He came into the limelight after he was directed to take charge of Operation Messa – a military outfit saddled with the responsibility of fighting crime in Lagos State and environs. He put all his strength and professional acumen into the assignment after which he retired from the army. Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo speaks on his days in the military and security issues. Excerpts:
I give God the glory for serving and coming out in one piece, hale and hearty. In the military, you either exit voluntarily, or suffer a forced exit or by death do you part.
Blend into the civil society
From the day you are commissioned an officer, you are advised to start preparing for your exit. This preparation, to some of us, takes a holistic dimension. Certain fundamental questions about post-service life begins to agitate your mind as you grow career wise. So, with adequate preparation, integration into civil life can’t be a problem. I have not suffered any form of culture shock or intimidation in the course of my transition. The military equipped me adequately for my post-service life.
I am into security consultancy. I own and manage a security service delivery outfit. We are also working at expanding into the aviation and maritime security sub-sectors and this has kept us rather busy for some time now. As you know, these are critical areas to the economy and therefore entail high level technical competence and delivery capacity.
Competence and capacity
You can’t go it all alone except you are not desirous at making a difference in the industry. We are partnering with a foreign company to avail us technical competence, training and logistics support. Our foreign partners have the requisite capabilities with a presence in 31 countries worldwide (nine of these in Africa). With Nigeria gradually becoming the aviation and maritime hub within the sub-region, there are prospects for good business. Discussions have attained advanced levels and attorneys at both sides are currently fine tuning the joint MOU preparatory to a formal take-off.
It is important to state that performance is dependent upon a whole gamut of input-variants at interplay with each other. Performance is often a reflection of the level of commitment, training, logistics, welfare and environment. So, it would be foolhardy of me to just sit here and play the ignorant armchair critique when the key performance indices (KPI) are not known to me.
For instance, I had no Boko Haram challenges to contend with during my time, but today it has become a high profile inject on the daily threat analysis in the joint operations room. However, let me advise that as a joint operational platform, high level synergy, rapport and camaraderie should exist amongst the security agencies. Gone are the days of inter-service rivalry and superiority complex.
The Maitatsine option
Until Boko Haram is completely silenced, one can only say it is ‘work in progress.’ The battle against the Islamic Boko Haram sect is an asymmetrical one in which the belligerent force is neither seen nor known. That is the more reason politicians should stop aggravating the situation by their politically-induced pronouncements.
The military should avail the lead here and do just what is professionally required. Mind you, no politician can afford to be unpopular, and that accounts for the very irrational and nonsensical comments you hear them make, that soldiers were bombing or shelling innocent civilians. You don’t need to be a professional soldier to know that fighting in built up areas (FIBUA) attracts high level collateral damages. Nigerians should not be deceived by any 2015 vote-seeking-politician; we can’t fight Boko Haram at zero cost to innocent human lives.
Efforts can only be made to minimize such collateral damages. We missed out at the very early stage not to have come down heavily on Boko Haram the same way the Maitatsine sect was crushed in Kano. Unfortunately, we played politics with it, and we are all paying for it today. The military is doing its best through the JTF arrangement. We can only assist by words of encouragement. These are individuals laying down their lives for us all. If you have not experienced it, you may never appreciate what they go through. So, never say things that could dampen their spirit or demoralize the men.
JTF and STF
They should remain professionally focused in the execution of their given task. They must bear in mind at all times that, the task of keeping this country ONE and UNITED rests with the military at the end of the day when other things fail. The military remains the most pan-Nigerian organization or body with the capacity to save this country when the chips are down and our sovereign existence threatened.
Training emphasis must, therefore, be aimed at enhancing capacity in meeting contemporary challenges in internal security which today is characterized by armed struggle. Unfortunately, armed struggle or violence has become a rewarding past-time since initiators are sure of amnesty or pardon if only they remain consistent and extremely brutish.
