The Nigerian government has finally declared war against the Boko Haram Islamists who have caused the death of over 2000 and continue to terrorise the locals in northern Nigeria. However, as the military campaign intensive with air strikes and heavy artillery support, some of the militants would be trying to flee with Cameroon being the main destination. Although the militants, who are equally well armed and suspected to be in possession of anti-aircraft launchers, would not easily give up, some of its young recruits and even expatriate fighters could be looking for an easy escape route before the Nigerian infantry come for them.
Declaring a war can be effortlessly done, but fighting it to win is an entirely different story, especially when the battle is against a mysterious and sophisticated militant group. With well-planned and calculated attacks carried out on strategic targets in Lagos as well as Abuja, away from is its northern stronghold, Boko Haram had made enough provocations to inflame a war, and obviously had been teasing the Nigerian Army to start the war.
Since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergence in three northeast states – Yobe, Borno and Adamawa –top Nigerian military officers have been briefing the press on the campaign on the ground. This undoubtedly, looks like the war is already on the way. Would the Boko Haram insurgents surrender at this point or resist fighting on? Would its sponsors be able to furnish enough finance and weaponry for a large-scale battle? These questions and many more would be answered as the fighting get fiercer in the days ahead.
As more troops are deployed to Borno barely a few kilometres off the borders of Cameroon, wave of refugees are expected to move towards Cameroon. The worries of the authorities of Cameroon would not be that of coping with the refugees’ influx, but rather the crossing of disguised militants who are looking for safe havens or new grounds to organise cross-borders attacks. To prevent this from happening and equally to disrupt the movements of arms, it is up to the government of Cameroon to deploy Special Forces along its borders with neighbouring Nigeria. However, with the borders quite vast, porous and most parts lacking natural barriers, Nigeria and Cameroon must work hand-in-hand exchanging intelligence and sharing ideas on rendering life difficult for these fugitive Islamists.
Cameroon as safe haven
The operation of the Boko Haram militants was first noticed in Northern Cameroon in February when an entire French family of seven was kidnapped in the Waza national park. Only after several pleads and intergovernmental negotiations were the seven freed alive and in good health.
Armed highway robberies said to be perpetuated by foreigners often target wealthy travellers and traders plying to and fro the northern and southern regions of Cameroon, and not foreign tourists. With the kidnapping of the French family and their car taken before being abandoned, it showed a shift from ambush and harassment to a tactical level of hostage taking. Crossing Cameroon’s borders from either west, the Nigerian end or from East, the Chadian side, these armed gangs locally called coupeur de route randomly stop vehicles at hasty mounted checkpoints to demand money and jewellery. If in the course of an operation an alarm is raised to alert the Cameroonian police or Special Forces, stationed in this vulnerable area, these armed bandits are said to often sneak back into their country of origin. Not knowing what is happening or awaiting them in the other side of the frontiers, the Cameroonian forces can only limit their pursuit to their own borders.
As a way to keep the gangs off Cameroon’s territory, a rapid intervention battalion deployed in the region constantly patrol the areas, especially strategic outlets with abnormal activities. In other security measures to protect the population, soldiers of this battalion who are well trained and armed to the teeth, often escort vehicles traversing the area, especially in the night. However with the area of operation along the Chad Plain vast, and dotted with picturesque high grounds, these Special Forces are often overstretched. With the forces outnumbered by the task and terrain to cover, it is possible that the watchful bandits can move in whenever a loophole emerges along the borders. The big challenge for these forces would now be that to battle it out with fleeing Boko Haram militants.
Mass influx of refugees
The extended campaign to demoralise, disarm, and defeat Boko Haram in its own backyards comes as big relief to the local population, but they will equally pay the price.
Unfortunately, airstrikes hardly distinguish who are genuine civilians from the bulk of targeted insurgents. With the insurgents living and commuting within the local populations, it isn’t strange that the Nigerian army are killing many civilians instead of insurgents.
Infrastructures and property would be destroyed and the most affected in any case would be the children, women and the old and sick who constantly need help. With Cameroon being the nearest place to seek help, the government must be ready to provide assistance as well as to pin down any insurgent trying to use the civilian population as a shield.