Impact Of Border Crisis On Nigeria – Cameroon Bilateral Relations

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Numerous border incidences between Nigeria and Cameroon have been a major source conflict and unrest in the relationships between the two countries. (Egeran, 2015,). They have not only caused suspicious, distrust and infractions, but have made undesirable headlines in the annals of neighborhood of border studies.

The 1,700 km border between Nigeria and Cameroon (which stretches from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea) has been disputed since colonial times. The disputed areas included parts of Lake Chad in the North and the potentially oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea in the south, which was highly coveted by both nations. To that end, it is important to note here that the history between Cameroon and Nigeria is marked by a unique colonial history and a history of conflict over resources, which, in some ways, persists today. In October 2002, the International Court of Justice (IJC) ruled that the Bakassi Peninsula, the area along the African Atlantic Gulf of Guinea, rich with oil reserves, rightfully belonged to Cameroon (International Court of Justice, Judgment of 10 October 2002). Although Nigeria initially disputed the International Court of Justice’s decision, Nigeria formally and diplomatically ceded Bakassi to Cameroon in August 2008, following the United Nations’ brokered Greenleaf Agreement, thus putting an end to 15 years of border conflict (AFP, 2013). It was at this pivotal moment that a United Nations-backed five-year transitional period began, allowing Cameroon to develop an administrative presence in the area. When this period ended on Aug. 14, 2013, Cameroon was finally able to take full sovereignty of the area (Chimtom, 2013).



Nigeria officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its federal capital territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in the north. Its coast in the south lies on the Gulf of Guinea on the Atlantic Ocean. Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world and the 32nd largest country in the world and has been recognized as a regional power. Nigeria is known as the Giant of Africa as it is the most populous country in Africa (Wikipedia. 2015).


Cameroon, officially the republic of Cameroon is a country in middle Africa, in the west Central Africa region. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the republic of Congo to the south. Cameroon’s coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean (Wikipedia, 2015).

Bakassi Peninsular

The Bakassi peninsula is an area of some 1,000 km of mangrove swamp and half submerged islands protruding into the Bight of Bonny. Since 18th century, the peninsular has been occupied by fishermen settlers most of whose inhabitants are Efik-speaking people of Nigeria (Anene, 1970). The peninsula, which apart from oil wealth also boasts of heavy fish deposit, has been a subject of serious dispute, between Nigeria and Cameroon with score of lives lost from military aggressions that have been mostly instigated by Cameroon (Olumide, 2002).


The state of being free from danger or threat.

Nigeria-Cameroon Border Dispute

Nigeria and Cameroon bordered on the West by the Estuary of the Cross River, on the North by the AkpaYafe (also known as the AkpaIkang), on the East by the Rio-del estuary and on the South by the Gulf of Guinea. Thus, Nigeria population of about 150 million covers a land area 924,630km extending from the Gulf of Guinea in the South to Niger and Chad Republic in the North; while Cameroon is estimated at 9.7million, occupying an area of 475,442km. One embarrassing fallout of the bad-faith between the two countries is the crisis and the third-party intervention of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the issues relating to their 1600 kilometer land boundary, extending from the Lake Chad Basin to the Bakassi Peninsula and the Maritime boundary in the Gulf of Guinea where it’s acclaimed vital security and strategic interests.

Among the many border disputes that Nigeria and Cameroon had in the past, the Bakassi dispute remains the most contentious. Although, there has not been any crisis over Bakassi in the past. It is interesting to say that long before the discovery of oil in Bakassi, Cameroonians and Nigerians in the region lived their normal lives, aside from few squabbles, as both countries did not pay attention to the region because it was a remote area inhabited by people considered to be non-consequential. But, the discovery of oil and other natural resources triggered hostilities in the region, as attention from both countries and from their colonial connections created tensions, arguments and ultimately deaths. The newly developed interest to the Peninsula create separation of families and tribes from their ancestral ties, due to the scramble of Africa.  The African news magazine of 1996 – Jeune Afrique noted that “….tous les ingredients d’ un conflict majeursoutreunis”  This simply means that all the factors that lead to a major conflict are present in the Bakassi Peninsular and also in stressing the strategic importance of the Peninsula as a factor for escalation of conflict between the two countries.  In essence, the conflict was epitomized by the large deposit of petroleum and natural gas which triggered hostilities and military confrontations. The two countries struggled over the mineral rich peninsula, which have culminated into the use of military force.

