ABUJA (AFP) - Nigeria on Tuesday issued an appeal to France and Abuja's Francophone neighbours, especially Cameroon, to help it in the battle against Islamists, two days before a planned visit from French President Francois Hollande.
On the day suspected Boko Haram Islamists slaughtered 43 students as they slept, Nigeria's information minister warned the attacks could harm French and other Western interests in West Africa if left unchecked.
"I think what we need is international cooperation from the French, from the French-speaking west African countries to work together to deal with this problem before it becomes a major problem for France, for western interests operating in west Africa," Labaran Maku said.
"It will devastate French interests if we allow this terror to go on," the minister told AIT television.
The comments came ahead of a planned visit by Hollande on Thursday and Friday to attend an international conference on security, peace and development in Africa and to celebrate the centenary of Nigerian unification.
Maku said much of the problem stemmed from its border with Cameroon and called for "increased partnership" with its northern neighbour.
Cameroon's participation in the international (military) joint task force policing the borders "has been a bit weak", charged Maku.
This has made the northern part of the border a safe haven for the insurgents.
The force, comprising troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, was put in place to check criminals along the borders of the participating countries.
The weak link in the chain is being exploited by Boko Haram to unleash their havoc in Nigeria, he said.
"They strike. When we pursue them, they retreat into Cameroon," complained the minister.
Nigeria last week sealed a portion of its northeastern border with Cameroon to block the movement of insurgents and other criminal groups.
The closure has been imposed in Adamawa state, one of three states in the northeast placed under emergency rule in May following waves of attacks by Boko Haram Islamists.
The military has launched a major offensive in the area aimed at crushing the Islamist uprising, which has killed thousands since 2009.
Nigeria has alleged that the Islamists have set up bases in sparsely populated areas of its northeastern neighbours, including Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and flee across the border after staging attacks to avoid military pursuit.