By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, May 13 2014 (IPS) - Senior defence officials say that Cameroon has been infiltrated by Nigeria’s Islamist extremist group Boko Haram and there are fears that this central African nation, known for its stability, is drifting into chaos.
“Right now, we are being infiltrated by Boko Haram. The military has decided to strengthen the intelligence system to effectively counter this threat, which seems to be gaining local support,” Colonel Didier Badjeck, spokesperson for the Cameroon Ministry of Defence, told IPS.
Governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region, Augustine Awa Fonka, told IPS that the precision with which the extremist group attacked a military post in the region on May 5, lends credence to the fact that the attack was carried out with the help of local informants.
Cameroon’s north western boarder runs along the length of Nigeria’s eastern boarder, stretching all the way to Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north — a Boko Haram stronghold. In March, the government set up a number of military posts along Cameroon’s northwestern border with Nigeria in response to Boko Haram’s insurgency.
But at 2am, on May 5, over 30 suspected Boko Haram insurgents struck the Kousseri military post in Far North Region and killed a Gendarmerie officer and a civilian being held in custody. Several people were wounded as the group freed one of their members, who was also being held at the post.
“In all of the cases [of Boko Haram attacks], especially the attack on the military post, there are quite a number of arrests that have been made. The attack couldn’t have been carried out without local informants and we believe we are going to identify these accomplices,” Awa Fonka said.
He admitted that the attack on the military was spreading fear among locals.
“The forces of law and order are there to protect the population. When they [the military] are now being attacked, it destabilises everyone,” he said.
He described the attackers as “faceless” terrorists would could only be tracked down with help of locals. He added that “every measure will be put in place to track down the attackers, or at least get their accomplices.”
Attacks in Nigeria have also resulted in refugees fleeing to safety in Cameroon. On May 6, Boko Haram — which means “Western Education is a sin” in the local Nigerian dialect, Hausa — raided a market in the Nigerian border town of Gambourou. More than 200 people, including four Cameroonians, died in the attack. Around 3,000 Nigerians, many of whom were wounded during the violence, crossed over to the Cameroonian town of Fotokol.
“The forces of law and order cannot do it alone. They need the population to denounce people of doubtful origin who are in their neighbourhoods. We need to unite, because a nation unified against its enemy is invincible,” Awa Fonka said.
But the readiness of locals to cooperate remains in doubt.
“People are suspicious of each other. You can’t possibly trust even your nextdoor neighbour because you do not know with whom they sit and dine,” Alamine Ousman, a resident of Kousseri, Far North Region, told IPS.
“But we know that Boko Haram members are here among us — they move about like anyone else, and you can’t even tell they are from Boko Haram.”
Many in the region remain afraid for their lives and are reluctant to volunteer any information about Boko Haram’s members.
Hawe Aishatu, who escaped the attacks in the Far North Region and fled to the capital, Yaounde, cast a furtive glance before she spoke in a subdued tone.
“It can mean death talking about these people. They are fundamentally evil,” she told IPS.
The recent attack on the Kousseri military post forced El Hadji Numbao and his family to flee the town. He told IPS that if the insurgents had the nerve to attack military posts, then ordinary people like himself were not safe.
“It’s so scary,” Numbao said just as he stepped off a train at Yaounde station.
“It’s difficult to live in a place where even the rustles of tree leaves jolt you out of a rare sleep, and where you know you and your kids could be killed without warning,” he said.
Adouraman Halirou, a university don and specialist on border issues, told IPS that he feared Cameroon, which frequently prided itself as being a fountain of peace in a troubled African continent, may be drifting into chaos.
He urged the government to make use of all its available human and technical resources to stem the threat.
“The conflicts, the crises and the tensions plaguing the region, particularly Nigeria, have not failed to have repercussions in our country,” Minister of Communications Issa Tchiroma Bakary told IPS.
Military posts have also been set up on the country’s eastern border with Central Africa Republic (CAR) as Cameroon has also faced attack there. In Cameroon’s East Region over 18 locals were kidnapped on May 2 by insurgents from CAR.
“Cameroon is subject to attacks perpetuated from neighbouring countries, and by nationals of those countries,” Tchiroma Bakary added.
Until then Cameroonians like Numbao will continue to flee for safety.
“I have left everything back-my businesses, my cattle…everything. But I am happy my seven children and three wives are safe,” Numbao said. He has relocated to the capital with his entire household.