Both countries are claiming ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula, the claim over the Bakassi by Nigeria is based on two major factors, namely The 1913 Anglo-German Treaty and the 1975 Mauro Declaration. While the Cameroonians arguments are based on the treaty of 1913 signed by Britain and Germany; with a clause to rearrange the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon from Yola to the Sea and regulate the navigation of the Cross River on the ownership of the region.Hence the inability to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the area aggravated not only the hostile relationship between the two countries but also brought about the militarization and internationalization of the dispute.  For instance, in 1981, the Cameroon authority alleged that a Nigeria patrol army violated Cameroon’s territory by penetrating the Bakassi Peninsula as far as the Rio-del-Rey and opened fire on the Cameroon navy and her troops, while in a reprisal attack killed Nigeria soldiers as this was resolved diplomatically. Subsequently, armed assaults continued to plaque the region. Again in 1987, Cameroonian gendarmes invaded sixteen Nigerian villages near Lake Chad and replaced the Nigerian flag with that of Cameroon.

Similarly, there was the 1992-1993 attack resulting into open oppression in which Nigeria civilians in Cameroon were killed and coupled with the embarrassing tax assaults on Nigerians living in the area. Another explosive and combustive face-off broke out in 1994, which recorded many casualties and deaths of soldiers from both countries. It was after this incident that Cameroon decided to take the border dispute to theICJ for adjudication, following the accusations from Nigeria that Cameroon was not committed to the bilateral negotiation to resolve the matter locally. Hence in 2002 the World Court ruled Cameroon as the rightful owner of the oil rich peninsula and the Green Tree Accord was implemented. The Green Tree Accord was an off-shoot of conflict diplomacy by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Koffi Annang that sees to the final episode of the Bakassi Peninsula by handing over the region to Cameroon. Although, this agreement was initiated following Nigeria’s initial rejection of the ruling and her refusal to withdraw troops from the disputed area until the rights of the Nigeria population in the area is adequately protected.

On November 15, 2007, the United Nations Secretary General invited the Heads of States of Nigeria and Cameroon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biya to a meeting in Geneva to work out plans on how to comply peacefully with the International Court of Justice’s verdict. However, the meeting led to the revival of the Joint Cameroon-Nigeria Border Commission. Thus, it stated that this commission would consider all the implications of the ICJ verdict, including protecting the rights of the affected population in both countries. Also, the commission would be entrusted with the task of the demarcation of the Land and Maritime boundaries between the two countries. The commission comprises of legal experts, cartographers from Nigeria, Cameroon and United Nations responsible for the demarcation of the Land Boundary. Finally, Nigeria handed over thirty two villages to Cameroon as part of the 2002 ICJ border deal, as both countries agreed to mount joint border patrols. Subsequently, Nigeria’s troops were withdrawn from the disputed area to settle its long running border disputes, leading to the loss of the oil rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon.

A few years ago, relations between Nigeria and Cameroon have intensified over issues relating to  their 1600 kilometer land boundary into the gulf of guinea. The issues involved was right  over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula and boundary into the gulf of guinea, Tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon escalated into military confrontations at the end of 1993 with the deployment of Nigeria military to Bakassi peninsula.

After so many years of relatively peaceful atmosphere, the border crisis protruded and became an escalating crisis that has implicating consequences on the two countries.  There are two main borders crossing between Nigeria and Cameroon, the northern border post is at Bama two and half hours from Maiduguri across to Banki in Cameroon. A remote alternative crossing is at Ngala (Nigeria), which is used mainly for transiting to chad. Both are currently inaccessible due to political problems and the activities of the terrorist group boko haram, The southern border crossing is at mfum (Nigeria), near ikom. This road is a major route for illegal activities and trading along the border. The implication of the border crisis between Nigeria and Cameroon has alot to say in their bilateral relationship

Bilateral relations between Nigeria and Cameroon became strained as Cameroon said separatist fighters have been receiving military training in Nigeria while Cameroonian troops were accused on at least two separate occasions of crossing into Nigeria in pursuit of rebels without seeking Nigerian authorisation. Ties between peoples on both sides of the border are strong and the Nigerian South-South geopolitical zone that borders Anglophone Cameroon is awash with weapons, following years of conflict between militants and the Nigerian authorities.

