The proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is in alliance with a separatist movement in Cameroon in the areas of training for combat operations and arms exchange, Daily Trust learnt from credible security sources.
Though the level of the collaboration is yet to manifest, findings show that people from the English-speaking part of Cameroon, the home to the agitators for Ambazonian state, have always had an easy passage into Nigeria because of common heritage with Nigerians from Cross River State.
While IPOB, through the Eastern Security Network (ESN), is fighting Nigerian security forces to establish the Biafra republic in the South-East, the Ambazonian War of Liberation (AWL) and Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) are pushing to break away from Cameroon.
Our correspondents report that there are concerns over a possible link between the rise in violent agitation for self-determination by IPOB militants and the connection they established in Cameroon.
The AWL leadership had on April 10, 2021, announced that they have established a relationship with IPOB towards pursuing a common goal of political and economic liberation.
A record of a Zoom meeting posted on social media showed the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu and the leader of AWL, Dr Lucas Cho Ayaba, indicating plans to work together in the struggles for their two regions.
Both Kanu and Ayaba are spearheading the insurrections from abroad.
"We are in the know of what is happening... We are closely monitoring," a security source who does not want to be named, said.
"There is a link between them because the Ambazonian militants are offering training to IPOB members," another source said.
An analysis by Foreign Policy showed that the two groups agreed to "work to secure their shared border and ensure an open exchange of weapons and personnel."
The IPOB-Ambazonia agreement
During the April virtual meeting, both secessionist leaders pledged their determination to forge a close alliance and accelerate international attention to grant them the right to self-determination from their mother countries--Nigeria and Cameroon.
They noted that people in the two areas are allegedly subjugated to oppression and underdevelopment, which was worsened by colonialism and neo-colonialism.
They said the trend was to keep the entire African continent under subjugation.
Kanu said, "Over the years, our grandfathers and grandmothers have stomached this terrorist proclivity, with the hope that somehow, it would go away. But it is clear to us that after so much turning of the other cheek as well as payment in blood, these bullies never ever became reasonable. Instead, it has emboldened them. This is part of the reason Biafrans and Ambazonians are coming together. We are coming together to rediscover our shared biological and cultural heritages.
"So far, even though our struggles for freedom have shared different trajectories, Biafrans and Ambazonians have a shared destiny. Our collective destiny is once again to lead the continent of black Africa to achieve the type of civilisation that humanity would marvel at, just like our Bantu ancestors did when they civilised the whole of the known world around them.
"In the coming days, we the Biafrans and Ambazonians would be communicating to the world in sequence as the need arises, our blueprint for cooperation, preparatory to the re-emergence of our nations," he said.
Making his speech, Ayaba said the relationship between their people dated back in history, recalling that the people, who were originally part of the Eastern Region, in 1961, moved a motion at the Eastern House of Assembly in Enugu to re-join French-speaking Cameroon with their regional capital in Buea.
"As you have said, we are one people, inter-culturally linked. But I also want to remind Ambazonians that I take your concerns seriously. That is why alliance is split into three phases. There is the need to ensure that both people are liberated from the tyranny imposed on them and to establish within them a transitional period method of collaboration and cooperation to dismantle the economic blockade that has impoverished our two nations.
"And within this period, there will be massive consultations within Ambazonia to ensure that any treaty that would be binding on the two nations would be approved by the Ambazonian people," he said.
Findings in the South-East and South-South in Nigeria showed that there are many Cameroonians, either living in the regions or refugees fleeing the crisis in their country. However, no activity of the IPOB is seen to be visibly carried out through collaboration between the groups.
How common cultures, porous borders aid movements
Cross River State shares borders with south western Cameroon and also shares cultural affinity with the people.
However, inquiries showed that no militant group in parts of the state or the South-East has serious or any link with the Ambazonian separatists fighting for an independent state from Cameroon.
Activities of IPOB are not heard of or pronounced in Cross River State. It is believed that many old militant groups that were in the state may have been outgunned by the proactive state security outfit called Operation Apakwu.
The coordinator of the outfit, Dr Alfred Mboto, who is the security adviser to the governor, expressed doubts that there could be groups in the state extending supports to the Ambazonians.
