvement as part of a joint World Bank/Cameroon government project. Close to the camp is an oil exploration site run by Yan Chang Logone Development Holding Company, a subsidiary of China’s Yanchang Petroleum (Reuters, May 20). The exploration group is working in the Logone-Birni basin in north Cameroon.

The night-time attack, believed to have been the work of Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, overcame resistance from a much-diminished Cameroonian guard force before the attackers seized ten Chinese employees, wounded another and lifted ten Sinohydro vehicles as well as blasting equipment used in road construction (Xinhua, May 18). China has expressed concern over the possibility of military action to rescue the hostages: “We urge the Cameroonian authorities not to put the lives of the Chinese nationals missing in danger if actions to liberate them are launched” (China Daily/Xinhua, May 19). France quickly offered its assistance to China in finding the ten missing workers (AFP, May 18).

Cameroon’s New Chinese-made Tank Destroyers on Parade, May 20, 2014 (IHS-Jane’s)

The timing of the attack appears to have been well-planned, coming as most of the camp’s guard from the elite Brigade d’intervention rapide (BIR) was in Yaoundé preparing to take part in a military parade marking Cameroon’s national day on May 20 (This Day [Lagos], May 17). Pursuit by Cameroonian air assets was also impossible as the helicopters normally deployed to the frontier region were also in the capital for the military parade (AFP, May 18). Ironically, the parade’s highlight was Cameroon’s newly acquired Chinese armor, including two platoons of Type 07P infantry fighting vehicles (equipped with a 30 mm gun and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun) and three platoons of PTL-102-type armored tank destroyers (equipped with a 105 mm gun). The new armored vehicles are part of Cameroon’s Bataillon Blindé de Reconnaissance (BBR – Armored Reconnaissance Battalion) (Cameroon Tribune, May 21; IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 21). On May 26, the BIR returned north to the Nigerian frontier along with some of Cameroon’s new Chinese-built armored vehicles. The force of roughly 1,000 troops is expected to join 700 other troops already deployed to the frontier region in March to combat Boko Haram (Reuters, May 27).

The attack also came at the same time Cameroonian president Paul Biya was in Paris attending the “Paris Summit for Security in Nigeria” with high-level representatives from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin, the UK, France and the United States. Cameroon has committed to joining Nigeria, Benin, Niger and Chad in contributing one battalion each of troops dedicated to combatting Boko Haram (Vanguard [Lagos], May 20). An existing joint force of troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad has been largely ineffective in halting cross-border violence.  Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan recently complained that Nigerian forces are unable to pursue Boko Haram forces when they cross the border without getting special permission from Yaoundé (Daily Trust [Lagos], May 19). Cameroon is now in the process of creating military bases in all ten regions of the country to improve local security as regional conditions deteriorate (Cameroon Post, May 18).

On the same night as the raid on the Chinese camp, gunmen also looted a police armory in Waza National Park, where Boko Haram is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a French family of seven last year (the family was later released, though it was unclear whether a ransom was paid). The attackers also destroyed a bridge linking different communities in the area, a tactic likely designed to inhibit the movement of security forces in the area. Several weeks earlier, Boko Haram attacked a military post 37 miles from the town of Waza to free a detained member (VOA, May 17). Waza is only 12 miles from the Nigerian border and the Sambisi Forest, a main base for Boko Haram and the suspected origin of the attacking force.

The Chinese operations in northern Cameroon are part of China’s rapidly expanding role in Cameroon’s economy. China is now Cameroon’s number one customer for exports and became that nation’s second-largest oil producer in 2011 after Sinopec purchased former Shell interests in Cameroon, uniting with Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbon Corporation as a junior partner in the newly formed Addax Petroleum Cameroon Company (APCC). [1] China has also become a major arm supplier for Cameroon and is currently building two ships for use by the Cameroon Navy.

