BIAFRA: Counter Revolutionary/ Counter Insurgency Strategies

This series has looked at the operational and strategic lessons of the Nigerian Civil War, the reasons behind Biafra’s successes and defeat and how a present day violent revolutionary secessionist effort would proceed.

Following on from the conclusion of the last article that; ‘an attempt to actualise Biafra through violent revolutionary insurgency would present not just a clear existential threat to the Federal Republic of Nigeria but to Igboland and the Igbo nation as a whole’, we will attempt to look at the development of a counter revolutionary/ counter insurgency (CR/COIN) strategy.

Strategic Objective

Insurgency more than any other form of warfare is politics by other means; thus to be successful a counter insurgency strategy must have a realistic political objective. Historically those counter insurgency strategies that simply tried to prevent insurgents achieving their aims such as Vietnam or Iraq have tended to fail unlike those that aim to deliver a legitimate aspiration such as the British in Malaya.

Since 1967 the Nigerian Federal Government has kept control of defence, security, finance and territory at the centre, creating a fairly straightforward overarching political objective of ‘Maintaining the political and territorial unity of the Federation’.

Historically internal and external threats to the authority of the state have been dealt with by force (e.g. Biafra, Niger Delta, Chad Basin, Bakassi, Tiv Riots, Middle Belt etc), compromise and negotiation generally followed the failure of force to achieve a decision (e.g. Bakassi/ Green Tree Agreement, Niger Delta Amnesty etc.). Whilst these problems have been ‘dealt with’ they have never been resolved, creating residual 2nd and 3rd order problems.

A reliance on force fails to address the underlying causative factors such as marginalisation, fear of persecution, insecurity, resource control, underdevelopment etc. that could be neutralised by negotiation, policing or other solutions short of force. These causative factors then solidify into historical grievances and are preserved in local history.

The revolutionary uses these grievances to gain the support or acquiescence of the people. From the people they gain recruits, supplies, shelter, money, food and concealment. This support can be obtained by persuasion (creating a narrative around the legitimate grievances) and/ or coercion (using violence to encourage support, discourage dissent and create conditions whereby the revolutionaries can develop sufficient strength to take on and defeat government forces).

To avoid this a comprehensive CR/ COIN strategy must resolve (or at least address) underlying legitimate grievances or aspirations whilst at the same time preventing the introduction and spread of an insurgency by separating the insurgents from the people physically, emotionally and psychologically, thus a suggested unifying CR/COIN strategic objective could be;

‘Protect the Eastern peoples from harm and subversion in order to create the conditions to resolve underlying grievances and maintain the political and territorial unity of the state’.

Strategic Imperatives

The strategic objective above is based on the assumption that all insurgencies are symptomatic of legitimate underlying grievances that are exploited by revolutionaries to gain popular support for their specific political agenda. This then translates to material support with which to sustain the insurgency.

It can thus be assumed that preventing popular support for revolutionaries can prevent or weaken an insurgency.

The surest way to do this is by addressing the underlying grievances and providing solutions or mechanisms towards the solutions.

Separating the revolutionaries physically and psychologically from the population requires concessions from the populace and the government in terms of personal freedoms and political power.

These are generally more acceptable to the population if there are clear economic and social benefits, such as increased quality of life through better services, better employment or business opportunities.

Compromise short of their goals is unhelpful to the revolutionaries who need a polarised society in which they can create a climate of insecurity and fear in order to further radicalise people as well as raise funds by robbing banks, illegal taxation, extortion, kidnapping and other crimes and launch attacks on rivals, the security forces and symbols of the state.

Logically then, in order to defeat the revolutionaries, the government must protect the population from revolutionary actions and indoctrination.

These deductions can be summarised as the following strategic imperatives:

  • Protect the populace
  • Prevent and counter radicalisation
  • Neutralise the appeal of the revolutionaries
  • Prevent violent insurgency

Strategic Principles

For the strategic imperatives to support the strategic objectives, they should be guided by certain principles which unify the objectives at the strategic and operational level.

Identify and maintain the political objective: for the purpose of this paper we have identified the political objective as ‘Maintaining the political and territorial unity of the Federation’. This objective must guide all strategic decisions and plans.

Identify and maintain a unifying narrative: this narrative is the unifying ‘story’ that supports the political objective, generates and sustains support from the populace or at least does not alienate them. The narrative should motivate the security forces and demotivate the revolutionaries.

