By Sunday Ani
Hassan Stan-Labo, a retired colonel in the Nigerian army and a security consultant, has attributed the escalating security situation in the North, particularly in Southern Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger State among others, to lack of guts and will power on the part of the government to do what needs to be done. He lamented that the government rather than classify bandits and kidnappers as terrorists, which they are and devise appropriate measures to confront them, is bringing religion and ethnicity into the matter, thereby worsening the situation.
In this exclusive chat, he spoke on the escalating security situation in the country, the government’s insincerity in the fight against banditry and terrorism, the newly acquired Tucano fighter jets, restructuring, and the 2023 presidency among other national issues.
There is a report that over 3000 Nigerians have been killed by bandits and Boko Haram terrorists in the last three months. How do you feel about the report and what do you think are the implications of the report?
First and foremost, the report speaks of the viciousness of the bandits within the Nigerian space. It also speaks of their capabilities. We are talking about bandits that have anti-aircraft capability and are able to bring down combat operational aircraft. As far as I am concerned, those are no longer bandits but terrorists. Unfortunately, we belong to a country where our contemporary leadership labels them as bandits. The report speaks of the vulnerability of the Nigerian people. It speaks of the lack of capacity of our country to defend its people because of the sort of leadership we have in place. It poses the big question – is the Nigerian nation overwhelmed?
The Federal Government has just announced the arrival of some Tucano fighter jets into the country to help prosecute the war against terrorism, banditry and sundry crimes. How do you think this can help the country’s security situation?
Acquiring them is one thing and engaging them is another. If only we have the political will and the guts to engage them operationally, I can assure you it will go a long way in ameliorating the situation on ground. This is because first of all, look at the aircraft and its capabilities; it has got air to air and air to ground capabilities. It is of high operational value. It has, mounted on it, a central mission computer system and it has two of those with inter-weapon system capabilities that includes soft wares for weapon aiming, management and planning as well as mission rehearsal. That means that you can rehearse your mission on ground even before embarking on any operation. It has the capability for even post mission analysis. It also has, mounted on it, general purpose machine guns with 1100 rounds per minute capability. That is, it can release over 1100 rounds within a minute while in flight. It is also a surveillance aircraft; it can help for air surveillance and navigation as well as air tracking. It is an air-bomber and an attacker. It is just a wonderful piece of machine on our inventory. It makes us a proud air force because we are beginning to now launch into the 21 century air capability armament.
Talking about political will, can we now attribute the escalating security situation in the North, particularly in Southern Kaduna, Zamfara and recently, Niger State to this lack of political will that you talked about?
Of course, the government lacks the political will in carrying out the required operations in all these areas. That is why the situations in the locations mentioned are busy escalating due to leadership sentiments that have been brought to bear on them, and when I say sentiment, I am looking at all the religious and ethnic considerations that are being brought into the security issues on ground. Government lacks the political will and guts to do the needful because those who should give the executive orders don’t want to go against their people. They are bringing ethnic and religious factors to override the overall national interest. When leadership is clouded by such elements, you cannot get the best and that is why the Boko Haram terrorists on ground running in our forests are being labeled as bandits. Where do you see bandits with anti-aircraft capability, bringing down jet fighters? If you call that banditry, then what will you call terrorism? It is unfortunate. By now, we don’t need to be told that what has engulfed the entire Nigerian nation from the West to the East, North and South is terrorism and that Boko Haram, and ISWAP terrorists are everywhere in Nigeria. Government should stop branding them as bandits or kidnappers because all those are meant to veil up the actual name meant for these guys. They are terrorists and they should be treated as terrorists. Bandits don’t go around dropping logistics for their colleagues with aircrafts in forests; those cannot be bandits but terrorists. So, get your labeling right so that you can apply the right treatment to the ailment that you are suffering from.
Many Nigerians insist that herdsmen, bandits and Boko Haram terrorists are one and the same people, differentiated only by tactics. Do you share the same sentiment?
Sure. That assertion resonates with me comfortably. Yes, in Nigeria they are one. In fact, they are terrorists.
What is your reaction to the arrest of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and the Yoruba nation agitator, Sunday Igboho, and their subsequent prosecution, even when the likes of Ahmad Gumi and some Miyetti Allah leaders who know much about the bandits and have made statements that could compromise the nation’s security are left untouched?
