On the night of May 16, 2014, members of the Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram crossed over into neighboring Cameroon and attacked a Chinese Workers’ camp in Waza, killing one person and kidnapping 10 others. That Boko Haram was able to carry out such a brazen attack in an area under a de facto state of emergency and crisscrossed by Cameroon’s elite Rapid Intervention Unit (popularly known by its French acronym, BIR) was a shock to many.
The Waza attack occurred on the eve of the Paris summit for security in Nigeria, which was convened by French President François Hollande and attended by heads of state from Nigeria and neighboring countries including Cameroon. The fact that this meeting was taking place in Paris rather than in the African capitals of Abuja, Yaounde, Niamey or Ndjamena riled many on social media.
During the Paris summit, the heads of state declared total war against Boko Haram. At the press conference [fr] following, Cameroon's President Paul Biya offered his justification [fr] for the ease with which Boko Haram attacked Waza:
Mais je dois dire tout simplement que Boko Haram utilise des tactiques assez différentes et assez pernicieuses. Généralement ils attaquent la nuit à partir de minuit et une heure du matin. Combien d’unités sont en éveil à ce moment-là? Et puis Ils profitent de la fluidité de la liberté dans le pays pour envoyer des observateurs le jour. Ils utilisent donc l'effet de surprise et la supériorité numérique. Là où vous avez 15 soldats, ils envoient 100 personnes avec un armement lourd.
But I must state simply that Boko Haram uses quite different and quite pernicious tactics. They generally attack at night from midnight or 1:00 a.m. How many units are awake at that hour? They also observe and take advantage of the free movement of persons in the country and send out scouts during the day. They then mount surprise attacks and use their numerical superiority, for instance where you have 15 soldiers they will send 100 persons with heavy weapons.
As expected, the reaction online to the president's comments was swift. Ngum Ngafor asked:
— Ngum Ngafor (@NgumNgafor) May 17, 2014
Dernier Pharaon Noir wondered:
Paul Biya est-il lucide quand il se plains de ce que Boko Haram n'attaque que lorsque ses soldats (BIR) sont endormis et en grand nombre?
— Dernier Pharaon Noir (@CutiiYas) May 18, 2014
Is Biya clearheaded when he complains that Boko Haram attacks only when soldiers are asleep and in greater numbers?
And blogger Florian Ngimbis teased:
Pa'a Paul Biya dit que Boko Haram attaque la nuit, quand les forces spéciales du BIR dorment. tu as raison ça c'est la lâcheté! krkrkrkrk
— Florian Ngimbis (@ngimbis) May 17, 2014
Paul Biya says Boko Haram attacks at night when the special forces of the BIR are asleep. You are correct, this is pure cowardice on their part!
Attack in Waza
The president's explanation aside, Boko Haram's attack in Waza left many on social media scratching their heads as to how they managed to pull it off:
Il y a une base aérienne dans le Nord à Garoua…Quand les fous barbus attaquaient Waza, avions et pilotes étaient où? Je #wanda grave…
— Serge Mbarga Owona (@Manekang) May 17, 2014
There is an air force base in the north in Garoua. Where were the planes and pilots when the crazy bearded ones were attacking Waza?
— Citizens Initiatives (@IGC_Cameroon) May 18, 2014
Edouard Tamba revealed one of the reasons why Boko Haram had free rein in Waza:
Le camp attaqué par #BokoHaram est gardé par le BIR. Mais nos militaires étaient en sous-effectif, descendus à Yaoundé pour le 20mai.
— Edouard TAMBA (@ETAMBA) May 17, 2014
The camp that was attacked by Boko Haram was guarded by the BIR. But our soldiers were shorthanded because some of them had gone to Yaounde to take part in the May 20 national day parade.
This claim was later confirmed by a senior Cameroonian official, who revealed to a French news agency that:
All the helicopters that might have been used to survey the border area and help with the search were in the capital Yaounde ahead of the 20 May National Day military parade.
This case of misplaced priorities led Jean Francis Ahanda to make the tongue-in-cheek remark:
On declare la guerre mais on va dabord défiler puis boire pour la fête nationale, dites à vos gens de Boko haram de respecter nos fériés !
— Jean-Francis AHANDA (@jeanfrancis) May 18, 2014
We’ve declared war but first we have to take part in the parade then drink in honor of our National Day. Tell Boko Haram to respect our national holidays!
Social media users also took their leaders to task over the fact that the president of France, and not an African president, convened the summit. Samuel Victor Iyabi challenged his followers with a simple exercise:
Correction orthographique: Trouvez l'erreur Sommet à Paris sur la sécurité au Nigéria
— Samuel Victor IYABI (@samvicked) May 17, 2014
Spelling test: Find the error: Summit in Paris on Nigerian security.
User @africaninmotion was much more direct:
Goodluck couldn't invite Paul Biya to Aso Villa [the office and residence of Nigeria's president] to discuss Boko Haram over a bowl of Egusi [a popular Nigerian soup]? Hollande had to do it? @Chxta @kijanafulani
— africanomist (@africainmotion) May 17, 2014
Cameroon Community didn't mince words at the sight of the French President surrounded by the African heads of state during the post-summit press conference:
— Cameroon Community (@Cameroon_Com) May 19, 2014