Note

1. John Daly, “Cameroon, West Africa’s Latest Oil Battleground,” March 25, 2012, http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Cameroon-West-Africas-Latest-Oil-Battleground.html

This article was published in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Cameroon Rebels Threaten Security in Oil-Rich Gulf of Guinea

Andrew McGregor

November 24, 2010

A hybrid criminal/separatist movement operating in the swampy peninsula of Bakassi is now targeting oil industry infrastructure in the Gulf of Guinea in its effort to shake off Cameroonian control of the region, which was administered by Nigeria until last year. Like neighboring Nigeria, Cameroon has suffered a loss in oil production as a result of the activities of coastal “pirates,” recording a 13% drop in production in 2009. Though much of Cameroon’s oil industry is still in the exploration stage, there are high expectations for further discoveries in the area. The Gulf of Guinea is a resource-rich area, with Angola, Nigeria, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea already major oil producers. Ghana is expected to soon join their ranks as Washington estimates the Gulf of Guinea region will supply a quarter of U.S. oil supplies by 2015 (Reuters, May 19).

Bakassi 1Cameroon is the twelfth-largest oil producer in Africa, with estimated reserves of roughly 200 million barrels in the offshore Rio del Ray Basin, the coastal Douala/Kribi-Camp Basin and the Logone Birni Basin in northern Cameroon. Despite this, Cameroon’s production has dropped from a 2005 high of 94,000 barrels per day to a current 77,000 barrels per day.

Covering an area of roughly 257 square miles, Bakassi is composed largely of creeks and mangrove covered islands, making it hard to patrol and a haven for smuggling activities. The abundant fishing grounds off Bakassi provide a livelihood for most of the population, most of whom are “Calabar people” from Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State.

Violence on the Cameroon Coast

Fears of a Nigerian-style insurgency based on oil production increased with an attack on security forces near the offshore Moudi oil terminal (run by Franco-British Perenco) on the night of November 16. The attack, claimed by the “Africa Marine Commando,” left six dead, including three civilians, two members of Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR – Rapid Intervention Battalion) and one of the assailants (Quotidien Mutations [Yaoundé], November 18; La Nouvelle Expression [Douala], November 18; AFP, November 18). Cameroonian security officials later said the attackers had been in contact with Perenco and the French Total oil firm for several days before the assault, demanding payment of a “security tax” to continue operations. Cameroonian officials have criticized the foreign oil companies for paying protection money to insurgents and bandits, just as local fishermen do (AFP, November 18). Boats that have paid the tax are given a small flag to indicate payment has been made.

The same Africa Marine Commando (AMC) also claimed responsibility for the abduction of six sailors from a Belgian ship anchored 40 km off Douala last September. An AMC spokesman said the hostages were moved to a camp on Nigerian territory and demanded the release of ten Ijaw fighters in a Cameroonian prison and the immediate opening of direct talks with Cameroon president Paul Biya (Le Jour [Yaoundé], September 29). The AMC, which appears to be a faction of the larger Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) movement, also kidnapped seven Chinese fishermen in Cameroonian coastal waters who were later freed in exchange for an undisclosed ransom (Radio France Internationale, March 13).

In May, gunmen in light boats attacked two cargo ships in Douala harbor, kidnapping two Russian crewmen from one ship and looting the safe and abducting the captain of the second ship, a Lithuanian refrigerated vessel (Reuters, May 19). The security of Douala’s port is a major regional concern as Douala acts as the commercial lifeline for the land-locked Central African Republic and Chad, another major petroleum producer which runs its oil through the Chad-Cameroon pipeline to the Cameroon port of Kribi.

The gunmen operating off Cameroon’s coast have carried out several daring raids, including a September 2008 operation in the fishing port of Limbe, in which gunmen landed in boats before breaking into the town’s Amity bank, where they stole several million dollars, killed one person and wounded may others (The Post [Yaoundé], September 29, 2008).

A number of other notable incidents of politically-generated violence have occurred in Bakassi in recent years:

• On November 12, 2007, 21 soldiers were killed in the Bakassi Peninsula by gunmen wearing uniforms. The attack was claimed by the previously unknown “Liberators of the Southern Cameroon People” (IRIN, November 13, 2007; November 20, 2007).

• Ten hostages (six French, two Cameroonians, one Senegalese and one Tunisian) were seized by Bakassi Freedom Fighters under Commander Ebi Dari on the night of October 30-31, 2008 (Radio France Internationale, November 2, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2).

• Gunmen in a canoe killed a police officer in a motorized canoe off Bakassi in December 2009, with the BFF taking responsibility for the attack (Le Jour [Yaoundé], December 21, 2009).

