Nigeria and Cameroon, by and large, have been peaceful neighbors. But while the two nations are friendly and, typically, at least on paper, allies, things can change. In 1998 Nigeria’s military Head of State planned for just such a scenario.
At the time, both Nigeria and Cameroon were led by despotic regimes and even though Abuja and Yaounde had good relations — they’ve had several skirmishes that almost led to all out war— things could always change.
Nigeria’s military strongman General Sani Abacha, hardly literate, had the mentality of a soldier. A 2nd lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion in Kaduna, He ran the country in the only way he had been trained to, as a soldier. To him everything was a zerosome game. No permanent friend or ally, its killed or be killed.
General Sani Abacha was very instrumental in the 1983 Nigerian coup and even made the announcement which brought his good friend, General Muhammadu Buhari to power in 1983. It didn’t take long for him to make the announcement of the August 1985 coup which removed his good friend, Buhari from power. After Buhari was overthrown in a palace on August 27, 1985.
It was Abacha that announced his good and loyal friend, the chief of army staff, Major-Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, as the new military president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces in an evening broadcast. Abacha was named chief of army staff and later appointed minister of defense in 1990 following his attainment of the rank of a full star General without skipping a single rank in the Nigerian army.
Those who were close to him described him as a man of few words but dangerous in actions and deeds. This he actually demonstrated when he became military head of state having overthrown the transitional government of Chief Ernest Shonekan. Officially, he did not overthrow the interim national government in 1993.
The head of government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, resigned and Abacha, being the secretary of defense and the most senior member of government, took over. Unofficially, it was a bloodless coup. His ascension to the seat of the presidency made him the 10th Nigerian head of state. But among the military presidents, he was seventh.
Having no formal conventional education and lacking in diplomatc skill quickly made him the most brutal military presidents Nigeria has ever had. There was massive crackdown on the media, civil rights groups and pro-democracy campaigns.
In September 1994, he issued a decree that placed his government above the jurisdiction of the courts, effectively giving him absolute power. Another decree gave him the right to detain anyone for up to three months without trial. With his style of governing it didn’t take long for the Nigerian economy to collapse.
It was under Abacha that Nigeria became a perpetual importer of petroleum products, as all the refineries packed up; a situation which is yet to be addressed almost two decades after his death. His regime was also marked for the importation of foul fuel which had an offensive odour and damaged car engines.
The killing of several activists and political opponents prompted Nelson Mandela to drag Nigeria to the Common Wealth. Nigeria became a Pariah state and was suspended from the Common Wealth of nations. The United Nations followed suit with economic sanctions on Nigeria. Abacha responded by withdrawing its participation from the 1996 African Cup of Nations hosted by South Africa and sent the South African Commissioner to Nigeria and staffers packing.
By 1997 General Sani Abacha had become the most feared leader in West Africa. It didn’t take long for him to apply his ruthless managerial style of governing in the region. Then the United States Department of Justice revealed that it had frozen more than $458 million believed to have been illegally obtained by Abacha and other corrupt officials.
Lacking a clear understanding of the intricacies of diplomacy, and having no one bold enough to tutor him, Nigeria’s Head of State became Paranoid.
By 1998 tensions were again beginning simmer in the Bakassi Peninsula. Despite the heavy oppositions by many countries, General Sani Abacha, a dictator and an avowed enemy of democracy almost unilaterally sent Nigerian troops to Liberia and Sierra Leone to help restore democracy to those countries. Not because he cared about democratic governance, but to prove a point to Cameroon and France.
Nigeria’s Paranoid Head of State, General Sani Abacha became incensed by Cameroonian provocation and was concerned that French imperial desires might extend back to Nigeria, and Nigeria was not going to be caught unprepared.
To this end Nigeria’s Head of State ordered his Defence Chiefs of the Nigerian military to developed “War Plan,” a comprehensive strategy to foil any French and Cameroonian expansion into Nigerian territory. At this point it is safe to say Abacha was a hairs breath away from plunging Nigeria into an all out war.
The War Plan assumed that, in the case of war, Cameroon had two significant advantages. First, the French navy was a formidable force, able to control the seaways and therefore Nigeria’s export of crude. Second, France controlled Cameroon, and could have used it as a staging ground for an invasion of eastern Nigeria. The Nigerian plan was to strike Cameroon first.
Specifically, Nigeria forces would invade the entire disputed Bakassi Peninsula, hoping to take all the Bakassi islands, which (Nigerian strategists assumed) would be the focal point for the French Navy in West Africa.
If this failed, the Nigerian Navy would try to blockade the navigable channel of Akpa Yafe River as far as the 3-mile limit of territorial jurisdiction. After securing that region, Nigeria will use its armies numerical superiority forces to target Southern Cameroon, an English-speaking part of Cameroon sympathetic to Nigeria, further separating east from west; Cameroon, taking control of much of much of the strategic ports and waterways.
The War Plan only laid plans for military action in Bakassi area and Southern Cameroon. Nigeria never intended to launch a full-scale invasion of Cameroon. Rather, the plan was to hold Cameroon hostage, so to speak, in hopes that France would agree to a peace treaty to free its largest New World territory.
Nigeria was not the only country with transnational war plans. A wikileak report revealed that Cameroon and France had developed a war plan because they believed Nigeria will respect the ICJ ruling and hand over Bakassi without a fight. To come to this conclusion French intelligence might have had credible information to suggest a Nigerian pre=emotive strike. The scheme outlined plans for a counter-attack on Nigeria. in case of an invasion from its neighbors to the south. Like Nigeria’s War Plan the plan was never put into action, possibly because of the Niger Delta insurgency or Boko Haram Insurgency.
Next : So what happen if such an attack plan was carried out today?