The struggle for oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula emerged as a major point of contention which lingered for decades. The eventual resolution of the Bakassi dispute following the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling and the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement marked a major turning point in the Nigeria- Cameroon relations.
The resolution of this conflict between 2 brother nations has been widely celebrated in Africa and the rest of the World as a model for peaceful resolution of dispute among nations. Other nations in similar situations have severely been called up to emulate this example. The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affaires, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, during his visit to Cameroon for the opening ceremony of the Nigeria Consulate at Douala in 2020, called on world leader to copy the Nigerian model in settlement of international disputes as the Bakasi model of dispute resolution remains a model that has not been seen elsewhere in the world.
Nigeria and Cameroon currently enjoy mutual trust and the presence of a positive military, economic and cultural relationship. Due to geographical proximity, inhabitants in the northern Cameroon and Nigeria area were engaged in trade relations far before the era of independence. Some of the trade routes between them to include: Garoua- Yola, Maroua-Mubi, Mora-Maiduguri and Ngoundere through Kontcha to Yola. The maritime region between the Nigeria and Cameroon area, particularly the Cross River, Calabar River and Ndian River Basin was an area of lucrative trade in palm oil between groups from both countries. The areas around Bakasi has also been a base for an important fishing industry for the communities living around this area since pre-colonial times.
Engagements between Nigeria and Cameroon are ventilated under the auspices of various commissions or committees but broadly encapsulated under 2 major commissions. First is the Cameroon – Nigeria Joint Commission which is the main bilateral platform where diverse issues of mutual interest to both countries are discussed. Second is the Cameroon – Nigeria Mixed Commission. The Mixed Commission was set up under the United Nations to tie up loose ends on issues concerning the handover of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon and also address other boundary demarcation issues in relation to the Green Tree Agreement. The Nigeria – Cameroon Trans Border Security Committee which falls under the Cameroon – Nigeria Join Commission happens to be one of the key platform of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Cameroon on cross border security issues. This Committee has consistently held it’s annual meeting at alternate venues between Nigeria and Cameroon. Other platforms for engagement between Nigeria and Cameroon include the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the Multinational Joint Task Force, The Golf of Guinea Commission, the Yaoundé maritime security architecture, African Peace Support Training Association (APSTA Nigeria is a member nation), Organization for Military Sports in Africa (OSMA current president is a Nigerian). In order to consolidate the relationship between the Federal Republic of Nigerian and the Republic of Cameroon, they have gone ahead to sign a number of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)such as: MOU on Intelligence and information Sharing, MOU on the Implementation of Common Measures o Combat Terrorism, Piracy and other forms of Transnational Organized Crime in the Maritime Space, MOU on the Establishment of the Cross Border Security Committee, MOU on Training, MOU on Trade and Visa Policy.
A comprehensive list of Agreements and MOUs between The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon is enclosed. The advent of the Boko Haram Terrorist (BHT) insurgency and the expansion of the roles of the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to include the fight against terrorism, was a veritable booster in the Nigeria-Cameroon military relations. The armed forces of the Republic of Cameroon has demonstrated positive resolve to work with Nigeria towards ending the activities of the insurgents. The MNJTF has provided a veritable platform for cooperation between the armed forces of both countries. In other to ensure a seamless exchange of operational information, both countries exchange Liaison Officers(LO) in their respective theatres of operations.
Both countries currently enjoys a high level of cooperation particularly as relates to intelligence sharing in the fight against BHT. Consequently, numerous successes have been recorded against the terrorist group in the past few years. One example is the simultaneous strikes at Ngoshe and Kumshe villages under Operation ARROW FIVE where some military hardware was recovered from BH and a bomb assembly factory destroyed. Others include Operation TENTACULE and Operation EMERGENCE 4. The successes recorded during Operation RESCUE FINALE to dislodge BH from its stronghold in Sambisa forest is quite instructive on the level of cooperation between Nigeria and Cameroon. Additionally, the improved synergy resulted in positive outcome in most of the operation of the Rapid Intervention Battalion of the Republic of Cameroon along the borders with Nigeria.
These operation were conducted in close synergy with the Nigerian military Units on the Nigeria side of the border. Consequent upon these operations over 4000 BHT members and their families surrendered to the Nigeria and Cameroon authorities in 2021 and are currently undergoing the process of reintegration at various centers in their countries of surrender. Recent sting operations have led to interception of some BHT elements at suspected crossing points from Nigeria into Cameroon.
FOREIGN RELATIONS AND DIPLOMACYNigeria and Cameroon currently enjoy a cordial and mutually beneficial diplomatic relationship rekindled by the signing of the Green Tree Agreement by the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroonian President Paul Biya on 12 June 2006. This event marked a huge turning point in the diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon. The diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon remains very good. The Nigerian High Commission in Yaoundé and the Cameroon High Commission the Abuja work assiduously to ensure a seamless diplomatic relation among both countries. The Visit of President Mohammad Buhari to the Republic of Cameroon from 29 to 30 July 2015 and a reciprocal visit of President Paul Biya to the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 3 to 4 May 2016 was a clear demonstration of good diplomatic relations that exist among the countries. During these visits, the two presidents held one on one discussions in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherliness as a wide rang of bilateral, regional and international issues were reviewed.