The Dilemma of the Bakassi Peninsula

The complex issue of what nation Bakassi belongs to began with the decision of the Obong (paramount ruler) of Calabar to sign a treaty of protection with the British in 1884, thus making his territory (including the Bakassi peninsula) a British protectorate. Bakassi fell under the Nigerian colonial administration until 1913, when Britain ceded the territory to the neighboring German colony of Kamerun in return for navigation rights to Calabar, an important commercial center. German control was short-lived, with a combined British-French-Belgian invasion force taking control of the colony in 1916 after a year-and-a-half of stiff resistance from a tiny German garrison reinforced by local troops. After the war, most of the former German colony fell under a French mandate, with a smaller portion becoming “the British Cameroons.” This included Bakassi, as recognized in a 1919 treaty with the French. However, when the rest of the former British Cameroons voted by a 1961 plebiscite to join with the new nation of Cameroon rather than join Nigeria, Bakassi remained under Nigerian administration.

After several border clashes with Nigeria over Bakassi and a northern region near Lake Chad, Cameroon took the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1994. With special reference to the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913 and colonial era diplomatic correspondence between the two imperial powers, the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon in 2002, ordering Nigeria to transfer sovereignty over Bakassi to Cameroon, but without requiring any of the Nigerian residents in Bakassi to leave or change their citizenship. The details of the transfer of sovereignty were worked out in the Green Tree Agreement, which was assembled with the additional participation of the United States, Great Britain, France and Equatorial Guinea.

Popular and political opposition to the decision within Nigeria delayed the transfer of sovereignty, though the government neither ratified nor rejected the court’s verdict. In Bakassi itself, there was wide dissatisfaction with the decision in the English-speaking Nigerian majority. As one Bakassi native told a Nigerian daily:

The United Nations should realize that we have the right to decide where we want to be and the right to self-determination. We are Nigerians and here in our ancestral home. You can see some of the graves here dating back to the 19th century. How can you force a strange culture and government on us? We appreciate what the Nigerian government is doing but let it be on record that they have betrayed us and we will fight for our survival and self-determination (The Guardian [Lagos], August 18, 2006).

 

Left in a political limbo, it was unsurprising that many residents of Bakassi tried to take control of their own political future. In July 2006 the Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BMSD) joined with the Southern Cameroons Peoples Organization (SCAPO) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) to declare the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Bakassi, an unsuccessful attempt to found a new nation in the small peninsula that brought out few supporters. After the Nigerian Senate ruled the transfer of sovereignty was illegal in 2007, the three groups again declared the independence of Bakassi in July 2008, this time with BMSD declaring it would subsume all its activities under the “joint leadership” of MEND:

With the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the Bakassi Peninsula, which takes away our last line of defense as Nigerian citizens and exposes our people to perpetual and permanent bondage of exploitation, under-development and death, which characterized life in the larger Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea over the last 50 years of multi-national oil companies’ occupation with the connivance of Nigerian leaders, we are left with no other option than to defend our land and people by any means necessary (The Post [Yaoundé], July 31, 2008).

Noting that the Green Tree Agreement violated the Nigerian constitution and had failed to be ratified by the Nigerian Senate, many Nigerian politicians condemned the transfer and challenged its legality (This Day, July 29, 2008). Nigerian residents of Bakassi were given the option of moving to a “New Bakassi” some 30 km inside Nigeria, but the new settlement had no fishing, no roads and few services. Many Nigerians wished to move from Bakassi but remained there after hearing reports of conditions in the new settlement (IRIN, November 13, 2007). The current Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, has led an effort to overturn the ICJ ruling, which he says took no note of the opinions of the residents of Bakassi:

We expected that the government could have come to the people and called for a referendum so that the people would decide what they wanted for themselves. But I don’t really know why it had to be done that way. That decision was taken and part of my territory was ceded. I am not happy and my people are not happy about it. Because it [the decision] is now creating problems for my people. We cannot take care of them. We have been struggling with the relocation issue (Nigerian Compass, July 9, 2009).

The secessionist SCAPO movement had a different plan – including Bakassi with the Southern Cameroons in a secessionist “Republic of Ambazonia.”

Although the Cameroon government refused to acknowledge the political dimension of the violence in Bakassi by declining to identify the insurgents as anything other than “armed bandits,” the decision to hold the August 14, 2009, ceremony marking the transfer of authority in the Nigerian city of Calabar rather than in Bakassi was interpreted as an acknowledgement that Bakassi was far from secure (Reuters, August 13, 2008; Jeune Afrique, December 2, 2008).

