In the last week of August, some 480 of our troops fighting to put down the Boko Haram insurgency, now in its 5th year, found themselves inside Cameroonian territory. They were promptly arrested, disarmed and detained for days. We hear that they have since been released and now have rejoined their colleagues across the border.
There have been some conspiracy theories about what happened. One suggests that the soldiers were chased by the Boko Haram enemy into Cameroon. Note that the incident happened in the same week that the insurgents overran a police post in Gwoza in Borno state and captured Gamboru where they hoisted the sect’s flag and declared the town the capital of a new Caliphate. Many Nigerian soldiers were reportedly killed in those Boko Haram expeditions. The nearly 500 soldiers that found their way into neighbouring Cameroon were the lucky survivors.
Another theory is that the soldiers had grown battle weary and were escaping or deserting. This was confirmed by a senior Cameroonian army officer, Lt. Col. Didier Badjek, who told BBC that the Nigerian soldiers were deserters. Asked why the soldiers had to be subjected to the ignominy of being arrested and then disarmed, a source in the Cameroonian military said it was standard international practice.
However, the Nigerian military high command denies the soldiers deserted. Defence Headquarters spokesman Major Gen. Chris Olukolade, in a statement issued in Abuja, said the troops’ unexpected presence in Cameroon was a “tactical manoeuvre”. He denied the soldiers were disgraced, explaining that it was normal for soldiers who strayed into a friendly foreign country to be disarmed. He assured, however, that the Nigerian soldiers had since been released, their weapons returned to them and they were on their way back home to be reunited with their units.
However, the bold face Gen. Olukolade put on that ugly incident did little to buoy the confidence of a violence weary Nigerian public. Not only are our military proving increasingly ineffectual against Boko Haram, our small next neighbour, Cameroon, is rubbing salt in our injury by taking the fight to the murderous fringe Islamist sect, not the other way round.
Only last month, the Cameroon military managed to free 45 Nigerians the sect had kidnapped and taken across the forested border. This is in sharp contrast to the sad story of our 200 plus schoolgirls still in Boko Haram captivity, 171 days since they were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Borno state, in April. In other words, what is Nigeria’s shame is Cameroon’s glory.