Both countries exchange visit at all levels of the government, including military exchange programs and study tours. Student Officers from the Cameroon war collage have severally visited The Federal Republic of Nigeria on a study tour. Similarly, Student Officers from the Nigerian war collages and the Nigerian National Defense College have visited the Republic of Cameroon severally. These visits provided the opportunities for these countries to show each other a sample of the legendary African hospitality. I have been privileged to be part of some of these visits and I can attest that the relationship between these two countries is indeed awesome. LAKE CHAD BASIN GOVERNORS’ FORUM The Lake Chad Basin Governors’ (LBC) Forum is one of the numerous platforms for cooperation between Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon. This is essentially a forum of 8 governors of the states within the Lake Chat Basin that are directly affected by the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents. The Lake Chad Basin region has been seriously impacted by Boko Haram insurgency and other related conflicts. The impact includes massive internal and cross border displacements, refugees, human rights abuse as well as disruption of public services. The region is also affected by the environmental hazards with the regression of the waters of Lake Chad. Consequently, the LCB Governor’s Forum was formed with the objective of fostering regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other natural and man made factors that destabilize the region. Also, it serves as a platform for cross-border dialogue, and to support ongoing national, regional and multilateral efforts towards stabilization in the LCB region. The Forum held its inaugural meeting on the 8th and 9th of May 2018, in Maiduguri, Borno State, Federal Republic of Nigeria. The inaugural meeting of the Forum was hosted by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and supported by the United Nations through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as well as the Governments of Germany, Sweden and Norway.
The inaugural meeting was attended by Governors from the Republic Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria as well as officials from the United Nations, African Union, multilateral and bilateral partners, representatives of civil society and the media. It was essentially to provide platform for engagement among the states in the region, comprising Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. The last meeting of the Governors Forum was hosted by the Republic of Cameroon from 4 – 5 Oct 21, at the International Conference Centre Yaoundé, Cameroon. The Conference was officially declared open by the Cameroon Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Dion Ngute on behalf of President Paul Biya. In attendance were the Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Zulum, representatives of Governors of Yobe and Adamawa States, Governors of Diffa Region of Niger Republic, Hadjer-Lemis Province in Chad as well as Governors from North Region and Far North Region of Cameroon including experts and international partners. The Conference evaluated the decisions of the 2nd session that was held in Niger Republic in 2019 as well as discussed regional strategy for promoting peace and sustainable development in the Lake Chad basin CAMEROON – NIGERIA MIXED COMMISSION The Cameroon – Nigeria Mixed Commission (CNMC) was established by the UN Secretary General at the request of the Presidents of Cameroon and Nigeria on 15 November 2002.
The goal of CNMC is to facilitate the implementation of the 10 Oct 02 judgement of the International Court of Justice on the Cameroon – Nigeria boundary dispute. The Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) for West Africa and the Sahel serves as the Chairman of CNMC. The mandate of the CNMC covers the demarcation of the land boundary and delimitation of the maritime boundary between the 2 countries, the withdrawal of troops and transfer of authority in the LCB area, addressing the situation of populations affected by the demarcation activities as well as development of recommendations on confidence building measures aimed at promoting peaceful cross-border cooperation. Under the chairmanship of the SRSG, the Mixed Commission continues to hold regular meetings alternately in Cameroon and Nigeria. For instance, the 33rd ordinary session of the CNMC was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon from 19 – 20 Nov 21. The session took stock of the progress made by the Sub-Commission on Demarcation. The meeting also discussed points of disagreement on the delimitation of the border and the assistance to population
CAMEROON-NIGERIA JOINT COMMISSION
The Cameroon- Nigeria Joint Commission provides a platform for discussions on issues of common interest to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon. Issues ranging from security, trade, culture and every other subject that requires the attention of both countries could be captured under the Joint Commission. This commission has a responsibility to coordinate and harmonize the decisions and agreements reached by the two countries on various subject matter. It is mandated to seat in alternate locations between Nigeria and Cameroon to ensure a continuous and effective bilateral relations. MILITARY COOPERATION The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon enjoy very close military cooperation which spans through various aspects of military operations. The relationship has recorded some remarkable improvements of late, especially in the area of training exchange programs in respective military institutions, high profile visits and the establishment of the Trans Border Security Committee. Military cooperation between both countries has also been boosted tremendously, largely as a result of the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents. Both countries have continued to seamlessly share intelligence and information in the fight against terrorism, banditry and all forms of trans border criminality. 8. Collaboration against Boko Haram. At the onset of Boko Haram in Nigerian territory in 2009, the countries countries within the region were more interested in effectively protecting their respective borders without seeing the compelling need for collaborations among the armed forces of these countries. However, when the attacks spread into neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad it became evident that the only way to conquer a common enemy like the Boko Haram is to collaborate and fight from a united front. Hence Nigeria and Cameroon have collaborated effectively in so many regards to ensure that this common enemy is completely eliminated. Consequently, several operations were lunched under the auspices of the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and even at national level to flush out the Boko Haram insurgents. Evidently, these efforts coupled with the non kinetic measures adopted by the governments, have began to yield tremendous results. Operation Safe Corridor of the MNJTF remains a global model for providing a unique channel to reintegrate repentant insurgents in to normal life.
