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Cameroon Says Boko Haram Infiltrates Top Business and Political Leaders

FILE - Goats are being distributed in Maroua, Cameroon, July 11, 2019, as part of an empowerment initiative designed to prevent locals from being recruited by Boko Haram militants. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)
FILE - Goats are being distributed in Maroua, Cameroon, July 11, 2019, as part of an empowerment initiative designed to prevent locals from being recruited by Boko Haram militants. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

A Cameroonian official said Friday he had found evidence that, as widely suspected, Boko Haram militants have been establishing close ties in Cameroonian political and business circles. The revelation came after Cameroon's military arrested a former lawmaker for allegedly supplying cattle to the Nigerian terrorist group.

Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon’s Far North region, on Nigeria’s border, says that within the past two months, Boko Haram has been establishing ties with top officials of his region. He spoke via a messaging app from the northern town of Maroua.

He says security reports indicate that Boko Haram has infiltrated some political, business and elite circles along Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria. He says Boko Haram accomplices in the communities supply food and money for the terrorists to procure weapons. Bakari says the military has been assigned to arrest those who have established ties with Boko Haram.

Bakari did not say how many people have been arrested for establishing ties with the terrorist group, but this week, local media reported the arrest by Cameroon’s military of a former member of parliament, Blama Malla, for alleged ties with the Boko Haram. He has been detained in the northern town of Mora.

The media reports that Malla, a member of President Paul Biya’s ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement party, is accused of supplying cattle and money to Boko Haram.

Malla was arrested after his cousin, a member of a local militia in the border town of Kolofata in the Mayo Sava administrative unit, was seen transporting 10 cattle to a border area where Boko Haram fighters hide. He was arrested by the military. Local media said the cousin confessed that he had received orders from Malla to supply the cattle to Boko Haram.

The government has not issued a statement. VOA could not independently confirm his account.

Retired Colonel Didier Bajeck, a security specialist and former Cameroon defense spokesperson, says while the military is stepping up intelligence to arrest the suspects, civilians should be on the alert.

Bajeck says it is imperative for civilians to inform the military of the presence of strange people in their areas. It is also important, he says, that civilians report their neighbors who invite suspected Boko Haram members. He says civilians may not know of financial transactions between suspects and Boko Haram, but that the population should immediately call the military when they see food and cattle being transported to the bush, where terrorists may be hiding.

Ejani Leonard Kulu, a political analyst at the University of Dschang in Cameroon, says Boko Haram has historically had ties with some top business figures and politicians in Nigeria. He says it is the same situation in Cameroon.

"Nigeria and Cameroon share so much ties together, cultural, religious ties, socio-economic ties," Kulu said. "Boko Haram in its modus operandi infiltrates the society, touch key persons at different areas. So it is something that has been a routine in Nigeria and in Cameroon when the president of the National Assembly said, "Il y a les Boko Haram parmi nous," such an information was not supposed to be taken lightly because these are people who are highly informed."

The "Il y a les Boko Haram parmi nous" that Kulu refers to means there are Boko Haram members in our midst. It is a statement made in 2018 by Cavaye Yegui Djibril, speaker of Cameroon’s National Assembly during a plenary session. At the time, Malla was still a lawmaker from the Mayo Sava administrative unit. Djibrli did not specify names.

Kulu said the government should not have taken such a statement lightly.

Cameroon has also always accused Boko Haram of infiltrating militias created to fight the terrorists.

Boko Haram terrorists have been fighting for 11 years to create an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria. The fighting has spread to Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, with regular killings, abductions and burnings of mosques, churches, markets and schools.

The United Nations reports that Boko Haram violence has cost the lives of 30,000 people and displaced about 2 million in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.