In May 1996, Nigerian and Cameroonian forces fought all weekend from May 4 into the morning of May 7 2006 in the most ferocious outbreak of violence iver the small Bakassi peninsula. It should be noted that this was the first defeat inflicted on the Nigerian army by Cameroon.
The Cameroonian army employed the use of long range artillery. Nigeria responded helicopter gunships and gunboats. At the end of hostilities 50 Nigerian soldiers had been killed and nearly an equal number taken prisoner, to the loss of just five Cameroonian soldiers.
Both sides lay claim to the Bakassi peninsula which is located in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea. Besides substantial oil deposits, the Bakassi has plentiful fish stocks.
To the Cameroonians this was sweet revenge from their humiliating losses to Nigeria in 1994. In February 1994, Nigerian troops overan three Cameroonian controlled islands, killing scores and occupying the islands. This surprise attack forced the Cameroon troops into full retreat with Nigerian troops in hot pursuit.
The Nigerian government said Cameroon had set off the most recent clashes, which were in their third week, by opening fire on a Nigerian patrol vehicle in Bakassi, killing one soldier. Cameroon denied the accusations and accused the Nigerian military of provoking them.
Cameroon took Nigeria the ICC (International Court of Justice ) in the Hague in 1994 after the confrontation. But in the interim, Nigerian and Cameroonian forces stationed in the Bakassi have been separated by only a small creeks inevitably sparking clashes from time to time.
In March 1994 the ICC demanded Nigeria respect a cease-fire pending a rulling in the issue. But Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Chief Tom Ikimi, said Cameroons foreign partners might be urging it to attack Nigeria. Diplomats indicated that France is trying to get the Cameroonian President Paul Biya, to Paris for talks on the issue. French diplomats said France wants to play a conciliatory role.
However, Nigeria’s Head of State General Sanni Abacha warned that France has substantial interests in Nigeria more so than in Cameroon, and Paris will be well served to ensure the conflict does not escalate into full blown war.