Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a proscribed group, is in alliance with a separatist movement in Cameroon over training for combat operations and arms exchange
The level of collaboration is yet to be seen, but findings indicate that people from the English-speaking part of Cameroon, the home of Ambazonian state activists, have never had a problem getting into Nigeria thanks to a common heritage with Nigerians from Cross River State.
IPOB, through the Eastern Security Network (ESN), is battling Nigerian security forces in the South-East to establish a Biafra republic, while the Ambozonia War of Liberation (AWL) and Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) seek independence from Cameroon.
Our correspondents report that there are concerns about a possible link between the rise in violent agitation for self-determination by IPOB militants and the connection they established in Cameroon.
In April 2021, AWL leadership announced that they have established a relationship with IPOB to pursue a common goal of political and economic liberation.
On social media, a recording of a Zoom meeting revealed that IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu and the leader of AWL, Dr Lucas Cho Ayaba, intended to work together in the fight for their respective regions.
Insurrections are being spearheaded from abroad by Kanu and Ayaba.
A security source who wishes to remain anonymous said, “We are closely monitoring what is happening.”.
According to another source, Ambazonian militants are offering training to IPOB members.
The two groups agreed, as Foreign Policy reported, to “ensure an open exchange of personnel and weapons along their shared border.”
The IPOB-Ambazonia agreement
As a result of the April virtual meeting, both secessionist leaders pledged to forge a close alliance and accelerate international attention aimed at granting them self-determination from their mother countries, Nigeria and Cameroon.
Apparently, the people living in these two areas are subjected to oppression and underdevelopment, both of which were worsened by colonialism and neocolonialism.
Their claim was that the African continent was being subjugated.
As Kanu said, “Over the years, our grandparents and grandmothers endured this proclivity with the expectation it would go away someday. It is clear, however, that after so many turns of the other cheek as well as blood payments, these bullies never ever became reasonable. It has instead emboldened them. This is one of the reasons why Biafrans and Ambazonians are coming together. The discovery of our shared cultural and biological heritage will bring us together.
While our struggles for freedom have taken different paths, Biafrans and Ambazonian share a common destiny. Our collective destiny is to lead the continent of black Africa to achieve the type of civilisation humanity would admire, just as our Bantu ancestors did when they civilised the entire known world.
As the need arises, Biafrans and Ambazonians will communicate sequentially to the world our blueprint for cooperation, preparatory to the re-emergence of our nations,” he said.
Ayaba said the relationship between their people goes back to 1961, when the people, who were originally part of the Eastern Region, sought to rejoin French-speaking Cameroon with Buea as their regional capital.
We are one people, interculturally linked, as you have said. I also want to remind Amazonians that I take your concerns seriously. This is why alliances are divided into three phases. In order to dissolve the economic blockade that has impoverished our two countries, it is necessary to ensure that both people are liberated from the tyranny imposed on them during the transitional period.
“And during this period, there will be massive consultations among the Ambazonian people to ensure that any treaty that would bind both nations would be endorsed by them,” he said.
In the South-East and South-South of Nigeria, there are many Cameroonians, either living there or refugees fleeing the crisis in their country. There is, however, no visible evidence of collaboration between the two groups being carried out by the IPOB.
How common cultures, porous borders aid movements
Cross River State shares borders with south western Cameroon as well as cultural affinities with the people there.
Investigative work, however, revealed that none of the militant groups operating in the south-east or parts of the state are affiliated with the Ambazonian separatists fighting for independence from Cameroon.
IPOB is not heard of or pronounced in Cross River State. The proactive state security outfit called Operation Apakwu is believed to have outgunned many old militant groups in the state.
As security adviser to the governor, Dr Alfred Mboto, the coordinator of the outfit, expressed doubts that there were groups in the state supporting the Ambazonians.
Asmbazonians do move into borderline communities of Cross River State in the northern axis of the state in search of food, drinks, women, hideouts, and so on.
The common affinity shared by residents of border communities in Cross River with their kin in nearby Cameroonian communities makes this a feasible endeavor. Both sides share language, culture, intermarriage or festivals, making it difficult to distinguish between a Nigerian and a Cameroonian.
This common affinity led the Amazonians or their sponsors to negotiate with the Nigerian government, as well as different pressure groups for support, without success.
In January 2018, 47 Ambazonian top figures were arrested in Abuja, detained, and eventually deported to Cameroon by Nigerian authorities. They had come to ask for Nigerian help and support. However, the action of the Nigerian government, which undermined the hopes and expectations of Ambazonians, was criticized.
Over four years ago, when the Ambazonians began the arms struggle, there was strong speculation that they were collaborating with the militant groups in Nigeria’s Niger Delta to support them in their struggle against Mr Paul Biya’s government.
However, no agreement was openly declared with any of these groups. In addition, it is doubtful that any militant group would accept such a request.
At different times, Governor Ben Ayade also raised the alarm that there were over 30 illegal routes at many of the borderline villages, where arms were being transported into Cameroon to fuel the conflict.
Consequently, he consistently appealed to Nigeria’s federal government to give higher support to his state, knowing it had lost Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, as well as 76 oil wells.
As an international boundary state, my state finds itself in a dangerous position having been deprived of its economic backbone and exposed to increasing dangers.
Over 30 routes are suspected of carrying arms into Cameroon. My state is bearing the brunt of the conflict in Cameroon. This is why we continuously call on Nigeria to give our state a special status.”
Resort to violence
Pre-1971, southern Cameroon demanded a federal system that provided greater autonomy for the Anglophone region.
Ayaba, the UK-based Ambazonian agitator, also argues “that insurgency is a legitimate response to abuses committed by the Cameroonian security forces, and a way to match Cameroon arm for arm, method for method.”
Kabiru Adamu, a security expert, said both Nigeria and Cameroon failed to address the agitations appropriately at the initial stage, which allowed them to grow.
Nigeria, as a regional super player, should, therefore, make use of both bilateral and multilateral platforms and cooperation to stop the flow of weapons.
At one point, Nigeria arrested some of the leaders of the southern Cameroon agitation and extradited them to Cameroon. As a result, there is enough grievance on the part of the group. “It is not surprising if they now partner with the IPOB,” he said.
Sen. Iroegbo, a security analyst and journalist, also said that although both Nigeria and Cameroon have the right and legitimacy to defend their territorial integrity, it is better to take a more constructive approach, including dialogue and inclusive governance to give people of these regions a sense of belonging that would lead to peace.
First, both movements seek to reinvent countries that once existed. As for the IPOB, they are fighting for the defunct Biafra republic that lasted for three years, and Ambazonia was a semi-autonomous region of Nigeria from 1919 to 1961. The two regions once shared the same administrative authority under the former Eastern Region Government, he said.
Dr Ndu Nwokolo Esq, a security, peace, and development expert, says it is not strange that IPOB is aligning with the Ambazonian agitators because they share the same objective of political autonomy.
“In the west coast of Africa, ethnic nationalities are seeking more autonomy. It is happening in northern Ghana, Togo, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, CAR. He noted that the factors fueling this include issues of inclusiveness and good governance.
Inclusion of ethnic nationalities has been recognized around the world. The UN Charter states this. Scotland and Wales are both given their regional assemblies, as well as Northern Ireland and Quebec.
“What Nigeria needs to do now is to give people more autonomy and less power to the centre and you’ll solve most of these problems.” Therefore, restructuring remains the key to solving all of these issues.”