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Published On: Sun, Aug 3rd, 2014

Boko Haram: Biya’s no nonsense approach

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President Paul BiyaOur eastern neighbour, bilingual Republic of Cameroon, is an unwilling entrant into the multinational campaign against Nigeria – based violent Boko Haram sect that has been engaged in a 5- year murderous insurrection in the name of puritanical Islam.

Initial strenuous attempts by the Nigerian government to enlist Cameroon’s military in the multinational campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency were rebuffed by President Paul Biya for principally two reasons. One, there is still that old mutual suspicion between Anglophone and Francophone West African countries. Second, the Yaounde government believed Boko Haram was Nigeria’s internal problem and it should sort it out on its own.

And perhaps, thirdly, though not officially stated, the two nations have just emerged from a legal battle over disputed Bakassi peninsula which the International Court of Justice ( ICJ) ,in 1996, resolved in favour of Cameroon. Though the two have agreed to resolve outstanding issues politically,, assisted by the United Nations,  deep down there still exists mutual suspicion.  Yaounde will only be too pleased to see a potential foe consumed by its own internal contradictions.

However, the Cameroonian authorities would soon be proved wrong on the second. Last year, Boko Haram took the insurgency right inside Cameroon,  kidnapping French missionaries. They were released only after the French paid the ransom the sect demanded, although Paris denied ever paying for their freedom.

A fortnight ago, the sect blew up a key bridge linking Nigeria and Cameroon to the north. Last week, it carried out daring attacks in the northern part of the country, killing four people and abducting the wife of the deputy prime minister of that country from their home in Kolofata.  A week earlier, it had killed three soldiers in the same region.

Now brought into the conlict, though unwittingly, Cameroon was not going for half measures. The government quickly massed 1000 troops along its forested border with Nigeria. President Biya vowed to give the counter – insurgency his all. There would be zero tolerance with field commanders who did not show sufficient commitment to the campaign.  This showed, last week, when he dismissed two military commanders who failed to stop the Boko Haram attacks in the north.

They were Colonel Youssa Gedon, the commander of the Gendarmerie Legion, and Lt. Col.  Justin Nyonga, commander of the 34th motorized infantry battalion, also in the north.  The dismissals were announced in a presidential decree personally signed by Biya.

Cameroon’s no nonsense approach contrasts sharply with our own sad experience.  In early June, soldiers in Maiduguri rose against their commander for denying them fighting materials and food.  The only punishment the commander received was a recall to army headquarters in Abuja.  Few months earlier,  the sect massacred worshippers at the elite military facility in Jaji,  near Kaduna. Again,  the officer in charge got away with just a reprimand and a transfer to Abuja.

Our government must demonstrate a lot more commitment to the campaign to root out Boko Haram by the number of men and other resources it throws into it and a readiness to punish commanders who are not prepared to lead their men into battle.

There have been reports of commanders abandoning their troops at the mercy of Boko Haram fighters. In April, over 300 schoolgirls were snatched from under the nose of our soldiers in Chibok village in Borno state. It is over 100 days now, and there is no hope the girls will be freed anytime soon. Yet the PDP federal government of President Goodluck Jonathan only thinks about getting back to power in 2015.We cannot defeat the enemy this way,  surely.

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