According to Governor Baba Gana Zulum of Borno State, during his media brief after his visit to president Mohammed Buhari on the 10 Feburary 2022, he reported that no fewer that 30,000 Boko Haram members and their family have renounced their activities and are willing to undergo the rehabilitation process. Another high point of this collaboration is the exchange of visits by the Defense Chiefs of both countries and acceptance to exchange liaison officers between respective Armed Forces to enhance exchange of tactical information between troops in the field. Again, the Force Commander of MNJTF in company of other officers of the Task Force paid a 5-day working visit to the Republic of Cameroon from 31 Oct – 4 Nov 21. Overall, the visits were aimed at improving synergy and operational efficiency of the armed forces in the fight against insurgency, banditry and other forms of cross border criminalities. This visits also provided the opportunity for robust discussions on way to enhance military cooperation among the two countries. Training in Military Institutions. There has been some remarkable development in the area of military training cooperation between Nigeria and Cameroon. Senior military staff officers of Cameroon and Nigeria armed forces often meet and exchange strategies on ensuring national security through their respective military training institutions. Security institutions in Cameroon such as the International War College annually receive Nigeria military student officers on training exchange program and this serves as an avenue for developing skills and competence in national security management. Similarly, senior military officers from the Cameroon armed forces are offered annual training slots in the Nigerian National Defense challege and in the Armed Forces Command and Staff College of Nigeria.
These training slots provide a suitable platform for both countries military officers to fertilize ideas on military strategies for a more effective national defense arrangement. The Nigerian Defense Academy has even gone further to admit young cadets from the Republic of Cameroon to undergo their initial military training in Nigeria. This is a move that is highly applauded by all parties as it would certainly deepen the military cooperation among both countries on a long time bases and ensure an enduring and sustainable relationship. Additionally, Nigeria has several other specialized established military training institutions in the army, navy and the air force for officers and soldiers and could leverage on this to offer more slots to train Cameroonians with a view to spreading this exchange training program among all ranks. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s major weakness in this arrangement is the rarity of officers and soldiers who are proficient enough in French language to be able to undergo training in Cameroon where French is a dominant language. This inadequacy constitutes a major impediment in our relationship with all our francophone neighbors. The good news however is that the Nigerian government is currently embarked on a policy direction that will ensure that French language is a fundamental requirement for advancement in the military and the civil service of the Federation. Accordingly, It is strongly advised that the French language be formerly adopted as a second official language in the country and incorporated into the curriculum of all schools in Nigeria. This move would greatly reduce Nigeria’s disadvantaged position while dealing with her francophone neighbors and wider international diplomatic engagements.
TRADE AND INVESTMENT
Economic relations between Nigeria and Cameroon have improved tremendously over the years, especially in the areas of trade and investment. Both countries have signed a series of agreements dating back to 1960 with the aim of strengthening trade and commerce relations between them. The agreements also included cooperation in the areas of science and technology, cultural exchanges, and youth development. It is pertinent to note that While a significant chunk of the cross-border trade between the 2 countries remains largely informal.
According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Nigeria is believed to be Cameroon’s largest trade partner with an estimated trade volume of over $1.2 Billion USD per annum and almost 25 percent of Cameroon’s imports, as at January 2022. Major trading commodities between both countries include agricultural produce, spare parts for automobiles and industrial machines, building materials, petroleum products such as fuel and lubricants, household consumables and other essentials commodities.
Conversely, Cameroon’s exports to Nigeria consist mostly of food products, livestock, vegetable oil, and soap. Nigerian investors in Cameroon have taken advantage of this opportunities offered by the Cameroon market to make significant inroad into the Cameroon economy. Consequently, Nigerian companies like the Dangote Group, United Bank for Africa, Air Peace and MRS Holdings have established significant presence in the Cameroonian economy. There is also a large number of small and medium scale enterprises owned by Nigerians living in Cameroon. Both countries jointly established the Nigeria – Cameroon Trade and Tourism for the growth and sustainable development which paved way for the Nigeria – Cameroon Trade Tourism and Cultural Week. Nonetheless, it is believed that the African Continental Free Trade (AfCFTA) will provide the foundations for effective Cameroon – Nigeria trade and enable policymakers to align trade procedures and legislations in order to facilitate economic development.
Written by, COMMODORE NC EKOWM