Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Boko Haram leaders arrested in Cameroon

Inroads are being made against the Boko Haram group in Nigeria, but wider problems — like the corruption that drives the illicit arms trade — remain, writes Haitham Nuri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The government of Cameroon announced the arrest of five leaders of the extremist Boko Haram group just a few hours after the conclusion of a counterterrorism conference hosted by Nigeria, and as the UN warned of links between Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya.

Government spokesman Issa Tchiroma said that Cameroonian forces were combing a Boko Haram stronghold in the Madawaya forest in northern Nigeria when they stumbled on dozens of people held by the group, most of them women (18) and children (28, both boys and girls).

Boko Haram set up a base in the forest as its centre of operations after several of its members fled in the wake of combat operations by the armies of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.

The camps in Madawaya were being used to train women and children in suicide bombings carried out by the militant group in recent months, which claimed dozens of lives, according to official press statements and analysts.

The operation followed after a similar one in February, when a joint Nigerian-Cameroonian force attacked a Boko Haram base, killing 92 militants and freeing 900 captives.

The government in Yaounde Yaoundé announced the raid a few hours after the conclusion of the conference on counterterrorism in West Africa, hosted in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. The conference was attended by French President François Hollande, leaders in the Lake Chad region (Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin), British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Although Blinken refused to comment on whether Washington would supply Abuja with the weapons it requested to fight Boko Haram, the Nigerian press considered his presence a clear indication of US support for the country’s war on terrorism.

Nigeria has made “impressive gains” in its war against Boko Haram since Muhammadu Buhari assumed the presidency last year, a fact reiterated by the French president in a speech to the summit meeting and in a joint press conference with his Nigerian host in the presidential palace in Abuja, according to AFP.

“Boko Haram is one of the most violent terrorist groups in the world,” Hollande said. “Its members have committed crimes of murder, rape and abduction, and we must be persistent in fighting it.”

The French and Nigerian presidents signed a letter of intent after holding talks on the sidelines of the conference. Paris pledged to support countries in the Lake Chad Basin in their war against Boko Haram, as well as fight piracy and offer intelligence cooperation.

Paris is not the only Western supporter of the war on terrorism in Africa. The UN, Washington and London also declared their concerns about growing ties between Boko Haram and IS in Libya.

The US deputy secretary of state said at the conference that information gathered by the CIA reveals that several Boko Haram elements have joined the ranks of IS in Libya. Blinken added that reports point to the development of Boko Haram propaganda “that bears the imprint of Daesh [IS]”, which he described as “unfortunately, well advanced”.

President Buhari attributed the growing cooperation between Boko Haram and IS to the porousness of the 1,500-kilometre border shared by Libya and its neighbours. “It is not easy to monitor a border that can be crossed by monkeys, oxen and camels at any time,” he said.

Boko Haram seeks to establish an Islamic emirate in Nigeria, the biggest economy on the African continent. It declared its allegiance to the leader of IS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, last year.

The UN Security Council released a statement in which the 15-member body expressed its concern for the growing cooperation between Boko Haram and IS, pointing to the human tragedy caused by the group and noting that the 4.2 million residents of the Lake Chad Basin face a food security crisis.

During the conference, Nigeria focussed on finding solutions to the humanitarian crisis created by Boko Haram activities in the remote northeast provinces. Since the group was established seven years ago, some 20,000 people have been killed and 2.2 million displaced in Nigeria, along with another 450,000 in Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

During the summit, President Hollande said: “Terrorism is flourishing due to weaknesses in financial systems, so we must fight corruption and tax havens ... which enable them to fund weapons smuggling and carry out attacks.”

A few days before the conference, President Buhari said in televised interviews with CNN and the BBC that he would not ask the British prime minister to apologise for describing Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt”. In both interviews he said that the British leader “speaks about what he knows, and no one can claim that he is wrong”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on camera telling Queen Elizabeth II and several British leaders that Nigeria is a “fantastically corrupt” country. The statements sparked serious controversy in Nigeria. Papers in Abuja and Lagos quoted experts who said that Buhari “creates a problem every time he travels abroad”.

The Premium Times said that the Nigerian president always “portrays his country darkly”, a reference to an interview Buhari gave to the British Daily Telegraph last month, in which he said his country was home to major corruption.

The paper quoted Sat Obiyan, chair of the Department of Political Science at Obafemi Awolowo University, who said: “The president doesn’t need to spread lies on his visits abroad, but he should discuss the country’s problems diplomatically. When he returns to the country, he can talk about the problems as he wishes.”

In contrast, political commentator Chris Ngwodo said: “The president’s comments are unlikely to have negative repercussions for the country because Nigeria has become an exemplar of countries eaten away by corruption.”

He added that the international community might view President Buhari “as an honest man who can be involved in fighting corruption”.

President Buhari, a former general who ruled the country as the head of a military coup for 20 months from 1983 to 1984, is well known for his anti-corruption campaigns and for setting new anti-corruption standards in the civil service and military. The anti-corruption strategy supports open contracting principles in public sector and government contracts.

“The government intends to take more measures to ensure transparency in ownership and oversight of all companies operating in public contracting and government procurement,” said Femi Adesina, a special advisor to President Buhari.

“We’ve begun in the field of strategic industries, and these standards will cover all sectors of the national economy.”

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