Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama US State Department photo/ Public Domain

Strategic Friendship - Dynamics of Nigeria’s Policy Towards Cameroon Featured

By News Reports / Tuesday, 06 February 2018 13:29

 Abuja, Friday 26 January 2018. Forty-seven Cameroonian exiles arrested by Nigeria’s secret police at the venue of a meeting in a hotel complex on January 6, were summarily extradited to their country of origin. 

The men are described as leaders of a political group agitating for secession of Cameroon’s English speaking region, referred to as “the Republic of Ambazonia”. Though the exotic sounding republic does not exist, and there is little indication that their cause is being taken seriously anywhere, the government of Cameroon appeared to have made direct representation to Nigeria that the men be arrested and sent back to Cameroon. 

Sources within Nigeria’s political establishment disclosed that “Nigeria’s hand was forced”, by repeated attacks on Cameroonian military facilities conducted by “Ambazonian" insurgents and resultant killing of government troops. The action of the Nigerian government in Abuja has been criticised by a number of human rights activists and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Though the Nigerian government is yet to release any official report behind its decision to extradite the Cameroonian exiles, its policy action, with regard to the physical removal of the exiles from Nigeria has been criticised on the basis of the argument that the action “violates the principle of non-refoulement, which says migrants cannot be sent back to a country where they might face persecution”. 

The UNCHR was reported to have reminded the government in Abuja “of its obligations under international and Nigerian law, and urges the Nigerian Government to refrain from forcible returns of Cameroonian asylum-seekers back to their country of origin.” 

Indeed, certain provisions exist in international law, protecting refugees and political asylum seekers from repatriation to their countries of origin, on the basis of credible evidence that they may be unjustly arrested and subjected to political trial or physical harm, on the basis of their beliefs. 

In the absence of an extradition treaty between Nigeria and the Cameroon, it becomes imperative for Nigeria’s policy action in the aforesaid regard to be examined under the prism of an alternative framework, other than the “strictly” judicial. 

Realism provides the clearest perspective for locating the objectives of Nigeria’s action in the affair. The mould on which Nigeria’s relations towards countries contagious to it was cast may be described as one of strategic friendship, especially on matters relating to trans-border insurgency. It is a game “two can play” very well, given fragile nature of national political structures and institutions in virtually all post colonial African states. 

Whatever the position of international law, Nigeria cannot be seen as a sanctuary for maverick political forces with active separatist tendencies against any fellow sovereign African State. Indefensible the position would seem, for Nigeria policy to be seen as tilted in favour of insurgents, and whatever claims they may have to rights that permit them to destabilise peace and security in a neighbouring state. The nature of Nigeria’s strategic policy interests in the Near-Abroad, is one that cannot accommodate secessionists forces fanning embers of armed rebellion in their country of origin from within Nigeria. 

Nigeria-Cameroon relations have endured difficult moments. Before the 1962 plebiscite under United Nations mandate, political elements in Northern Nigeria invaded northern Cameroon, and successfully swayed voters there to choose integration with Nigeria. In absence of a similar invitation by political actors in Nigeria’s Eastern Region, the English speaking people of south-western Cameroon who today are agitating for secession of“Ambazonia” had voted to be lumped with the francophone people of the Republic of Cameroon. In view of Nigeria-Cameroon relations, that was a threshold crossed. 

With regard to the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967 to 1970, the government in Yaounde had displayed unwavering respect for Organisation of Africa Unity’s (OAU) anti-irredentism and inviolability of national boundaries resolution, i.e., AHG/Res.16(1) 1964. Cameroon’s support for Nigeria’s territorial integrity was unreserved, unequivocal and decisive, even when latitudes existed for wavering on the grounds of humanitarianism or “right to self determination” of a section of Nigeria. 

Currently, Yaounde may be seen as spending political credits it accrued over 50 years ago, with its support for Nigeria’s unity, at Nigeria’s hour of need. Even today in Nigeria, fear of secession is still evident in the horizon. Until a few months before his mysterious disappearance, the activities of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates a sovereign state for the Igbo-speaking people of Nigeria, severely affected economic activities across several cities and towns in the country. Thousands of troops were deployed across several states in the country to forestall fallouts from the organisation’s “call to arms” announcement. The Nigerian government would not wish Mr. Nnamdi Kanu to re-appear in Yaounde or Douala, or any city in a neighbouring country for that matter to take pot-shots at his country. 

Nigeria and Cameroon may have been involved in border skirmishes and political disagreements often of severe nature. Over the years nonetheless, the tone and intent of relations between both countries seems sincere, even on the highest level of state administration in both countries. Cameroon responds promptly to calls from Abuja for cooperation and coordinated action in matters relating to security around Nigeria’s north-eastern frontier. Conditions of insecurity around the Adamawa ranges and Lake Chad plains, remain a serious issue for Nigeria, Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. 

A significant portion of Nigeria’s main population heartland and agriculture plains will instantly be destabilised in event of a sudden collapse of existing structures of international security around Lake Chad, River Chari and the Adamawa pass. For the entire country, the impact of such a development will be catastrophic. 

Beyond this, Nigeria’s military strategy for containing the Boko Haram armed uprising in Borno State will in tatters if Yaounde withdraws from the multinational military alliance established by Nigeria to assist in containing the group. So far, on the Nigerian side, the cost of Boko Haram uprising is estimated at 100,000 persons dead and 2,114,000 persons internally displaced. Direct economic loss is said to be in the region of $9 billion. 

President Paul Biya’s rejection of demands for autonomy by opposition forces anywhere in his country may seem a driving force behind the political crisis in Cameroon. Yet, Yaounde did not lecture Nigeria’s then crop of political leaders on how to restructure the country, avert or manage its war with secessionists during the 1967 - 1970 Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Rather, Cameroon shut its borders with secessionist Biafra, actively refused that its land border with Nigeria and airspace be used by anyone to funnel arms supply to the secessionists and prevented Biafran elements from using Cameron as a base to support armed rebellion in Nigeria.

Nigeria simply owes Cameroon too much that it could hardly have responded in any other way when Cameroon called its favour. It is in Nigeria’s strategic interest.

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David Danisa

David Danisa

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