Cameroon: "The Wellbeing of Our Two Peoples Will Reduce Conflicts"

Photo: International Crisis Group
Cameroonian military forces (file photo).
interview

His Excellency Ambassador Lawan Abba Gashagar, Nigeria's High Commissioner to Cameroon.

Your Excellency, how have you found Cameroon since beginning your tour of duty in 2017?

I have found a home in Cameroon. Cameroonians who have visited Nigeria are likely to agree with me on this. The weather in the two countries is similar, most foodstuffs (if not all) found in Nigeria are available in Cameroon, and the people are as warm and friendly as Nigerians. Though majority of people in Cameroon speak French, unlike in Nigeria, the bilingual nature of the country avails me the opportunity of interacting in English while striving to improve on my French.

What is the state of relations, collaboration and cooperation between Nigeria and Cameroon? And what are the challenges and major achievements of such ties?

Relations between Nigeria and Cameroon have always been high, except for a brief period, which was overcome by the maturity of our leaders. You can see the warmth in the exchange of visits and other forms of cooperation at all levels of government. From 29-30 June 2015, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was guest of His Excellency Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon. The visit was reciprocated from 3-4 May 2016 when His Excellency Paul Biya was hosted by His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari; followed by another visit by President Biya to Abuja from 13-16 May 2016. The outcomes of these visits affect all aspects of relations between our two countries. By extension, the magnetic field that our two countries radiate is deepening links between West Africa and Central Africa. Exceptional collaboration and cooperation abound at other levels. The Nigeria-Cameroon Joint Commission has led to several ministerial and high level exchange visits to discuss economic and related developments beneficial to the peoples of the two countries. Already, the Enugu-Bamenda Road has been completed and commissioned. A bridge over River Mayo Tiel in the North Region is being planned as well as the construction of Gamboru-Kousseri Road. The Nigeria-Cameroon Joint Commission has made tremendous progress in land and maritime border demarcation and resolved areas of contention through mutual negotiations. In economic matters, what is regarded as informal trade, which is actually a major means of sustaining life between people of the same ethnic groups separated by an artificial border, is doing well. The achievements of such collaboration and cooperation include, but are not limited to; creating an improved platform for people-topeople relations, who are the main enablers of the economy. The wellbeing of our two peoples is a precursor to reducing conflicts between them, given that brothers do not deny brothers anything. On the other hand, Nigerian companies are major employers of labour and contributors to the economic development of Cameroon. The situation will be further deepened as more agreements are signed by the Joint Commission, thus opening up new opportunities. Similarly, the Nigeria-Cameroon Transborder Security Committee is tackling insecurity along our common borders. Both countries are also actively collaborating and cooperating with Chad, Niger and Benin in the Multi-national Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to deal a decisive blow to Boko Haram. These efforts are complementary to bilateral action embarked on by the armed forces of the two countries, who for the first time, are operating together. As for challenges, dealing with saboteurs and other elements ill-disposed to peaceful and harmonious living remains a major challenge. Poor land and sea transport infrastructure also hinder growth in economic activities between our two countries.

In what other areas are the two nations collaborating apart from fighting Boko Haram and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and what has been the impact?

Collaboration between Nigeria and Cameroon is not limited to addressing security challenges, but also anchored on the understanding that a peaceful atmosphere attracts development. The visa-free agreement for instance, facilitates movements and by extension, enhances integration of the people. The private sector is working on the second Nigeria-Cameroon Exhibition (NICAMEX) expected to take place in Lagos at a later date. NICAMEX aims to build economic bridges between Nigeria and Cameroon, and also between West Africa and Central Africa.

Nigeria faces challenges of insecurity such as attacks by herdsmen, inter-communal clashes and sporadic, but deadly Boko Haram raids. With less than a year to the next general election, what is government doing to contain such violence?

It is unfortunate that bad news sells better than good news. The positive developments in Nigeria and most African countries are often relegated, while the negative is heightened. It should be recalled that the main thrust of President Muhammadu Buhari's administration is security, good governance (anti-corruption campaign) and the economy (poverty reduction through job creation). In 2017 for instance, Nigeria's economy emerged from its first recession in 25 years, expanding 0.55 per cent year-on-year, driven by steady agricultural growth. Growth rates have been bouncing back since the third quarter of 2016. By the third quarter of 2017, the country's recovery recorded 1.4 per cent growth. The Nigerian Senate has just passed a 9.12 trillion Naira (29.8 billion US dollars or 16,817 billion FCFA) budget for 2018. It will be used to spur growth and will cover nine months before the presidential election scheduled for next year. Government understands the need for more development and is tackling the issues uncompromisingly by exploring all options within the framework of the Constitution as well as through collaboration with friendly countries. Nigeria's efforts are yielding positive results and neighbouring countries are already feeling the positive impact of the peace being facilitated by our government. Peace is an alltime essential commodity to the human race anywhere. Remember, politics is the activity of politicians, but governance is the function of statesmen.

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