More to Buhari’s Cameroon visit than the Boko Haram menace

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari arrived Wednesday in Cameroon for a two-day official visit at the invitation of President Paul Biya.
It is President Buhari’s first visit to Cameroon since his inauguration on May 29.
Security concerns are expected to top the agenda as the visit comes amid growing trans-border violence in Nigeria and Cameroon, perpetrated by the jihadist group, Boko Haram.
The group which has been engaged in a six-year insurgency in Nigeria, began cross-border raids into Cameroon in 2013.
President Buhari’s tour also comes in the wake of a spate of suicide bombings in Cameroon. Though Nigerians have endured suicide bombings for about five years now, it was the first time Cameroon was being subjected to such by the Boko Haram.
About 100 Cameroonians have lost their lives in the attacks.
President Buhari has already met the leaders of Niger and Chad regarding the terrorist attacks. Together with Cameroon, the three countries have joined hands in the fight against the Boko Haram.
The Multinational Joint Task Force, established by the four countries and headquartered in Chad, is expected to be operational on July 30.
The meeting between the Cameroonian and Nigerian leaders comes a few days ahead of a joint Ecowas-ECCAS summit in the Equatorial Guinea capital, Malabo, on August 3.
Bilateral relations
Besides the focus on the Boko Haram violence, the Biya-Buhari summit will also be an opportunity to discuss bilateral relations between Cameroon and Nigeria.
Cameroon and Nigeria share a land and maritime border of about 1,700km, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Lake Chad basin. Previously, the two countries have been locked in a dispute over the ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea.
Currently, Bakassi is governed by Cameroon, following the transfer of sovereignty from Nigeria as a result of a judgment by the International Court of Justice in 2002.
But on November 22, 2007, the Nigerian Senate rejected the transfer, saying ceding the territory was contrary to the former’s 1999 constitution.
Nonetheless, the territory was duly transferred to Cameroon on August 14, 2008. Nigerians in the area were given the option to either remain in Cameroon or return to Nigeria.
Analyst believe President Buhari will revisit the issue.
Official statistics show that about three to four million Nigerian citizens live in Cameroon, while a good number of Cameroonians too live in Nigeria.
Nigeria, Africa’s economic and population giant, is one of the leading trade partners of Cameroon. Trans-border trade between the two nations has grown significantly in recent years.
The estimated 170 million Nigerians and the 21 million Cameroonian are a big market for investors from both countries to exploit, yet much of the trade between them is informal across the leaky border.
Statistics show that between 2011 and 2014, Nigeria’s exports comprised cosmetics, textiles, motor spare parts and household equipment, while those from Cameroon were mainly cotton, rubber and foodstuff.
New markets
The countries’ heads of state would certainly discuss ways of expanding the trade between them which, according to the World Bank, could play a critical role in accelerating economic development and regional integration by opening up new markets for producers, and allowing them to benefit from the economies of scale.
Also, there is scope of enhancing cooperation through the creation of a free economic zone.
Statistics from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) show that Cameroon is home to some 350,000 non-citizens from more than 20 different countries. A majority of them are found in the Eastern and Adamawa regions.
Of that number, 243,000 are from the Central African Republic while 74,000 are from north-eastern Nigeria the latter are mainly settled in the Northern region of Cameroon.
President Buhari, unlike his predecessors, broke the tradition of visiting Yaoundé before officially taking over office.
President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo made a stopover at the palace in Yaoundé on March 16, 1999 and held talks with President Biya ahead of his inauguration.
The late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were also received at the Palace ahead of their inaugurations in 2007 and 2011 respectively.
Most Cameroonians had expected that Mr Buhari would do the same. He did not only ignore this unwritten law, but also snubbed visiting one of the world’s longest serving presidents, Biya in his maiden tour abroad.
It is even believed that the Nigerian President’s Cameroon visit was influenced by the French leader Francois Hollande, who was in Yaoundé recently.
President Buhari had attended the G7 meeting in Germany last month where terrorism was discussed. He also met with US President Barack Obama in Washington DC prior to the latter’s tour of East Africa.