Some 3,000 pillars are being planted to demarcate the border between Cameroon and Nigeria. The U.N.-sponsored project will end next year.
The representative of the U.N. Secretary General for West Africa and chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission Said Djinnit is overseeing the project. He says the placement of the markers is a significant milestone in achieving lasting peace between the neighbors.
According Djinnit it’s a border which is meant to bring people together, not to separate them. He says it gives people an opportunity to work freely within a context of clear borders that will prevent further disputes so that all the energies, resources of the two countries [are] channeled towards addressing the real socioeconomic problems of the people.
The $12 million (U.S.) needed for the pillars comes from a U.N. Trust Fund. Cameroon and Nigeria are each contributing three million U.S. dollars, with Britain and the European Commission providing the rest.
Technical experts are using motorbikes and canoes and are trekking over mountains and through thick forests to trace the over 2000-km boundary from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea. They say the undertaking is tedious but are optimistic their work will end next year.
The boundary demarcation is the last step in the U.N.-backed process to end border tension between Cameroon and Nigeria. Much of it centered on the ownership of the oil- and fish-rich Bakassi peninsula that juts into the Gulf of Guinea. The situation escalated into military confrontation in 1993, when Nigerian troops invaded and occupied it.
A year later, Cameroon asked the International Court of Justice to arbitrate. In 2002, the court gave sovereignty over Bakassi to Cameroon. Villages straddling the border were to be shared between both countries, but Nigeria initially rejected the verdict.
The U.N. intervened, urging both countries to respect the ruling. It set up the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission to follow up on implementation of the judgment. But progress remained slow.
In 2006, Koffi Annan summoned President Paul Biya of Cameroon and his then Nigerian counterpart, Olusegun Obasanjo, to a summit at Greentree in New York, where Nigeria agreed to respect the World Court verdict.
The Mixed Commission was charged with speeding up the land and maritime boundary demarcation. The agreement also reiterated the demilitarization of occupied territories and the transfer of administrative authority, protection of the rights of affected populations and promotion of joint economic ventures and cross-border cooperation.
Experts say the process is a model of preventive diplomacy and a new approach for peaceful settlement of border disputes.
Donors are also encouraging both to pursue cross-border cooperation in oil, gas and palm oil production. The African Development Bank is providing $155 million (U.S.) for the construction of a multinational highway to boost trade between the neighbors, and trade fairs are being organized, alternating between Cameroon and Nigeria.
The military forces of the two countries are holding joint training, and they are considering joint patrols in the Gulf of Guinea to discourage piracy.
Saddig Marafat Diggi who led a Nigerian delegation to a recent session of the Mixed Commission in Cameroon’s capital, Yaound, salutes the progress being made.
Diggi says, “I’m going home as a happy man -- happy in the sense that Cameroon has now agreed that [it’s] going to sign the document on confidence-building. That’s the one concerning the [proposed highway]. I’m also going home to sensitize our local population concerning the pillar construction to tell them that the demarcation is not meant to divide us. It’s just a necessity so that we can know [where Cameroon ends and Nigeria begins].”
However, Nigerians doing business across the border still complain of harassment and extortion at the hands of Cameroonian gendarmes. In Bakassi, the predominantly Nigerian population says its rights are not being fully protected.
But the Cameroon government is taking measures to address those concerns, beginning with the sacking of several corrupt law enforcement officers.