Training doctrines would need to be repackaged especially in counter-revolutionary warfare to meet the peculiarities of our challenges in internal security operations. Current training curriculum must take into cognizance the specifics of our environment – culture, tradition, history, religion and ethnic relations. Doctrines and training should therefore be customized and inward looking aimed at meeting local internal security conflicts. My recent visit to India exposed me to how the Indian Defence Force has been able to internalize and develop on this to their advantage. Their entire doctrine is centered on their border issues with Pakistan and likely related threats. We can replicate same here.
The security agencies must be adequately equipped and troops morale sustained through a robust welfare and logistics modality that guarantees uninhibited flow of their allowances, ration, petroleum, oil lubricants, kitting, etc.
Synergy amongst operating agencies must exist and not taken for granted. Exchange of information and intelligence should be a critical and integral component of this synergy.
Strategies at meeting challenges must continually be redefined and complimented with a perfected community generated information process. Since these insurgents live amongst the people, the community must drive the information process. If the community is not a critical stakeholder at the input stage of your information gathering, then the overall higher commander’s intent may suffer.
The development of an information data bank to include biometric data of any suspicious element is a ‘must do.’
Embedding could be a belated strategy at this point except the circumstance and environment avails the right opportunity.
At the diplomatic level, foreign assistance could be sought by government from friendly nations with a wealth of experience fighting insurgency.
Engagement of experienced professionals from the private sector should be given some serious considerations especially in the areas of technology applications in enhancement of operability. This is where a good working cooperation with private security consultants and integrators can help seriously.
Two groups stand out profoundly here: Members of the American Society of Industrial Security – ASIS, members of the Society for Security Practitioners of Nigeria – SSPN. These bodies are made of some of the best brains in security matters. The emergence of the Department of Homeland Security in the United States after the 9/11 incidence exposed America to the enormous role its private sector security could play in leveraging existing gaps in the national security management. Government must reach out to these professional bodies and work with them.
On the legal front, citizen’s rights awareness is on the upward trend daily. It may not be too long before Nigerians begin to legally challenge damages to their properties. I am aware that Section 33(2) of the 1999 Constitution grants immunity to troops deployed on internal security operations (when lives are lost), but I doubt if this immunity covers damage to properties. Perhaps, other provisions do, but it is important that the Army Directorate of Legal Services commences some research in that direction.
I have always bemoaned the use we put our retired senior citizens especially in the process of information gathering. The fact remains that we have never been a security conscious people. We so jealously guard our freedom and liberty to a point of fault. Go round the entire rural Nigeria, you would be amazed at the number of retired civil servants and military personnel in their advanced ages, highly immobile but with sharp reflexes wasting away. These are hands that can very easily be mobilized in national interest at little or no cost to government.
Their past years of service had left them with imbued values of patriotism and service to mother-land. All that is required of government is to have a data bank of their full details and locations for administrative coordination. These old men and women, who do nothing but just sit under the trees in front of their compounds, will avail you very accurate information concerning the neighborhood. I applied this strategy successfully in 2001- 4 while overseeing internal security operations at Ika LGA in Akwa Ibom State, as a young Major. The result was mind boggling and assisted the military in providing informed advice to the political hierarchy then.
Amnesty to whom and for what? Amnesty to a bunch of terrorists and murderers of innocent Nigerians going about their lawful activities? Amnesty to elements who want to bring about a second civil war to this country? Look , I am from the northern part of this country, and I can confidently tell you that the emergence of Boko Haram is informed by a mixed grill of the following:
a. Activities of the northern political class. b. Bad governance and serially failed leadership. c. Endemic corruption at all levels. d. Unemployment, ignorance, poverty. e. Abuse of the Almajiri system of education. f. Wrong religious (doctrinal) adulteration. Today, the same vision less leadership in the North is asking for amnesty as an escape from their own creation that has gone out of control. However, in their subtle but desperate agitation, they attempt a comparison between the Boko Haram insurgency and the Niger Delta militancy.
