Mistrust between Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon as well as disagreements over how to deploy troops against Boko Haram have stalled efforts to set up a regional force to combat the Islamist militants.
Failure to launch the 2,800-strong mission as planned in November has left the insurgents in control of large swathes of Nigeria’s north east from where they launch attacks.
The group, which aims to carve out an Islamist emirate in northern Nigeria, carried out a scorched-earth raid this month on Baga, a town on the shores of the Lake Chad that was due to serve as the headquarters for the regional force.
The fall of Baga and reports of the slaughter of up to 2,000 inhabitants underscore the risks of Nigeria and Cameroon failing to work together.
Amid mounting international alarm, Ghana’s President John Mahama, chairman of the West Africa regional bloc ECOWAS, said leaders would press the African Union next week to create a multinational force.
But countries of the Lake Chad region are still expected to form the backbone of any mission. Defence and foreign ministers from the four nations were meeting in Niamey on Tuesday but analysts do not expect a breakthrough on deployment.
For joint military action to succeed, the countries must bury their differences and pool troops and intelligence under a unified command, experts and diplomats said.
“The principal thing that has been stopping this multi-national force from coming about has been the historical distrust and underlying tensions between the two key players: Nigeria and Cameroon,” said Imad Mesdoua, an analyst with the London-based Africa Matters consultancy.