Unity of effort between social, economic, political and military forces at all levels: to obtain the consent from the populace their basic needs must be met and improved upon. These are delivered by civilian agencies, overseen by elected officials. For the overall strategic objective to be achieved the delivery of basic needs must be controlled and coordinated in order to remove frustration or desperation as a motivator and to ensure the population identifies the government as the primary provider of public goods.

Maintain legitimacy by acting within the law: the relationship between the governed and the government is defined by the law and the constitution. For the populace to give its consent to the actions of the government it must trust the system of governance and security. Thus the government must ensure the law is accessible, equitable and seen to be adhered to, in order to claim any legitimacy.

Protect the populace: in revolutionary warfare the people are the terrain, the target and the objective of the conflict. The government must protect the population.

Dominate all terrain: terrain in this context includes human, physical, media and cultural. The counter insurgent imposes his will by restricting the insurgent’s freedom of operation, freedom of movement and freedom of expression.

Minimum Force: in order to maintain consent and legitimacy, force must be used sparingly, well targeted and justifiable so as to reduce the likelihood of collateral damage to civilians, their property or infrastructure.

Operational Tasks and Objectives

To achieve the Strategic Objective, the security forces will need an integrated plan which takes into account every stage of revolutionary warfare from political agitation through to insurgency and open warfare.

Protecting the populace requires they are secured from crime, political violence and the effects of military action.

Preventing and countering radicalisation requires influencing the population and other internal and external groups to support the unifying narrative, whilst at the same time countering the revolutionaries’ narrative and appeal.

Concurrently the population’s basic needs must be provided and standard of living improved.

Operationally these can be broken down into 4 tasks

Influence: the population

Neutralise: the revolutionaries influence

Sustain: the population

Secure: the population

Influence: this entails creating, propagating and sustaining a widely accepted narrative that is understandable to the target population and other audience groups.

Narrative: the narrative must support the political and strategic objective by psychologically and emotionally increasing the sense of attachment and loyalty of the Eastern Nigeria population to the Federal Republic in order to gain consent and cooperation. For it to be accepted it must tap into the existing historical myths and narratives of the Eastern peoples such as egalitarianism, meritocracy, democracy, the 1966 pogroms, the war, the degradation of the Niger Delta etc. and link them to a redemptive message of a united Federation. Such a narrative must at the minimum:

  • Promote Nigerian nationalism
  • Emphasise the benefits of remaining in the Federation to the target population
  • Discuss tribal or local history in the context of positive Nigerian history
  • Acknowledge historical grievances

This narrative cannot rely solely on logic but must acknowledge and play to the emotive nature of the issue by addressing genuine historical and current grievances as well as the populations’ fear of the unknown and potential conflict.

Research and Analysis: developing and sustaining a narrative requires a good knowledge of the target populations, history, beliefs, fears and motivations.

This can be obtained by detailed historical, sociological, cultural and anthropological research. However in order to understand public opinion a systematic campaign of polls and surveys will indicate public opinion on the issues at hand. Sociological questions on age, sex, location, employment etc can help identify the moods of particular segments of the society.

Once the baseline surveys are complete, periodic polling would track changes in public opinion, helping the counter insurgents to establish the effect of particular measures or actions on the population. The data collected must be analysed and used to determine the most effect motivators for the population.

Empathy: acts of contrition for past events such as pogroms, environmental degradation and riots by public figures along with sympathetic treatment of these events in the popular media, reduces rancour amongst different groups and takes away a revolutionary talking point

Dissemination: in order for the narrative to be successful it must be widely accepted, thus accessible through a wide variety of mediums such as TV, radio, SMS, social media, billboards and poster, books, talks, art, music etc. To maintain unity of effort government spokespeople at all levels should receive training in media ops and PR as well as be given a code of conduct to abide by. This will prevent them from going off message making or inflammatory statements.

Neutralise: neutralising the revolutionaries messaging naturally follows on from Influencing the populace but requires a delicate mix of suppression and confrontation.

Revolutionaries spread influence using propaganda of the deed and word, using legitimate grievances, which are exaggerated and even distorted so as to alienate their own peoples and generate a reaction (or preferably an overreaction), from the government or other tribes.

To prevent this the counter insurgent uses;

Suppression: using lawful means to block revolutionary propaganda from reaching its target audiences, by jamming illegal radio broadcasts, taking propaganda websites from servers, libel cases against identified revolutionary propagandists. This approach supports the principles of maintaining legitimacy, protecting the populace, dominating the media and cultural terrain, with minimum use of force.

