UNDER SIEGE: How Not to Become Terrorists’, Bandits’ Prey – Retired Colonel Stan-Labo

by Chris Onuoha

Hassan Stan-Labo, a retired Colonel, was Chief of Staff at the Nigerian Army Headquarters. Stan-Labo, now a security consultant, has been outspoken on the issues of security in Nigeria based on field experience. In this interview, he speaks on the fate of a nation under siege.  Excerpts:

What do you make of high-profile terror attacks in the country with the presidential convoy, Abuja prison and presidential troops being the latest targets? What message do you think terrorists are trying to pass?

Clearly, the bulk of all these attacks you are seeing, I must tell you, frankly speaking, are a clear indication of a change of tactics by the enemy forces. And clearly, it is not just a change in tactics. We are also beginning to see how determined and emboldened they are. And this is clearly indicated in the sort of targets they are taking on.

And even the fact is that they inform people before coming. They told you they were coming over to release their commanders in your custody and they came, did it and left with impunity.  We have seen several others too. They brought down your aircraft with impunity. They have made an attempt on your President after saying clearly they were coming after the President. I can tell you that, as a country, we shouldn’t take that with levity.

When they tell you they are coming, they are actually coming. It is left to us to either do a reappraisal of the security around our President or we sit there in our usual manner until they walk in and pick him by the arms and walk out with impunity. And there is nothing you can do about it. They have done it before; they are doing it right now and they could still do it again.

What is the real problem with the military and how did we get to this sorry state?

I don’t want to say there is a problem with the military. The problem is with those who make up our political strategic levels. They are the highest level in the order of things. The problem is that there is official collusion as far as I am concerned. Government or leadership is complacent. Leadership is dining with the enemy. The government is romancing the enemy.

The rest of us do not know what the leadership knows. When I am talking about leadership, I am referring to the Presidency; the entire formation of the Presidency. They are yet to tell us the bitter truth. Because the enemy keeps telling us: “call your President to come, let him give us what we discussed, let him give us what we have arranged.” Now, the question is, what is it that you discussed with the enemy in the forest, in which you claim you don’t know where they are?

What is the ongoing rapport between you and the enemy we are fighting? Is that the reason it appears to be a lack of political will to defeat this enemy? Is that the reason we have been fighting this war for 12 years and still confused about knowing what to do? I am an experienced army man for crying out loud.

This is the same army I fought with in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and other places in West Africa. This is the same army in which I commanded troops in Darfur, the same army I fought with in Bakassi Peninsula. These are all international operations. So, when I talk about the Nigerian Army or the armed forces, I know what I am talking about.

I have the background and wealth of experience. That is why some of us are highly disappointed at what is going on. All this is happening because of leadership. The politicians at the political strategic levels are not allowing things to take place, for reasons best known to them. Religion, ethnicity, tribalism and all the frontline issues we have are blurring their visions. That is why a rascal army that is riding on motorbikes, ‘Okada’, for that matter, will embarrass the entire national army that has jet fighters flying all over the country.

We are told that the Super Tucano fighter jets on which millions of dollars was spent would help in eliminating terrorists, but it is like the opposite is the case. Are they not functioning?

The Tucanos are actually there, fighting in certain parts of the country. They are operating in the North-East. I hope you know that the problems we have are two-fold. There are issues in the North-East where the wholesale war is ongoing and then, we have these banditry scales all over the country. The Tucanos are better suited for the war in the North-East because they are fixed-wing aircraft. They cannot do the maneuverings a helicopter can do. What we need in the banditry area is helicopter and not Tucano. They can only operate in the North-East.

I discussed this with the Commander of the National Task Force a few days back and he confirmed to me that they are actually doing a great job. Otherwise, some of us have actually asked about what is happening to them too. They are not meant for this kind of operation. Tucanos are really working but the problem is that if the political leadership does not allow for certain stiffer operations to take place, definitely, it will not take place. Do not forget the fact that the military are under civil authority. The Commander-in-chief is in charge of the military. The military takes orders from him before operating.

