Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is planning to visit Cameroon to cement a regional fighting force against Boko Haram, he told AFP on Monday.
Buhari met his counterparts from Niger, Chad and Benin at a summit in Abuja last week but Cameroon’s leader Paul Biya was noticeably absent and represented by his defense minister.
The two countries have long had strained ties, in part over a bitter territorial dispute but also after Boko Haram mounted cross-border raids into northeast Nigeria from Cameroon’s far north.
Buhari visited Niger and Chad in his first week in office and said he would have gone to Cameroon’s capital Yaounde for talks with Biya had he not been invited to attend the G7 summit in Germany.
“But on my return to Nigeria now, I will try to go to Cameroon,” he said on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Johannesburg.
Last week’s Abuja summit rubber-stamped an 8,700-strong regional force involving the five countries to replace an ad hoc coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The current force came into being after Chad’s President Idriss Deby sent troops to assist their Cameroonian counteparts against a wave of attacks by the Islamist militants.
Troops from Niger and Chad have crossed into Nigerian territory but those from Cameroon have not in an indication of the strained relations between the neighbors.
But Buhari indicated last Thursday that soldiers from the new Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) would not be restricted in terms of movement.
The MNJTF will be headed by a Nigerian officer for the duration of the mission, with his deputy from Cameroon for an initial 12 months once troops are deployed from July 30.
Buhari has made crushing Boko Haram his immediate priority since coming to power on May 29 and he said in the interview that foreign support was vital.
“The most important support is intelligence. What we are looking for from the G7… is intelligence. We want help in terms of logistics,” he said.
“Boko Haram declared that they are in alliance with ISIS, so terrorism has gone international. They are in Mali, they are in Nigeria, they are in Syria, they are in Iraq, they are in Yemen.
“It’s an international problem now,” he said.