Division: many who might be described as pro Biafran, Igbo or Niger Delta activists are not necessarily secessionist. Whilst overt government support would be the detrimental to those actors, they are best placed to counter and neutralise the revolutionaries narrative with a legitimacy that government spokespeople do not have.

Freeing up the intellectual space to allow and encourage an open intellectual debate on the issue forces the revolutionaries to defend their narrative, ignore the debate or else use violence or intimidation to silence voices who are ostensibly on their side of the argument.

Counter: whilst the counter insurgents suppress the insurgents propaganda through lawful means, and allows local organic opposition to blossom, the government must clearly challenge the revolutionaries propaganda, specific statements or allegations should be addressed and shown to be false, in a rational, non emotive fashion.

Sustain: this task seeks to provide economic and infrastructural incentives to working and middle class people that will improve their lives and strengthen the emotional and practical links to the Federation. Perceived marginalisation and lack of development Eastern Nigeria can be symbolised by the 40 year quest for the oft promised, oft budgeted but never built second bridge over the River Niger and the environmental degradation and lack of infrastructure in the Niger Delta. These can be addressed by focussing on 5 streams;

Education: the East has some of the highest educational attainment in the country, however graduation rates are falling off amongst young men who gravitate towards business or crime or emigrate internally or externally. At the same time the thousands of graduates produced each year struggle to find work and due to falling educational standards struggle to compete internationally. This can be addressed by focussing on

  • Reducing the cost of education
  • Improving the quality of education
  • Greater variety, with professional qualifications for vocational skills
  • Encourage excellence through a transparent scholarship scheme

Environment: the East suffers from 3 severe environmental problems, erosion, oil spills and gas flaring. A Federal Trust fund devoted to Environmental problems should be set up using local labour and resources to clean up oil spills, build anti erosion infrastructure and end gas flaring.

Transport Infrastructure: improving roads, rivers, rail and bridges improves the quality of life of the populace, puts funds into the local economy and reduces the cost of doing business. It also allows the security forces to move supplies and reinforce rapidly.

Internally Generated Revenue: encouraging the states to generate funds through tax, forces them to be more accountable to the population and use funds efficiently. It also means that the cost of many of the measures will be borne by local people giving them greater ownership. Harmonising or smoothing tax regimes across each of states in the East allows businesses to avoid multiple taxation, reducing the cost of doing business. Common tax and financial records makes it easier to identify money laundering and other financial crimes.

Identification and Record keeping: the ability to identify and locate everyone in the AO is invaluable in tracking and locating suspicious individuals. Continuous sign up to the voters register along with verification and clean, helps identify people in the AO. Birth, death, marriage, contract, vehicle and land records should be digitised. Accurate databases of this demographic information are useful to businesses for verification and identification and the data is useful for planning, marketing and other business activities.

Secure: as previously discussed the former Eastern Region is characterised by a central rainforest bounded by rolling forested hills, jungled mountains and swamps and divided by rivers.

Major urban centres are sited along transport routes and have expanded in an unplanned manner with poor infrastructure.

These factors make the region ideal for urban terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Unplanned, poorly designed urban areas are difficult to move in or police, whilst the concentration of people prevents the free use of even light weapons. Swamps and forests provide concealment and bases for insurgents to train and launch attacks.

The poor transport infrastructure means security force movement is limited and prone to ambush, likewise population centres can easily be isolated.

To prevent the insurgents from gaining a foothold in either the urban areas or rural areas requires a well planned, well resourced, joined up, multi layered operation, that protects base areas but and prevents the insurgents from defining ungoverned spaces.

I’ve described these layers as Deep, Near, Close and Rear, however these descriptions are more conceptual than physical.

Rear: consists of a Joint/ Combined Theatre HQ which plans, commands and controls the overall CR/COIN operation, coordinates police work, intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination for all security forces.

This HQ is the first element to be set up, controlling and directing the strategic thrust of the campaign using all available intelligence to develop a plan which it then delivers to its subordinate headquarters, which for the sake of this example could correlate to each state in the Area of Operations.

The Theatre HQ also coordinates the agencies, ministries and bodies carrying out the Sustain, Influence and Neutralise tasks ensuring that their efforts support the overall political and strategic objectives. It also looks after any prisoners or detainees and handles, surrender, weapon amnesty, deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes

Close: consists of the Theatre HQs subordinate commands which plan, command and control security operations in their areas of operation (i.e. within each State), coordinating local police work, intelligence gathering and analysis.