International broadcaster Al-Jazeera aired a report showing young Cameroonians in a training camp inside Nigeria that caused a minor diplomatic incident behind the scenes. This has become a major geopolitical concern as Nigeria and Cameroon, as part of a four-state effort, are cooperating in the fight against Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in their northern territories. A thaw came when in December 2017, a delegation from Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, was received by Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. Officially, the Cameroonian delegation, which was led by the country’s minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Rene Sadi, visited Nigeria to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries. But sources say the real purpose of the visit was to broker an agreement for Nigeria’s security officials to help arrest fifteen people declared wanted by Yaoundé.

Security implications for Nigeria and the region – Crisis along the long border with Cameroon

It is important to note that Nigeria, which is dealing with its own internal conflicts, including a separatist movement, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, that has a broadly similar set of demands as the Cameroonian separatists, cannot afford to be seen in any way as aiding the Ambazonia movement. Viewed from this prism, the arrest of Tabe and his followers is logical. Anglophone Cameroon opted to leave Nigeria and join Cameroon in 1961. Six years later, Nigeria was enmeshed in a civil war, and Cameroon’s refusal to recognise Biafra was crucial to denying Nigeria’s separatists rear operating bases to prosecute a drawn-out conflict. In many ways, Nigeria is simply repaying a historical favor. Nigeria’s longest international border is with Cameroon at 1,975km. Along this border, on either side, there is currently one violent crisis or the other. Nigeria’s North-East states of Borno and Adamawa continue to have a diminished Boko Haram insurgency active. The insurgents are also very active on the Cameroon side of the border. The escalating violence of the Pastoral Conflict between Fulani herdsmen and indigenous communities takes over the baton of violence as you travel further south, and runs from Adamawa through Taraba and Benue all the way into parts of Cross River. On the Cameroon side of the border, the new insurgency that is the focus of this report has created a new front of violence that uses parts of Cross River as rear operating bases. Beyond this, militants, mainly from Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, and pirates operate along what is left of the border, and along the coastlines that both countries share. This essentially means that, at every point along the Nigeria-Cameroon border, there is a proliferation of arms and ammunition, trained fighters and complicated violent clashes. This is a cauldron of gunpowder not only for the two countries with a combined population of over 225 million, but for the whole region. Tensions are also beginning to rise between both countries. The Cameroonian military has made a series of incursions into Nigerian territory in recent months in pursuit of Anglophone insurgents. Whilst there has been little reaction from the Nigerian government, citizens have noted these are acts of territorial aggression against Nigeria in the absence of an agreement for hot pursuit between the two governments. If these incursions continue and lead to the loss of Nigerian lives, the Nigerian military may be forced to respond, an event which if not properly managed, could lead to the escalation of the tension into open conflict.

The Economic impact

The regional economy has been severely affected as many small towns and villages inside Cameroon have been abandoned due to the military crackdown. Businesses remain closed in so-called ‘ghost towns’; big corporate with significant interests in the region are reporting reduced profits; councils are unable to realize budgeted revenue; most development projects have stopped; and government officials are unable to collect taxes and levies in many areas under a crushing state of emergency.

A survey by the French language daily ‘Le Quotidien de l’economie’ said Cameroon’s economy has lost billions of FCFA due to the crisis, with the South-West, which boasts the largest regional economy in the country suffering the most. Douala, the country’s economic capital, has been hit particularly hard with traders at the Mboppi Market, one of Central Africa’s biggest, complaining of a huge drop in turnover. At Douala Central Market where many traders in the South-West and North-West regions get their supplies, suppliers are dealing with the negative effect of reduced trips by traders from both regions to Douala.

Big food markets in the North-West and South-West like the Muea Market that usually supply Douala, Yaounde are also seeing reduced volumes. The economic weight of the English-speaking regions, especially the South-West may be skewed a bit by the fact that the central government requires some big companies in the region to pay their taxes either in Douala or Yaounde. For example, the National Oil Refinery, SONARA is said to pay its taxes in Douala instead of Limbe where it is located, or in Ndian Division, both in the South-West, where the crude oil is mined. The decision of the Biya administration to shut down internet services in the two English-speaking regions is also crippling business activities, especially for financial institutions and money transfer services. Yet these enterprises are still required to pay staff salaries and full taxes to the state. A senior official at one of Cameroon’s major commercial banks says a little over 30 percent of its installations and activities are in the two English-speaking regions and their operations there have been paralyzed.

