YAOUNDE – There are growing concerns among Cameroonians that their government and military are undermining the war against Boko Haram terrorists in the northern part of the country. Civilians and experts have criticized authorities’ handling of the threat after a suspected Boko Haram militant attack on Sunday killed 17 people and wounded six others in a camp for displaced people. Cameroon’s military rejects the criticism but admits that the Nigeria-based terrorist group is increasing the frequency of its attacks.
Ousmanou Sani, head of the Nguetchewe village community near Cameroon’s northern town of Mozogo says they have been counting on community militias for protection from Boko Haram. The 62-year-old says the military presence in their locality has been reduced significantly and their porous border with Nigerian villages is no longer controlled regularly. He spoke via a messaging application from Mozogo.
Sani says the population can bear him witness that only poorly equipped vigilantes are seen most of the time carrying out patrols to protect civilians. He says if the military is stretched, the government should recruit and train vigilante groups members who are ready to protect their communities.
Sani said the absence of the military from 5 of the 6 border control posts may have encouraged suspected Boko Haram militants to attack their locality over the weekend.
Cameroon military acknowledged that several Boko Haram fighters including women crossed over from Nigeria and attacked an IDP camp at Nguetchewe village. The military in a statement said several people either died or were wounded in the attack, but did not give figures.
Sani said 15 villagers died on the spot and one in a local hospital. He said six others were wounded in the grenade attack and more than 70 had fled for safety in neighboring bushes.
The fresh attack took place less than a month after Cameroon Chief of Defense staff Lieutenant General Rene Claude Meka visited northern Cameroon. He says he went to galvanize his troops fighting Boko Haram terrorism. He refuses claims that the military has withdrawn from many of its positions on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria.
Meka says the Cameroon military is effectively at work protecting all citizens, their properties and public edifices from the terror group. He says he visits the troops regularly to see if there are adjustments to be done for the military to be more professional in its strategies against Boko Haram.
Conflict resolution specialist Joseph-Vincent Ntouda Ebode of the University of Yaounde 1 says Cameroon military should not think that it has defeated Boko Haram. He says although the terrorist group is weakened, it is still very much present in northern Cameroon, Nigeria and Chad.
He says to reduce renewed attacks, the Cameroon military must take into consideration that poor, hungry and disgruntled people are being used as informants by Boko Haram fighters. He says it is imperative for the Cameroon military to take appropriate measures and secure all civilians and infrastructure that can be targets of the terrorist group. He says Boko Haram is already weak and may resort to attacking civilians, refugees and humanitarian workers to send a message that it has not been completely eradicated.
Cameroon reports that since January this year, it has recorded 87 Boko Haram attacks on its northern border with Nigeria. Twenty-two of them were in the northern district of Mozogo alone.
The United Nations reports that Boko Haram violence has cost the lives of 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.