These are two different situations. In the Niger Delta, it was a legitimate demand for restoration of rights of the people, withdrawn vide an unholy connivance between the state (as represented by the corrupt elite political class) and the imperialist oil companies. High level degradation of all source of livelihood had taken place: water, soil, air etc. Secondly, it was never a faceless agitation. From day one, great leaders like Adaka Boro, Saro Wiwa down to contemporaries like Asari Dokubo, Government Tompolo etc, were all well known faces ever ready for discussions.
Thirdly, the agitation was issue-driven with demands readily on the table. What are the issues for discussion with Boko Haram? They do not want western education? Who is forcing you to acquire western education? Even the average northern politician is comfortable with the wide spread ignorance you display around him, as it facilitates and creates a soft landing for his corrupt tendencies.
Is the demand for a theocratic state of Nigeria feasible today? Despite all the marginalization and silent oppressive policies visited on the minority Christian groups in the North, you have not Islamized northern Nigeria, is it Owerri and Calabar that you will Islamize? This is a wild dream that exposes the debt of doctrinal adulteration ongoing in some sects of the peaceful religion of Islam.
Release of insurgents arrested
Who would be held culpable for the death of innocent people, damage to private properties, churches and mosques?
I laugh at the idea of amnesty for these murderers. Unfortunately, government bought into the idea. The time has come for us to stop providing sanctuary for those who commit crimes. If you pick up arms against the state or group of innocent persons, you must face the music. You don’t play politics with insurgency and terrorism. Now that nearly 50 police officers were murdered in Nassarawa State, where are those politicians who castigated the military during the Bama and Baga incidents?
Before I give you my two fold prescriptions, I want you to know that the composition of the so-called Amnesty Committee is already faulty. The committee made up of persons who have no access to the group. Since they swung into action, rather than securing a truce, we have rather received a daily dose of fire power reaction from the group. The group has also turned down government’s offer of amnesty saying it was never consulted prior to setting up the committee. Secondly, given the emergence of splinter groups within the rank and file of Boko Haram, it would be difficult identifying a single individual with the semblance of a grand commander or with the requisite clout to command the respect of all splinter groups under one command structure for the purpose of interfacing with government.
Government should bring its might to bear on these terrorists. Nowhere in the world does a government allow itself to be ridiculed. I prescribe a full battle against the insurgents reminiscent of the Maitatsine experience in Kano. If you must go the amnesty way, then the following steps would be required to be taken secretly: * Set up a committee of recognized and acceptable persons to both the sect; identify and maintain an inner caucus of say five key persons with good accessibility to the group to play pivotal roles in brokering the peace; invite representatives of peaceful sects with whom Boko Haram shares understanding to initiate and prepare grounds for the larger round table talks; extract a minimum of six months ceasefire commitment from the insurgents preparatory to talks; take stock of Victims and their dependents; take stock of sect members in custody. On this basis, you can now progress. No issuance of money to any government group.
But, unfortunately, government got it wrong. The absence of faces like Mallam Shehu Sani of the Civil Rights Congress, Dr Ahmed Datti, a popular Muslim leader, and Ahmed Sakiya, a journalist from Maiduguri did not make the Amnesty Committee sellable to Boko Haram. These three gentlemen could have been persuaded to remain on the amnesty team in the interest of the nation.
These were the same men who succeeded in taking President Obasanjo to the leadership of the sect. The sect endorsed Dr Ahmed Datti through Ahmed Sakiya to represent them at the proposed talks. For such a respectful Nigerian to have been chosen, it means that he has access to the group, earns their credibility and respect. Conditions were given by the sect for the proposed talks which, we gather reliably, were frustrated by. At the end of the day, the Niger-Delta amnesty template would be adopted and customized for the Boko Haram insurgents. There would be training abroad, monthly salaries, reconstruction of houses, contracts for northern leaders and most likely a Ministry for Northern Affairs.
Hangers-on are already positioning, jobless shoe shiners, mallams and gate men of northern extraction scattered in other parts of the country are hopefully now on standby to return home, and get registered as Boko Haram elements and enjoy their own share of the monthly allowance or salary that would surely be paid out.
But bear in mind that you have taken care of the South – South, you are now taking care of the North. OPC and MASSOP are watching with keen interest.