Each of these HQs liaises closely with local civilian agencies ensuring that the delivery of relevant services such as transport, infrastructure, power, health, education, economics and justice contributes to their mission and supports the overall political and strategic objective.

Operationally their main effort would be to prevent the enemy from effectively operating in or against key terrain such as population centres, economic assets or infrastructure using a combination of police and intelligence work, fixed and mobile defences, political and economic actions and military action, to deter, find, fix and defeat the enemy.

Near: involves the physical protection of key infrastructure, populated areas, government facilities and security force bases within a defined AO, under the command of the local ‘Close’ HQ.

Each armed service would logically protect its own facilities, whilst other tasks should be shared out as per each forces specialisation i.e. Air Force protecting airports, airfields and air related infrastructure, the Navy protecting ports, jetties, waterways and other sea, coastal or riverine facilities, the Army protecting land transport infrastructure and approaches to major population centres and the NCDSC protecting critical land based infrastructure such as pipelines, electricity, fuel, gas and other infrastructure.

The key task of protecting the population would fall to the Police who will not only prevent insurgent actions but perform normal crime prevention, investigation and prosecution duties. The latter is important as it improves the quality of life for ordinary citizens, encouraging consent and hinders insurgent fundraising and activity.

To be effective the force must be well trained and motivated with sufficient numbers to be effective.

Rather than expanding the force with more recruits who will generate large operational and legacy cost in terms of pay, benefits and pensions to meet the increased burden of force protection, protecting government facilities, manning checkpoints, conducting patrols and crime fighting duties, innovative solutions such as short service and Auxiliary Police should be instituted.

This could consist of locally recruited individuals, trained as Police and MOPOL and then return to their local areas with a commitment to serve a minimum amount of time such as 1 day a week, a 1 weekend a month and a 2-4 week period for refresher or additional training each year.

For example: a police station has 10 regular police and 14 auxiliaries. Each day there are 2 extra policemen on duty, if there are policemen on courses leave or sick, then there are reserves to fill the gap and in the event of emergency the station can more than double its numbers without waiting for reinforcements from elsewhere.

This method not only avoids long term financial burdens but utilises local people, who know the language, terrain and culture and are an invaluable intelligence gathering tool.

Police training would have to be revamped to produce a more professional force, with modules on COIN, human rights, civil military cooperation, communications, marksmanship, foot patrols, small unit tactics as well as community policing.

Deep:  this element dominates the inhospitable terrain favourable insurgents such as forests, jungle, hills, swamps or urban slums in order to restrict the insurgent’s freedom of movement forcing them to spend most of their time and resources evading detection and capture and defending themselves.

The Local Command identifies areas of interest as part of the planning process and tasks the appropriate force with dominating the area for example, urban areas tasked to the police, riverine areas to the Navy and all other land tasks to the Army, with the Air Force providing logistic, reconnaissance and fire support.

The most effective way of dominating ground is by constantly patrolling.

Preferably on foot. Followed closely by patrolling from the air, by vehicle or boat (but mainly by foot).

For this to be effective, patrolling should start before the insurgency even begins, allowing the security forces to develop appropriate tactics, equipment and procedures at a leisurely pace and to gain and maintain the initiative.

These patrols will gather information and allow troops to build up a rapport with people living in these areas developing them as sources of local knowledge and intelligence.

If the insurgency develops, the patrols can give early warning of their presence and deny these areas to the insurgents through ambushes and attacks on their bases and caches, forcing the insurgents to retreat deeper into the inhospitable terrain and thus further from population centres and key infrastructure.

The insurgents would then forced to engage friendly forces in a battle of attrition in order to dominate the inhospitable terrain, ensuring that these battles take place on ground that friendly forces are familiar with and where they can bring maximum firepower to bear.

In the case of populated areas such as urban slums, a combination of police work, public works as well as proactive security measures would replace use of firepower.


What characterises most of Nigeria’s crises is that they generally have long gestation periods and clear warning signs. These problems become crises generally because they are ignored or the responses inappropriate.

This article seeks to challenge this paradigm by defining a CR/ COIN strategy that not only deals with a violent revolutionary insurgency but also seeks to remove or reduce the drivers of insurgency. .

