The infamous Boko Haram has begun to take their rule of terror out of Nigeria and into neighbouring Cameroon. The recent threats that the Boko Haram could soon become an international crisis are starting to become a reality. Recent turmoil in the northern regions of Cameroon also suggests that the tyranny could spread a lot quicker than first expected.
The number of attacks in the far northern region of Cameroon has been steadily increasing over the last few weeks with Boko Haram taking responsibility for almost all criminal activity. Attacks have taken place on villages and towns close to Cameroon’s North-Western border with Nigeria and in the mountain regions either side of the border. The north-eastern states of Nigeria such as Borno and Yobe are known to be the current strongholds of the Islam extremist sect.
The latest string of reported attacks occurred around mid-July with one Cameroonian police officer being killed and another severely injured amongst a number of casualties in the same incident. Government officials have also confirmed an attack which occurred in Bonderi village, just 5km from the Nigerian border. The attack saw members of the Boko Haram hijack weapons and a military vehicle from the local law enforcement in the village, along with a number of motorbikes now believed to have slipped back into Nigeria.
The attacks have in recent days started to see questions raised about the supposed effectiveness of military activity in the region. In June a further 1,000 Cameroonian troops were stationed in the region amid fears of a Boko Haram surge across the border.
With the number of attacks and casualties in the North-West region of the country increasing almost weekly there are those questioning Nigeria’s neighbours’ response to the threat that was issued two months ago. In response to these questions Cameroon officials have been forced to show their hand and shed light on the situation. Didier Badjeck, a military spokesperson for the Cameroon military told reporters that the reason for the increasing number of attacks in the region is down to the fact that the “war” in Nigeria between the Boko Haram and Nigerian military is seeing no sign of ending: “Attacks are still common because the war is not won in Nigeria… It is difficult to lead a major operation against the Boko Haram due to the fact that they are ‘invisible’.”
Mr Badjeck has also said that whilst a significant increase has been made in military presence across the Far North Region borders there is no way to have complete control over the regions borders, nor to be able to always predict where the Boko Haram may strike from next.
“We cannot put security on every kilometre or area in the region. Boko Haram may have 100 percent advantage over the traditional military style because we don’t know their base, how they look like, how many there are or what direction they will come from”.
Abductions in the region have also made a worrying rise this year. Whilst several Boko Haram captives have since been freed the 10 Chinese construction workers abducted back in May are still unaccounted for along with a number of Cameroonian and Nigerian locals on either side of the Far North borders.
However, whilst Cameroonian officials have voiced their concerns that the Boko Haram is continually a step ahead of them, they claim that both Nigerian and Cameroonian forces have made a number of arrests. These include both higher and lower level members of the Boko Haram sect according to reports.
Residents of the Far North Regions have also been voicing their concerns about how the conflict is not only endangering their lives but also their lifestyles and businesses. With a lot of the business in the Far North Region dependent on cross-border trading between Nigeria and Cameroon, the recent turmoil along with strict curfews in towns and villages near the borders is slowly killing trade in the area.
One resident of a village near the Cameroon side of the border has said that whilst security seems more comforting, their way of living is already starting to suffer: “One can now go to bed less fearful because there are military patrols. But life is still difficult due to the fact that activities are not operating normally. People are scared to go to farms, cross-border trade is dying and people are losing livelihood activities”.
With curfews in place along with the recent border patrol crackdown thanks to Boko Haram weapon and drug smugglers there is very little ability for any form of smooth trade to pass through the region.
With the Boko Haram threat now reaching across the border the Far North Region is in a state of rapid decline. With the Islamic extremists keeping themselves a step ahead of military attempts to hunt them down and the disruption to crucial trade in the region, it is only a matter of time before the military start to get desperate and erratic and crucial trade starts to fall into the hands of the rebels.
There is an extremely worrying potential for a snowball effect that would see Boko Haram seize the initiative from military personnel in Nigeria and Cameroon and, in doing so, begin to seize control of funding and livelihood in the region.
Whilst it is abundantly clear that the work being done by the Nigerian and Cameroonian hierarchy is making progress, the even more rapid progress being made by the rebels is more worrying. It is now up to the government and armed forces of each nation to truly seize the initiative as the deadly shadow of the Boko Haram begins to loom larger.