By Chris Onuoha
Col Hassan Stan-Labo is a retired officer with a wealth of combat operational experience spanning his duty tour of Liberia, Sierra Leone, West Darfur and Bakassi Peninsula as part of the Army’s Elite Infantry (Special Forces) Corps.
Now a security consultant, defence strategist, resource fellow and Convener, ‘FIX NIGERIA NOW!’, Stan-Labo speaks on 96 days since the appointment of Service Chiefs and the seeming worsening insecurity in Nigeria. Excerpts of interview:
What do you make of the state of the nation? Insecurity has apparently worsened since new Service Chiefs took over in the past few months. Killing by bandits and insurgents have intensified. Reports say Boko Haram has taken more territories in the North-East and residents fleeing.
Niger governor said bandits, now kidnapping schoolchildren in the North-West and North-Central, are about 100km from Abuja. People are even talking of war. Where are we headed?
The security situation as it stands today is embarrassingly unfortunate and calls for immediate urgent response. External assistance from any where we can muster would be required. The entire nation is presently under siege from terrorists disguising as herdsmen and kidnappers and engaging in all sorts of banditry activities, killing, maiming, raping, burning, dispossessing and dislodging citizens.
Unfortunately we do not have a strong leadership to tackle the challenge on ground. In a war situation as this, the leadership must be seen to be decisive, bold and resolute in articulating a strategic thinking and direction for the war. Leadership must have a clear sense of vision with a focus on its mission. Policy pronouncements aimed at the attainment of the mission should exhibit clarity, leaving none in doubt of the leader’s intent and purpose.
If you meet President Buhari now, what will you tell him on the state of the nation?
If I have a chance meeting with the President today, I will let him know he is part of the challenges of insecurity in Nigeria.
For a nation at war, the C-in-C, he has not been able to galvanise the entire nation in unanimity and support of the war effort. The nation is so divided yet fighting a perceived common enemy. Saboteurs among us, highly placed and connected, are embarrassingly availed official protection under the President’s watch. Is that a clear display of commitment towards the fight against terrorism or show of compromise ? What impression does the ordinary citizen go home with?
President Buhari just asked for help from the US possibly in reaction to Prof Wole Soyinka who, at the weekend, called on him to seek outside help. What kind of help can we get and why didn’t the US and other world powers like the UK, our former colonial masters, help us before things degenerated to this point?
Prof Soyinka only added his voice to the numerous call for external assistance in our fight against terrorism. Experts like us and several other Nigerians have used credible platforms as yours to urge the Government in this direction. However, in the usual reluctant, slow response nature of doing things, that has become the hallmark of this administration, the President finally approached the US Secretary of State.The President sought the relocation of AFRICOM HQ to Africa from Germany.
What we stand to gain?
Given the US interest in the Gulf of Guinea and sundry related operational pegs, Nigeria stands to benefit a great deal in combat advisories and technical support in our war effort. A well coordinated diplomatic drive using contacts in the Diaspora and the numerous Nigerians serving in the Joe Biden cabinet could talk the US government in relocating AFRICOM HQ to Nigeria. All it requires is the give and take spirit in negotiation. We shall place all the advantages of relocating to Nigeria on the table. And it will boost their fight against global terrorism. In return, they would avail the Nigerian military training, logistics, equipment, operations advisory etc based on a well articulated template of demands in line with the terms of agreement.
Don’t be surprised, the Ghanaian government may already have a lobby team assembled and strategising in this direction, while Nigeria is still dragging its feet.
Why didn’t Western nations, especially UK, avail us assistance long before now ? I can tell you with no iota of doubt that they are yet to see any seriousness in terms of commitment and focus in our handling of the situation. They have diplomatic missions here watching and taking good note of how persons with affiliations to terrorists groups are sitting in your cabinet with responsibility over classified materials. They will only pay lip service to assisting you but can never waste their resources.
Before the current Service Chiefs came in January 26, there were calls for the sack of their predecessors and there were hopes that the new helmsmen will make the difference. But insecurity under them has taken a turn for the worse. What do you think?
The new Service Chiefs took over but the operational environment remains the same, the conditions remain same, equipment haven’t changed either. To worsen matters is the continuous politicisation of the war. And the inability to introduce technology into the battle space up to this moment is disturbing.
What are the Service Chiefs doing wrong and how do you amend the wrong things?
The absence of hitech, especially drones in the battlefield, is a big drawback. Even Boko Haram has long introduced drones in the battlefield. There are drones that could find targets and engage. With such drones, an infantry commander could sit in the comfort of his operations room and engage targets. Two of these drones in Baga can provide surveillance, firepower and guide to troops in Monguno, Mallam Fatori, Gudubali, Cross Damasak, Kukawa Kangaruwa, Arege and Metele.
These drones could also avail protection for ungoverned spaces between super camps. Isolated schools, locations and communities could be adequately availed surveillance and fire cover when it becomes necessary. Service Chiefs should look in this direction. Experts like us can fast track acquisition of these equipment. Some of these drones come with built-in configurations for all weather and terrain operations such as: High Definition Video Transmission up to 100km; Speed:120km/h; Direct control range up to 200km; Complete Ground Professional Control Unit; Suitable for SAR, ISTAR, border patrols; Altitude: Up to 3000m; Flight time: 24hrs; SAR( Search And Rescue), and ISTAR(Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisitions and Recce.
I know that you aren’t a supporter of negotiation with bandits and terrorists. Do you still stick to your position going by what is happening in Kaduna, I mean students kidnapped by bandits are being killed because ransom hasn’t been paid, and there are mounting calls for negotiation with the bandits?
No negotiations with bandits or terrorists. If we remain adamant in not negotiating or paying ransom, the abductions and kidnappings would stop. Funding to the bandits and kidnappers’ operations which ransom payment avails would also be blocked. There is always a price for anything good including paying the supreme price in the national interest as regrettable as it sounds.
You once spoke about recalling active but retired military personnel to augment the dearth of the personnel fighting insecurity across the country and the army chief spoke in the same direction. How do you react?
It is a welcome development that the new COAS thought it wise to do so. I have always strongly canvassed the need for strength beef up in view of the thin deployment of troops in the field because the military is overstretched. Part of my recommendations in meeting this challenge include the re-engagement of able bodied retired personnel on very attractive contract terms for a given specific period.
Also there should be provision of four additional training depots for fresh recruits to complement the only one in Zaria. The reserve pool of retired military personnel is very rich with skilled hands just wasting away. Unlike the US and British armies that have well laid out protocol for contract re-engagement, we are yet to articulate policy direction on that.
Fears have been raised that the death of Chadian President Derby could worsen insecurity in the North-East as we have seen of recent. Do you share that perspective?
The late Chadian President Derby was a warrior who often took the battle to the various rebel groups in Chad. He succeeded in creating and sustained a buffer zone between the rebels and Chadian capital, Ndjamena from which our 40km border window with Chad benefited.
Nigeria must show enough interest in the current leadership tussle in Chad because a strong personality of Derby’s calibre would be needed to replace him at this time. If our border window with Chad is left unduly porous, Chadian rebels and jobless terrorists from the Maghreb region would flock into Nigeria.
Do you support the use of mercenaries to stem the tide of insecurity that we are facing? What are the pros and cons?
At this point in time the dire security situation we find ourselves in does not avail us the luxury of choice over what form of assistance to accept. Any form of assistance today is welcomed.
Mercenaries are businessmen and would enter into a contract with you based on your needs. You would pay dearly but have value for your money. If only we had retained the initial mercenary team engaged by the Jonathan administration, we could most likely have long forgotten about this war. However we politicised the entire process and here we are today.