To do this it is necessary to define the most important part of the battlespace as the human terrain rather than the physical terrain and identify the key effects that the counter insurgent can have on the battlespace in order to achieve the strategic objective of ‘Protecting the Eastern peoples from harm and subversion in order to create the conditions to resolve underlying grievances and maintain the political and territorial unity of the state’.

These effects have been identified as Influence the population, Neutralise the revolutionaries’ message, Sustain the population and Secure the population.

The delivery is as important as the effects themselves, it is important that local, credible voices counter insurgent propaganda and present an alternative vision with a nuanced, long form narrative delivered through a variety of mediums in a variety of ways but to the same end. It is important that even if this intellectual process appears to run at cross purposes to the objective by giving a platform to anti government voices it is allowed to run its course so as to den the insurgents a vacuum to spread radical propaganda.

Economic and administrative benefits are best delivered through State and Local government structures, which theoretically means they are better targeted but also means that the population will hold local politicians and officials accountable for inaction rather than the Federal Government, incentivising them to perform better and defeating the revolutionaries propaganda that the FGN is behind underdevelopment.

Playing to natural strengths of the target population such as Education and an improved business environment, alongside a more empathetic narrative, takes much of the revolutionaries casus belli away from them and gives the local population a stake in the future.

Securing the population features throughout as a key Strategic and Operational task, this plan envisages doing this by strengthening the Police and deploying military forces away from the population. Not only would a more numerous and better trained police force reduce crime but the use of auxiliaries ties local people into providing their own security and reduces the likelihood of the Police exploiting or maltreating local people.

Dominating the ground where insurgents would normally concentrate forces them to operate differently or else fight to take these areas thus, forcing insurgents to fight the war on terms favourable to the military.

This plan seeks to defeat an insurgency using mainly soft power and non kinetic effects with minimum force and minimum effort to deliver lasting benefits to the population so as to prevent the conditions for insurgency from reoccurring.

For this to be successful it requires acceptance and acknowledgement of the problem, good planning and a desire to do things differently.

It requires an understanding that not every problem is a nail particularly if you have an overstretched and rusty hammer and some problems can be solved through a dose of aggressive, extreme good governance.

A detailed counter revolutionary and counter insurgency operation might be expensive and time consuming but it is cheaper than a war.

It is hoped that this series of articles on Biafra past and neo Biafran agitation, allows the issues facing South East Nigeria particularly to be looked at in a different context in order to derive lasting solutions.

About peccavi

A Nigerian with interests in defence, security, geopolitics, the military particularly small unit tactics, COIN, stabilisation and asymmetric warfare
This entry was posted in Counter insurgency, Defence, Geopolitics, Nigeria Defence, Nigeria Strategy, Peace support, Peacekeeping, Stabilisation, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to BIAFRA: Counter Revolutionary/ Counter Insurgency Strategies

  1. Pingback: BIAFRA: Counter Revolutionary/ Counter Insurgency Strategies | Rifleman III Journal

  2. datvires says:

    Soft power requires the cooperation and coordination of the contributions of stakeholders other than traditional security agencies – State, LGAs, NGOs, commerce, IGOs and third sector institutions. The problem is getting all these players to deliver value that is coherent with a strategic campaign plan of the sort that Vox Peccavi so clearly articulates. Political short term agendas usually restrict sustained commitment to such campaign plans: it needs an independent third party to manage such a campaign. Not sure what sort of agency that is – might be the private sector?

    • peccavi says:

      For it to be credible it public goods need to be delivered by the Government. Third parties could act as facilitators. In this context I see foreign governments, local and international NGOs delivering specific capabilities but all coordinated by the Federal government.
      These externals also act as stabilisers, preventing the normal dysfunction of politics from disrupting the campaign
      The other external is the church, the older churches (catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist etc) have the credibility and independence to coordinate the delivery of certain services such as health, education etc.

      • Chris Holtom says:

        Agreed. However, the Federal Government needs the facilitators to put such coordination systems in place and monitor progress and effect while the stakeholders, including the Church (good point) need the assurance of the transparency of an independent third party facilitator. Its a tricky role to play and requires trust on all sides and above all delivery on promise.

      • peccavi says:

        Trust comes from credibility. Credibility comes from having clear messaging, espousing the political objective and a transparent and accountable delivery process.
        I see third parties like churches, NGOs etc as force multipliers, that can bring skills, experience and in some cases funding.
        But the process has to be owned by the FGN

  3. lachit says:

    came to know about ur blog from roscoe at beegeagle
    can i join here

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