Prior to the transfer of power the BFF announced a merger with another militant group battling the military in Bakassi, the Niger Delta Defense and Security Council (NDDSC), with the intention of setting Bakassi “ablaze” and crippling its economy if the handover went through (Africa Press International, July 21, 2009).

Most of the Bakassi militants disarmed on September 25, 2009, but only weeks later ex-rebels claimed Cameroon’s security forces took advantage of this to kill six Nigerians in Bakassi territorial waters as a warning to other Nigerians to stay out of Cameroonian territory. Complaints began to be heard from “Nigerian” residents of Bakassi that the Nigerian navy had abandoned them to “the Cameroonian gendarmes” (Next [Lagos], October 16, 2009). Several months after the transfer of authority, Dan Don Atekpi, the former leader of the disbanded Bakassi Salvation Front (BSF), announced that his movement would renew hostilities against Cameroon government forces in 2010. Claiming 20 Nigerians had been killed by “these heartless Cameroonians” in the first two months after the transfer, Atekpi stated: “We are being provoked to take up arms. We have no intention of doing so except for this unprovoked attack.” Atekpi was also concerned with the failure of the Cameroon government to pay former militants the daily allowance called for in the transfer terms or to provide skills training or other means of rehabilitation (Next [Lagos], January 14).

Secession in the Southern Cameroons

The two mainly English-speaking provinces that joined Cameroon by plebiscite in 1961 (known as the Nord-Ouest and Sud-Ouest provinces of Cameroon, or collectively as the Southern Cameroons) have also become secessionist hotbeds since the 1990s. The secessionist movements active in the South Cameroons usually include Bakassi in their plans for an independent state.

The Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) is a secessionist group that has adopted a peaceful approach to freeing Southern Cameroons “from the stranglehold of our oppressor – La République du Cameroun” (The Post [Yaoundé], October 8). The related SCAPO movement complains that the Cameroon government is interested only in the region’s oil and not the Southern Cameroonians or the Bakassians. SCAPO declared the establishment of an independent “Republic of Ambazonia” in August 2006.

Cameroon’s Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR was formed in 1999 as the Bataillon Léger d’Intervention (BLI), a special intervention force designed to eliminate foreign rebels, bandits and deserters (the “coupeurs de routes”) who were destroying the security of Cameroon’s northern provinces through cattle rustling, abductions, murder and highway robbery. As part of military reforms carried out in Cameroon in 2001, the unit took on its current BIR designation. BIR officers are selected from the graduates of the Ecole Militaire Interarmées in Yaoundé. The BIR commandos were sent to the coast in 2007 to assist the Delta Command in dealing with a rapidly deteriorating security situation (The Sun [Limbe], October 13, 2008).

Bakassi 2The Bataillon d’Intervention Rapide (BIR)

The BIR’s mandate has expanded from providing border security since its formation, however, the elite force has mutated into something of a Praetorian Guard for President Paul Biya, an authoritarian who has ruled Cameroon since 1982, sometimes hiring his own international observers to legitimize his victories in largely unopposed elections.

The unit’s reputation in Cameroon took a hit in February 2008, when roughly 100 unarmed civilians were killed when the unit was brought in to Doula and Yaoundé to put down protests against the high cost of living (IRIN, August 29, 2008). Several months later the BIR was again deployed in the cities to prevent protests against the elimination of presidential term limits and the granting of immunity to Biya for all actions taken while in office.

Conclusion

For once, oil is not the main source of the conflict, as Nigeria and Cameroon have agreed to share the revenues from any oil produced off the Bakassi coast. It is, however, an aggravating factor with local militants who complain of the inequitable distribution of oil revenues and the presence of large multinationals with little concern for the well-being of local residents. Bakassi remains largely underdeveloped and mounting insecurity will do little to change this state of affairs. In some cases there is resistance by the Nigerian population to use services such as hospitals provided by Cameroon, as it would be a sign of acceptance of Cameroonian rule (IRIN, August 8, 2009). Most important, however, is the growing perception in Bakassi of the BIR as a colonial-style occupation force with little, if any, local representation. The growing divide between the Anglophone residents of Bakassi and the new Francophone administration invites the spread of a Niger Delta style low-level insurgency that is willing to hobble the development of the oil industry in the Gulf of Guinea through kidnappings and armed attacks to achieve its political aims – independence or a return to Nigerian sovereignty.