13th May, 2014
In a much publicised move, Nigeria has accepted assistance from the United States, Britain, France, China and Israel in a desperate attempt to free the 200 plus kidnapped girls and defeat terrorism in the Northeast. But regional cooperation between Nigeria and its closest neighbours of Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic has not been given the attention it deserves.
Since close to 300 schoolgirls were abducted on 14 April in Chibok, a rural area 130 kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, there have been reports the girls may have been smuggled out of the country, probably into Cameroon and sold as slaves or married off. But latest video indicates otherwise.
Cooperation between Yaounde and Abuja, for instance, has been slow with many people in Cameroon seeing the Boko Haram insurgency as a domestic Nigerian affair, and some even wondering why Africa’s most populous and richest country which had played a key role in peace keeping missions on the continent was incapable of dealing with a domestic threat in five years.
To Cameroonian news media, Boko Haram is a Nigerian nuisance which is not worth mentioning except when attacks occur within their territory. This is also because Yaounde, the political capital of Cameroon, is almost a thousand kilometres away from the Nigerian border of Maiduguri.
Indeed, there has not been enough political engagement between Presidents Paul Biya and Goodluck Jonathan. As a result Boko Haram terrorists have had a field day across the porous border between both countries.
The same thing applies in the relationship between Nigeria and its other neighbours. Nothing concrete seems to be happening along the borders even as things have continued to degenerate at a fast and worrisome pace.
President Jonathan must be as enthusiastic with his regional neighbours as he is with other global super powers. The regional leaders, especially those of Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic must be engaged seriously. Political engagement as well military partnership would certainly cripple Boko Haram at Nigerian borders.
While Americans and the rest of the world can provide intelligence, logistics and training to Nigerian troops, these moves may remain futile if the borders are porous and Boko Haram insurgents continue to move freely across regional borders.
Nigeria must come down from its high horse of posturing as the giant of Africa and cut deals with its weaker but very important neighbours. The neighbours must also understand that if they don’t assist Nigeria defeat Boko Haram terrorists, even they are not safe as their countries would be thrown into turmoil not too long from now. We all witnessed how the insurgents blew up a bridge linking Nigeria with Cameroon a few days ago. This could have been averted if there was cooperation between the security forces of the two countries.
We urge President Jonathan to take regional cooperation as seriously as his administration values cooperation with western countries. It is the right way to go in defeating the Boko Haram demons.