The Ambazonians do move into borderline communities of Cross River State in the northern axis of the state in search of food, drinks, women, hideouts, and the rest.
This is easily facilitated by the common affinity shared between residents of border communities in Cross River with their kith and kin in nearby communities of Cameroon. Residents on the two sides share language, culture, intermarriage or festivals, making it often difficult to distinguish between a Nigerian and a Cameroonian.
As a result of this commonplace affinity, the Ambazonians or their sponsors had tried to negotiate officially and otherwise with the Nigerian government, as well as different pressure groups for support, without success.
In January 2018, some 47 Ambazonian top figures were arrested in Abuja, detained and eventually deported by the Nigerian authorities to Cameroon. They had come to further their call for Nigerian support and help. But the action of the Nigerian government, which weakened the high expectations and hope of the Ambazonians, received criticism.
At the onset of the arms struggle by the Ambazonians over four years ago, there were strong speculations that they had made moves to collaborate with the militant groups in Nigeria's Niger Delta region to support them in the fight against Mr Paul Biya's government.
There was, however, no openly declared agreement with any of such groups. It is also doubtful that any of the militant groups accepted such a request.
Governor Ben Ayade had also on different occasions raised the alarm that there were over 30 illegal routes at many of the borderline villages, where he alleged that arms were being moved through into Cameroon to fuel the conflict.
Towards this, he continually made strong appeals to Nigeria's federal government to give higher support to his state, realising that it had lost Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, as well as 76 oil wells to a sister state.
"My state sits dangerously, having been deprived of the economic backbones and has been exposed to increasing dangers being an international boundary state.
There are over 30 routes where arms are suspected to be conveyed through to Cameroon. The fallout is that my state is bearing the burden of the conflict in Cameroon. This is the reason we constantly ask that our state be given a special status in Nigeria."
Resort to violence
Southern Cameroon had been demanding a federal system that grants greater autonomy for the Anglophone region line in pre-1971.
Like Kanu's social media comments, Ayaba, the UK-based Ambazonian agitator, argues "that resorting to insurgency is a legitimate response to the abuses committed by the Cameroonian security forces and to match Cameroon arm for arm, method for method."
Gov't should use multilateral, constructive engagement -- Security analysts
A security expert, Kabiru Adamu, said both Nigeria and Cameroon failed to use the right avenues to address the agitations at the initial stage, which allowed them to grow.
He, therefore, called on Nigeria as a regional super player to use both bilateral and multilateral platforms and cooperation to stop the flow of weapons.
"You have to remember that at a point, Nigeria arrested some persons that were at the leadership of the southern Cameroon agitation and extradited them to Cameroon. So, there is enough grievance as it were by the group. It is not surprising if they now decide to partner with the IPOB," he said.
Also examining the issue, a security analyst and journalist, Senator Iroegbo, said although both Nigeria and Cameroon reserve the right and legitimacy to defend their territorial integrity, it is better to adopt a less military approach of "constructive engagement, dialogue and inclusive governance that give people of these respective regions a sense of belonging that would usher in lasting peace."
"First, both movements are seeking to reinvent countries that used to be. For the IPOB, they are fighting for the defunct Biafra republic that lasted for three years, and Ambazonia was a semi-autonomous region with Nigeria from 1919 to 1961. Secondly, the respective regions once shared same administrative authority under the former Eastern Region Government," he said.
A security, peace and development expert, Dr Ndu Nwokolo Esq, said it is not strange that IPOB is aligning with the Ambazonian agitators because they have a common objective of political autonomy.
"Throughout the west coast of Africa, ethnic nationalities are seeking more autonomy, it is happening in northern Ghana, Togo, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, CAR. Issues of inclusion and good governance are among the factors fueling this," he said.
"All over the world, issues of inclusion of ethnic nationalities have been recognized. It is in the UN Charter. In Scotland, they have given them their regional assembly, same in Wales, Northern Ireland, Quebec.
"What Nigeria needs to do now is to grant more autonomy to people and less powers in the centre and you solve most of these problems. So, restructuring remains cardinal to solve all these."