In the late 1970s, shortly after the civil war and early 1980s, a permanent drought ravaged the entire African Sahel. This led to the deaths of thousands. Thousands more emigrated from one region to another freely despite existing inter state borders. It is in this context of crisis that Nigerian populations begin to occupy certain Cameroonian and Chadian islands arising as a result of the drying up of Lake Chad.
But we must realise that for those living in this area, the lines demarcating both countries by Britannia were arbitrary as far as they were concerned. The inhabitants have coexisted for generations, and were for the most part family. If the settlers, especially Chadian populations live in peace, sharing their useful land and somehow endorsing Nigerian domination? Can we really speak of fixed boundaries in this doubly unstable region?
Shortly thereafter, successive military administrators of Borno State supported this occupation by establishing its domination over territories that theoretically were in Chadian soil. Curiously, the Nigerian settlement does not seem to be considered foreign.
In 1962 the Lake Chad Basin Commission was established. Iron bars 10 km distant from each other were erected in the Lake to serve as effective border demarcation points. People from both sides lived in relative peace.
The gradual withdrawal of the waters of Lake Chad began changing the situation.
Since the dawn of the twentieth century, the Lake has been receding :23,500 km in 1962. 19,000 km in 1973. Thus in the mid-1990’s, over 30 villages have been created by more than 11,000 Nigerians in the Chadian of Lake Chad. The contentious Darak, located 35km east of the border with Nigeria was originally occupied by Nigeria fisherman who followed the withdrawal of the waters of the lake in the late 1980’s.
On 18 April 1983, in a well planned and rehearsed operation, three thousand Chadian soldiers under the command of Idris Derby invaded and seized 19 Islands in the Lake Chad axis in Borno State. Twenty four hours later six villages in Borno State fell to Chadian troops.
Stunned by this daring unprovoked attack, Nigeria’s President Alhaji Shehu Shagari orders the Commander of the Nigerian Army 3rd Army Division General Muhammadu Buhari to flush out the invaders.
General Buhari, in his capacity as General Officer Comnanding (GOC) augmented his forces with the Nigerian Army 21st Amoured Brigade in Maiduguri.
A skilled military tactician General Buhari resisted the temptation to use Nigeria’s overwhelming superiority in armoury and man power to charge headlong . He knew the Chadians were highly skilled fighters who use their excellent mobility to their advantage. Instead he ordered the Nigerian Army Scout Regiment to reconnoiter Chadian military positions.
The Nigerian Army Scout Regiment is the reconnaissance arm of the infantry. Their job is to obtain and disperse viral combat and battlefield information on the enemy under any conditions.
Reports from Scouts confirmed the Generals suspicion. Expecting a massive retaliatory attack spearheaded by tanks, the occupying Chadian troops had prepared anti series of tank obstacles on the likely approaches by digging 10 ft trenches around fortified positions. The plan was to lure Nigerian tanks towards the myriad of concealed trenches, making it impossible to navigate. Once trapped the tanks would then be engaged by concealed troops with anti-tank weapons and RPG’s at close range.
SHOCK AND AWE.
With the Intel gathered by scouts the GOC began preparation for a punitive attack. Taking advantage of the night Nigerian troops quietly moved into flanking positions.
At day break, the Nigerian Army, under the able Commander General Muhammadu Buhari launched a massive operation to dislodge the invading Chadian forces. 4,000 soldiers besieged Chadian forces on three fronts. As Chadian troops came under relentless artillery bombardment from the eastern flank, Nigerian soldiers in the Western axis began their push to link up with the 3rd strike component in the rear, effectively encircling Chadian forces.
As Chadian casualties mounted General Buhari ordered a temporary halt to the advance, to allow Chadian forces an escape route back into Chad via the northern axis.
Stunned and disoriented by the unexpected attack from seemingly everywhere by Nigeria infantry, Chadian soldiers began to abandoned their positions in a disorganized manner and fled the battlefield in droves, leaving their vehicles and equipment behind.
It was at this moment that Nigerian troops, led by General Buhari gave chase to the fleeing Chadian soldiers. To the General, flushing out the invaders was not enough, he was determined to make a bold statement to the Chadians and teach them a bitter lesson.
Nigerian troops crossed the border into Chadian territory and continued its pursuit. Orders from Nigeria’s President to halt his advance fell on deaf ears. Nigerian troops continued its advance until they were 50 kilometres from the N’Djamena, the Chadian Capital. Facing possible court marshal General Buhari stoped the advance and withdrew his forces.
General Buhari was immediately summoned by the President for disobeying a direct order from the President to stop his advance. In his defence the General claimed in the heat of battle he was unaware he had crossed into Chadian territory.