Do you agree that the security situation in Nigeria has reached a critical stage?

It is not only getting to a critical stage but has become overwhelming now. It is getting to a point that every Nigerian is crying out. Not like before when some of us were lone voices out there. With my wealth of experience, I could see the future. I saw what was coming and we started crying out a long time ago.  It is just now that every Tom, Dick and Harry is saying “we are in trouble”.

We said this coming three years back and we saw it coming. Since we were not taking steps to stop them in their locations, cutting their lines of communication and stopping their supplies of ammunition, we were not doing that by then. Some of us already foresaw that we were getting where we are now. Now, they have dug in, they have gone underground. They didn’t have trenches before, now they have them. We have given them the room and they hope to do that and more.

What about surveillance by the security apparatus? Are they not doing the job enough to fish out these insurgents?

Everything that needs to be done, to a greater extent, is being done. Did you hear the DSS say “we forwarded 44 reports to the table of the President before the Kuje Prison attack? It was in the news; 44 reports for that matter. While some of us are saying intelligence reports are the problem, now DSS has come out to say intelligence is not the problem, that we are doing our job. But the political strategic level is not doing its job.

Those in the Presidency are not taking action. While you are talking about surveillance, you should know that all those reports could have been articulated, forwarded to the right quarters, of course, it will end up at the table of the DSS who would now sit down and do a crystallization of the information, load them together and come out with what we call intelligence reports. It is a process.

Information must go through a process. And then, it would be forwarded to the headquarters where it would become actionable. Now, when it gets to that quarter, which, of course, is a political strategist’s table, the Presidency, no action comes out. When there is no action coming out from there, that is where it dies.

Now that the military appears unable to protect themselves not to talk of protecting the people, what are the steps that Nigerians should take to protect themselves from these insurgents, bandits and kidnappers?

Arm yourself! It might look like a joke to say but by the time they knock at your door, you will know that it is time to arm yourself. I repeat, arm yourself! Don’t refer me to what any Constitution or any 1969 Small Arms Act says about small arms. Leave those books and do the needful to protect yourself. It is a man who is alive that tells the story.

The President is not there to protect the common man. The insurgents have told him that they are coming for him. The man who is protecting the nation is also trying to protect himself by any means.

Those who are criticizing the issue of arming yourself have policemen protecting them. Even their environment, including their homes, is surrounded by police. So, the common man is left to protect himself alone. Senators, governors and top government officials are being guarded by security men. So, who is left unprotected? The common man!

Wouldn’t that lead to a proliferation of arms in this volatile environment if everyone should arm himself? Couldn’t that be anarchy?

Well, you can say it is already leading to anarchy. But the proliferation of arms is what the situation calls for. But the point is that the same government who refuses or frowns at the idea of the ordinary citizen protecting himself, saying it is against the law, what is that same government saying about a herder with AK47 guns moving about, whom they are turbaning?

After turbaning, he goes back to the bush. What has the government done about that? Have they arrested him? How many of them have they tried because they don’t hide it? They carry guns, hold them on their neck like sticks and move along with their cattle. Fulani herdsmen don’t carry sticks anymore.

Now, they carry AK47 rifles. And yet, none has been tried for bearing arms. These are the issues. They allow a man who wants to kill you to be armed, and the fellow who is vulnerable is not allowed to protect himself, I really can’t understand. Nigerians should be very cautious of their security situation now. Because it has gotten to a situation that if you don’t have anything important to warrant stepping out of your house, you better not do. Nigeria is no longer a safe environment. That is quite clear. Remain indoors as much as you can.

Go to work, church or your business place and come back home safe. This is not the time to attend all sorts of social engagement as before. If these insurgents and criminals can be watching out for the elites in society, then who are you as ordinary citizens that should not be slaughtered like chickens on the street? We should all be very cautious.

Culled from Vanguard Nigeria