Put in simple language, the governments at both national and sub-national levels are busy protecting what I will call their own. There are no two ways of putting it. Look at the case of Pantami; this is a sitting minister who has confessed to us all of his relationship with the terrorists in the past. What have we done with it? Is he not still sitting at the cabinet today; at the strategic level of decision making? As we finish making decisions, while we are still to implement, he is relaying back to his terrorist brothers and telling them the latest. What have we done with that one? We have quickly coined up all sorts of excuses for him; oh! He was only 33 years old; he was only a religious preacher who by that time never knew what he was doing. It is unfortunate. We are busy protecting some individuals. The international community is laughing at us because as far as the fight against terrorism is concerned, we have not even started.
It seems Nigerians are at a crossroads in this issue of insecurity; what do you advise them to do at this point?
Nigerians should defend themselves. Your personal security is your responsibility. You graduate from there to say the security of your family, your neighbour or community is your responsibility. To sit down and fold your arms for one bloody clown by whatever name you call them – foreign or indigenous Fulani, to come from nowhere and slaughter you; you are on your own. It is clear to everybody by now that our government cannot protect us. We don’t need anybody to come and tell us so. If you are waiting for one heavenly voice to tell you that, you can never hear one. Protect yourselves and how you do that is your choice; I leave that to your discretion. But protect yourself, conscious of the fact that your personal security is your responsibility.
The Senate has just voted against the electronic voting and transmission of election results even when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) insists that it has the capacity to do so. Some Nigerians see the Senate’s action as a sign that the outcome of the 2023 presidential election is already decided even before it is held. Do you agree with that submission?
Of course, I agree and it is unfortunate for a 21st century Nigeria. I expect parliament to be able to assist the state in building its resilience and capabilities in meeting up with challenges through the type of bills they pass. Unfortunately in Nigeria, that is not what we see. We still have a parliament that is too conscious of its personal wellbeing instead of that of the people. A parliament that does not take into cognizance the future of Nigeria; it is more concerned about what can come into its pocket. It is unfortunate. INEC today has been reduced to an organ that is answerable to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the national assembly, yet we say it is independent; where is the independence? You see politicians, unfortunately, have become the bane of our problems in Nigeria today.
Talking about politicians, what is your take on the recent gale of defections from other parties to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) by politicians, particularly the state governors, ahead of the 2023 general elections?
They are merely repositioning for 2023; that’s all. A governor who knows that he has not performed or who has a feeling that the people are not too happy with him or that his party is not cooperating with him, immediately moves to the next available party because you know there is no difference between the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So, he moves on to the next chair, draws it and sits on it, whether it is APC or PDP, a chair is a chair because PDP and APC are one and the same thing. Political parties in Nigeria today are not ideologically tuned; they are ideologically blind. So, they are one and the same thing. There was a time when politicians were identified with the parties they belonged to. In the second republic when we had the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and others, you could identify politicians with these parties but can you say that today? The answer is no.
What is your position on the clamour for restructuring by some sections of the country?
That is where I think the bulk of the solution to our problems lies, if only we can have a set of leadership that will actually stop paying lip service to restructuring but do it. We are approaching another election year; all political parties will be preaching restructuring. APC told us they would restructure and we voted them in; have they restructured? When Southerners were shouting restructuring, a son of the soil in the person of Goodluck Jonathan came on board; why did he not restructure? So, you find out that politicians are one and the same; whether they are from the North or South. We, the ordinary people are the ones hitting our heads together; don’t let anyone deceive you. Why did Jonathan not restructure? The same reason for which Jonathan did not restructure is the same reason for which President Muhammadu Buhari has not restructured. So, restructuring is just the way to go but we need to put it down and ask ourselves in what way we need to restructure. You can start from the physical restructuring. Are we breaking up from the 36 states into six zonal structures and maintaining that? Yes, and you move on. Will each region control its resources; and how much will be contributed to the centre? Yes, and you move on again and so on and so forth, so that there will be a healthy competition like we had in the First Republic, which has helped the West. Today, the North can never catch up with the west, when it comes to western education, no matter what it does. All we are talking of now in the North is to copy the good things the West has done and see how we can beef up our level educationally. If there was to be that healthy competition which made Chief Obafemi Awolowo to build his Cocoa House and other infrastructure without oil money, the country would have moved forward since. But, here we are; restructuring is just the solution.