The wider economic impact on the trickling cross border trade has been significant. With its market of almost 170 million consumers, Nigeria is Cameroon’s largest trading partner (22% and 17.8% of imports in 2011 and 2012 respectively), with whom trade exchanges total on average FCFA382 billion ( 217 billion) a year according to the Cameroonian Ministry of Commerce; not including the robust informal trade linkages on both sides of the almost 2000km border shared by both countries. A senior customs official told ‘Le Quotidien de l’economie’ that a drop in the collection of customs duty by Cameroon has been observed at customs posts at the Cameroon-Nigerian border, including the Tiko, Ekondo-Titi and Idenau ports in the South-West.

Trade between Nigeria and Cameroon is complex and intricate. Trade “policies” vary from one border location to another and can also be impacted by the seasons, the goods involved, and also the people involved. Cameroon’s imports from Nigeria have an average statutory duty of 19.1% including a VAT of 17.5% and other hidden taxes.( Wikipedia 2015) Nigerian imports from Cameroon on the other hand are faced with an 11% statutory duty inclusive of 5% VAT. All these are done because both countries apply Most Favored Nation (MFN) duties on their imports which are also in line with the common external tariff (CET) of the regional bodies of both countries; CEMAC and ECOWAS.

The different trade and price regulation policies adopted by both countries have led to a wide price variation for goods and services, thereby creating an opportunity for arbitrage. An example is the petrol subsidy on the Nigerian side which has led to the re-export of petroleum products from Nigeria to Cameroon where it is more expensive.

With the uptick in the security and humanitarian situation in Anglophone Cameroon, anecdotal evidence suggests that the smuggling of economic goods and petrol from the Nigerian side is on the rise. In February 2018, an SBM source in Yola, Nigeria, reported seeing state oil-company trucks repainted and diverted to Cameroon where the product is sold off at a massive profit. Since October 2016, many cargoes of fuel from the many underground refineries in the Niger Delta have been seized and burned by Cameroon’s security services in Ekok, a Cameroonian border town with Ikom in Cross River.


The Nigeria – Cameroon bilateral relations have not always been smooth due to the history of the two black nations. But series challenging border crisis, terrorism and proliferations of small arms and food materials have united the countries together to seek for a way to tackle the challenges that has befallen them. As highlighted in an SBM report on the crisis last year, a crisis in Anglophone Cameroon will mean that much of the trade that goes on between the two countries will be negatively affected. Nigerians constitute the largest foreign community in Cameroon numbering about four million. Most stay in the Anglophone regions which are culturally and linguistically contiguous with South-East and South-South Nigeria. Such a crisis will see many of these Nigerians returning home. Cameroonians will also move across the border to avoid the crisis, creating a refugee situation akin to that which Nigerians created in Northern Cameroon due to the Boko Haram insurgency, a scenario which is now playing out.

Yaoundé’s  increasing collaboration with the Nigerian government on cross border security mean that the chances of the separatists finding a safe haven from which to organise armed attacks have been somewhat curtailed. However, because of Nigeria’s increasing loss of monopoly of violence within its own borders, Cameroon’s separatists may find ready allies among non-state actors within Nigeria, and form alliances with them. The economic impact of an increase in the uncertainty and instability will be debilitating. A full blown armed conflict will engulf large areas of the coastline which host a lot of critical economic infrastructure including Cameroon’s lone refinery, CDC and the main training headquarters of the elite commando force, BIR, the oil fields in Ndian (including the Bakassi corridor) and the Cameroon-Nigeria border along the Bamenda-Mamfe-Enugu road corridor. On a more regional scale, the crisis will complete the violent front line.  the Nigerian-Cameroon border has witnessed  an increase the flow of small arms and ammunition in the region. It has the potential to escalate other crisis and once there are many people carrying weapons in a region, the web of violence is bound to become even more complicated, making unraveling and even greater task than it currently is.

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