…Warns: Repentant bandits, terrorists may have become double agents, terrors in their communities
…‘Security experts’ ‘espionage visit’ to North-East’
By Chris Onuoha
In the second part of his interview with Sunday Vanguard, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (rtd), a former Chief of Staff, 9 Brigade, Nigeria Army, Ikeja, says he is not surprised about the insecurity in Nigeria as, according to him, millions of arms/weapons are in wrong hands.
He also speaks on amnesty for bandits and terrorists as well as the visit by some security experts to the war front in the North-East. Excerpts:
Paying of ransom to kidnappers has now become the rule rather than the exception. What do you think? Is it the right thing to do in our circumstance?
Paying of ransom to kidnappers could actually encourage the art of kidnapping. However, in the absence of a better option, as is always the case, relations are compelled to do the needful. Payment of such ransom could save the lives of victims. Continuous payment of ransom could also raise the bar in financial demands and other conditions to be met.
Let’s talk about the proliferation of small arms which many people have blamed for the insecurity challenge in the country. How bad is the situation, especially with the arms being in wrong arms?
Proliferation of Small Arms Light Weapons (SALW) within our shores is fast militarizing the society. The influx of these lethal weapons has brought about violent crimes and promoted extremism at all fronts. How bad is the situation you asked? It is a terrible situation with an estimated 30m SALW in wrong hands within the country. And the consequences include stiffer challenges to law enforcement agencies, destabilization of the polity and availability of weapons for freshly recruited insurgents. To redress the anomaly, we need nationwide SALW mop up with irresistible, mouth-watering incentives to the public for every weapon submitted.
If we are to start resolving the insecurity challenge, tell us the long, medium and short term measures to take?
In resolving our insecurity challenges, very thin lines may separate short, medium and long term measures with overlapping effects. So the categorization here may not really be of relevance. The short term measures include a complete review of our national security and defense architecture in such a way to determine what sort of armed forces and police we desire; determine their manpower, role, capabilities, firepower, equipment holding, funding requirements, training and welfare imperatives; do a strategic-level review of ongoing operations nationwide and come up with a higher commander’s directive on the way forward, in line with our national security imperatives; disengage the current Service Chiefs and replace them with a set of fresh hands and brains with requisite attributes for consolidation, and spell out to them the strategic commander’s intent, their job descriptions, timelines, milestones, key performance index, etc.
Medium term measures include aggressive recruitment to meet manpower deficits in the field; aggressive procurement to meet equipment and logistics requirements in the field; aggressive search for external assistance to complement the efforts of our own forces on ground; and rigorous training programs both locally and abroad in line with own training needs objective. On long term measures, we need aggressive expansion on military and police infrastructure to include training facilities and institutions, office and barracks accommodation.
You just touched on the controversy around whether Service Chiefs should go? Can you expatiate?
The Service Chiefs should go in national interest. We know that the prerogative for the removal of the Service Chiefs rests with the President since they are his appointees. However, they’ve served their purpose having pulled us out of the woods within their first three years in office. That was the stabilization phase of the operation against terrorism in which our troops gained operational stabilization to return to the field.
After that stabilization phase, they ought to be replaced by a fresh crop of consolidators, a team of commanders with the requisite attributes for consolidation. We saw this in the Gulf War under Desert Shield and Desert Storm where Force Commanders were regularly replaced by the Pentagon (US Defense Department) to take on the various cycles of Command in the theatre as the war progressed.
Given the desperate situation we find ourselves today, the C-in-C should do an operational review of the entire operation in the North-East and come out with his strategic commander’s intent as to the direction he wants to war to move. He must also go shop for befitting replacements for the Service Chiefs bearing in mind that we could be fast losing out on our operational gains, traction and momentum with any further delay. The delay we are witnessing is fast degenerating into the pre-stabilization phase.
Talks about using private military companies (PMCs) also known as mercenaries are becoming hugely popular. Would the resort to this affect the prestige, integrity, or self-confidence of our security agencies, especially the Nigerian Army?
I have never been an apologist of the idea of engaging mercenaries. This is because of their tendency to go out of their brief. However our desperate situation on the ongoing war in the North-East is gradually making a lot of professionals like me to do a rethink if only it will bring the required complementary edge in seeing us out of this mess. PMCs could be considered in this regard rather that just mercenaries. PMCs are far better organized and work on the basis of formal agreements with sovereign states. Their agreement packages are often tailored at filling the gaps where your deficiency lies. Be it training, tactics, leadership or equipment.
Borno Gov Zulum and the military just engaged in verbal war with the governor saying soldiers deployed in his state were only there to extort and not to protect his people against terrorists. How do you see the development?
Governor Zulum is very much in order. He is correct. He has only said what those around the President can’t say. What we have is a Boko Haram economy at work and not a war. Like I said earlier, it is now ‘from insurgency to brisk business’. The insurgency has become a cash cow for some of those involved not minding the deceitful outward expression of a desire for an end from government officials who don’t wish to see the war end soon, because it has become a major source of income. At this pace and momentum, I see us on a marathon with Boko Haram. It can’t be a dash race because we’ve lost focus. We are distracted by the spoils of war and inherent ‘harvest’.
A former military officer said the military aren’t availing themselves the experience of retired military officers in the fight against insecurity in Nigeria as they should? Can you share your experience?
It is true that we aren’t tapping enough of the experience of our retired personnel. When the Gulf War started, the initial 10,000 troops to be inserted were from the reserve. This allowed for adequate preparation and launch of the main force. Though we do not have what could be literally called a formal reserve force (for inexplicable reasons), able bodied retirees (NCOs) could be injected into the theatre and assigned Rear Area Protection tasks. They could be attracted to fill up manpower gaps through financially attractive contract terms as seen in advanced armies.
When they get deployed in Rear Area Protection tasks, they avail military presence in such locations which facilitates the advance of the regular force to vulnerable communities. Intelligence gathering is another area in which our army shoots itself in the foot. Retirees are in every nook and crannies of this country, all over rural Nigeria. They could be mobilized and organized formally for the provision of raw information for processing into intelligence. It is practicable. I did it as Major while overseeing the Ika crisis in Akwa Ibom State. I did it again and it paid off tremendously when, as Operations Officer and a young Major, I temporarily assumed Command over the Ilaje/Ijaw crisis.
What is your perspective on the issue of amnesty for Boko Haram insurgents, bandits? It has been criticized on the grounds that no matter how you rehabilitate them, they will still go back to their old ways. Does amnesty for insurgents, terrorists, bandits have implications for security?
It is a law of war doctrinal policy which I, as an officer, don’t believe in or subscribe to. My working definition of Prisoner of War (PW) excludes all combatants. My working definition is informed by the nuisance value and liability they represent to you as a commander in the field. You become responsible for their feeding and health care amidst scarce resources that can seldom go round your men. You could have saved yourself this additional headache if you had seen him and taken him for what he is – “A combatant of the Opposing Force and Enemy of the State”.
By that, I eliminate you instantly without thinking twice. Definitely, amnesty for insurgents, terrorists and bandits has far-reaching negative implications for security. Some are today serving as double agents. Some are carrying out vengeance on real and imaginary enemies. Some have become terrors in their communities. It was not a well thought out action. I expected that the peculiarities of our situation as a nation would inform our decision in this regard rather than blindly implementing a doctrine that does not serve our national security interest.