National Times (Yaounde) – The current conflict in the two Anglophone regions of Cameroon has caused extreme pain, anguish, and despair, not just on Cameroon, but also on the greater Central and West African regions. As violence and aggression continue on both sides, avenues to resolve the crises are drying up, leaving one country the opportunity to resolve the conflict and end the conflict.
Nigeria and Cameroon share an extensive border, from the south-western Atlantic Ocean coastline, to the creeks of the dying basins of Lake Chad. More than 500,000 Nigerians currently live in Cameroon, and an estimated 25,000 Cameroonians live in Nigeria. Besides sharing common borders and robust immigrant communities, Cameroon has been a staunch ally to Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram. And both countries share strong economic and cultural ties.
Due to their close economic, security and geographic connection, Nigeria has been one of the countries’ worst hit by the ongoing Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. More than 60,000 Cameroonians displaced from the ongoing Anglophone crisis have fled to Nigeria as refugees, according to UNCHR, creating extra pressure on local communities and resources. Trade between Nigeria and Cameroon has decreased by over 427 percent since the Anglophone crisis began, according to figures from the Cameroon government. In addition, a Nigerian priest was recently killed in crossfire between government and secessionist forces. The number of Nigerians living in Cameroon who have been displaced and those who have lost their wealth because of the conflict is still unknown to the public, but analyst expect the figures to be high.
So far, Nigeria’s policy to the Anglophone crisis under the Buhari administration has been to support the Cameroonian government to end the crisis. Under Buhari, the Nigerian forces arrested and deported top Anglophone secessionist leaders to Cameroon to be charged by the Cameroonian government. The leaders are currently facing trason charges in Cameroon. Nigeria has also increased security across its border with Cameroon to prevent secessionist forces from accessing its huge and lucrative black market for arms, or settling in Nigerian forests.
Buhari has made clear that supporting the Cameroon government to crack down on the Anglophone seccessionist is in Nigeria’s interest, as supporting the rebels will be close to approving the Biafra and other secessionist groups calling for the dissolution and secession from the state of Nigeria. Also, according to top Nigerian security experts, Nigerian has supported the Cameroonian government against the Anglophones because of the Cameroonian government support to Buhari in the fight against Boko Haram in the North. Buhari cannot risk losing Cameroon, and possibly France, in his fight against Boko Haram.
However, at this time, it is in Nigeria’s interest to put an end to the conflict in the Anglophone regions, and promote the rights of Anglophones in Cameroon. This is an opportunity for Nigeria to gain influence in Cameroon’s political affairs. Getting the Cameroonian government to give Anglophones more influence in the government will give Nigeria more influence in Cameroon. Nigeria does not have to support the goal of secession. Its goal should be to put an end to the conflict, and see Anglophones retain more power, possibly through federalism.That will increase trade, cultural and other links between the two English speaking regions and Nigeria.
Further more, failure by the Nigerian government to end the Anglophone crisis, or continuation with its support to the Cameroonian government can have significant negative effects for Nigeria. First, increase insecurity in Cameroon will thwart trade between Nigeria and Cameroon, leaving Nigerian businesses with billions of loss revenue and trade. Second, attacks on Nigerian businesses and persons living in Cameroon may increase in the coming days, as secessionist become irritated that Nigeria’s support to the government of Cameroon is hampering their struggle. Finally, Nigeria will loss the opportunity to gain strategic advantage in a key country in Nigeria’s geopolitical orbit.
To resolve the Anglophone crisis, Buhari can become an intermediary between the government of Cameroon and the secessionists, as Blaise Compaore was in the case of Mali and other West African states and agitators.
Suppose the government of Cameroon refuse to dialogue, the government of Nigeria can threaten to provide covert financial, creatly arm the seccssionist, and threaten to provide them international support possibly through the AU and ECOWAS, unless the government of Cameroon dialogue with the secessionists. Cameroon cannot afford to get Nigeria to support the secessionists, even behind the scenes.
First, that may mean the secessionist can be able to get training in Nigeria, more advanced weapons and medical facilities, as well as a safe haven in case of an attack from Cameroon. In addition, that will stretch Cameroon’s already thin resources, and provide the rebels a geostrategic advantage over the Cameroonian government.
One challenge is that the secessionists can decline a federalist offer. But the Nigerian government can also threaten to intensify attack on the secessionists, and cut their supplies and communication with their Nigerian relatives or outlay. It can also outlaw any Anglophone secessionist activity in Nigeria and enforce a major crackdown if the secessionist refuse to engage in dialogue with the government of Cameroon.
In addition, the Nigerian government can use the current court case in Abuja to threaten the Cameroonian government that it will grant asylum or other forms of recognition to the Cameroonian hostage, which will energize the secessionist movement.
There are dozens of different tools available to the Nigerian government to get its Cameroonian counterpart to the dialogue table, including, promising some sort of support in solving the refugee problem in the North of Cameroon, supplying Cameroon with cheaper crude and other resources, or cutting off these resources from Cameroon unless it engages with the rebels.
Cameroon online media agency, Business in Cameroon, announced recently that “Cameroon’s national refining firm (Sonara) announced it was selected by the Nigerian National Pertoleum Corrporation (NNPC) to purchase crude oil from Nigeria from July 2018 to June 2020”. Nigeria can threaten to disrupt petrol and kerosene supply to Cameroon, which will be a big threat to the country’s energy security.
For centuries, African governments have allowed foreign forces to resolve African conflicts because they have failed to see into the cost of conflict on the borders, and also opportunities to expand their influence by bringing peace. This is the case of Cameroon where Nigeria, until now, has played a timid role in the crisis in Cameroon notwithsntaindg the huge economic and geostratic cost on Nigeria. Whoever wins the February 19 elections, should grap the opportunity to increase Nigeria’s voice in Cameroon. Resolve the Anglophone crisis and push for a federal state.