“Nigeria stands to learn a lot from countries like Colombia which have contended with insurgency over the years.

While some have advocated a more high handed approach including further militarisation of the region, others have advised that the insurgents be engaged in dialogue”

On Monday 12th October 2015, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo paid a well-publicised visit to the President Muhammadu Buhari. According to reports, the former President was accompanied by several persons including the Chief of Defence Staff of Colombia.  The aim of the visit was stated to be a need to brief the President on measures adopted by Colombia in its decades’ old war against insurgency by the FARC rebels and how Nigeria can learn from such measures.  According to the Vanguard Newspaper, Chief Obasanjo is reported to have stated as follows:

“I brought a delegation of those of us who visited Columbia last year under the auspices of a foundation which I am the chairman.We went to Columbia to see how all the Columbian authorities were handling the issue of insurgency which had been with them for more than 50 years.As a result of that visit and the experience we had, a book was produced and I said to them that it will be interesting for us in Nigeria to learn as much as we can learn from the experience of Columbia.The specific thing is that they have been fighting insurgency for 50 years. They celebrated their 50 years in existence in May last year, in fact, we went there in June.So, we want to see what has kept them going, what has kept insurgency going? What has made the government of Columbia to make three attempts to seek peace, to end the war and insurgency and they failed. What is the new efforts that they are making? How likely are those new efforts going to succeed?Oh yes. If we won the civil war, we can win this one. But like the Columbian said, we are not waiting until we kill off every insurgent to say we have won.I believe that once the military has the upper hand, other measures that have to be taken will be put in place.There will be measures of socio-economic development, education, employment. All that has to go into the process of eventually winning the war and saying, ‘here is Uhuru.’”

What is clear from the above is the fact that the former President, being the statesman he is, is still commendably concerned with the problem which the ongoing boko haram insurgency poses for Nigerians and Nigeria. The visit came just days after about 22 Nigerians lost their lives in the twin bomb blasts that occurred in Abuja on the 2nd of October. Similarly on the 1st of October, a day set aside to commemorate the independence of Nigeria, more Nigerians had lost their lives in the terrorist attacks in Adamawa and Maiduguri.

As he has stated, Nigeria stands to learn a lot from countries like Colombia which have contended with insurgency over the years. Indeed some countries have completely eradicated insurgency. Chief Obasanjo’s gesture becomes even more imperative when it is considered that there has been a divergence of opinion in Nigeria of late as to the best approach government should adopt in controlling or defeating the insurgency. While some have advocated a more high handed approach including further militarisation of the region, others have advised that the insurgents be engaged in dialogue with a view to identifying and addressing their grievances.

To fully understand these divergent views and to fully understand the extent to which Nigeria can truly learn from the experiences of other countries, it is necessary to examine and understand the nature of an insurgency such as that currently faced by Nigeria.


Wikipedia defines an insurgency as “a violent rebellion against a constituted authority (for example, an authority recognized as such by the United Nations) when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents. An insurgency can be fought via counter-insurgency warfare, and may also be opposed by measures to protect the population, and by political and economic actions of various kinds aimed at undermining the insurgents’ claims against the incumbent regime.” It also goes on to state that although a rebellion may be regarded as an insurgency in some cases (where the participants are not regarded as belligerents), this is not always the case and that the term insurgency is mostly used by governments to indicate that they regard the objectives or motivation of the insurgents as illegitimate. What is however most instructive is the aspect of the definition which states that all “insurgencies include terrorism”.



In his book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present”authorMax Boot gives a brief history of insurgency through the ages including the American revolution; the struggle against Napoleon in the Iberian peninsula; Greece’s war for independence against the Ottomans; the wars of unification in Italy and various uprisings against colonial powers, such as the slave revolt against the French that led to the foundation of the Republic of Haiti.

In modern times, several countries including Colombia, Cuba, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Egypt, Mali etc have witnessed one form of insurgency or the other. In 2013, Nigeria recorded 4,727 deaths to rank 7th in the list of countries with casualties as a result of armed conflict. In 2014, it recorded 11, 529 deaths to rank 4th.

A common feature of insurgency through the ages and in modern times is that it is often waged by those who feel they have been oppressed by the majority and therefore see the take up of arms as the only viable means not only to protect themselves but also to subject the majority to their own ideals and principles. In an article titled “How the weak vanquish the strong”, the “Economist” stated as follow:

Because insurgencies pit the weak against the strong, most still end up failing. Between 1775 and 1945 “only” about a quarter achieved most or all of their aims. But since 1945 that number has risen to 40%… Part of the reason for the improving success rate is the rising importance of public opinion. Since 1945 the spread of democracy, education, mass media and the concept of international law have all conspired to sap the will of states engaged in protracted counter-insurgencies. In the battle over the narrative, insurgents have many more weapons at their disposal than before.

Next week I will examine the rise of the insurgency in Nigeria, the ideals stated to be behind it and efforts made by government to contain it.