Nigeria’s weapon production plan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to the Ministry of Defence to produce a plan for the establishment of a military industrial complex for the local production of weapons for use by the nation’s armed forces is not only a welcome development, it signals a new shift in the nation’s mentality. For not only would this end the existing overdependence on other countries for military equipment and logistics, it could kick-start comprehensive industrialisation and restore national pride. The president who handed this directive at the graduation ceremony of the National Defence College in Abuja told the Ministry of Defence “to liaise with strategic ministries, departments and agencies to re-engineer the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) to meet national military hardware and logistics requirements.” The president followed up with a directive to the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) to partner with DICON and commence the manufacturing of light weapons that it has designed. Even as a directive, this seeming re-discovery of Nigeria’s sense of national priorities is re-assuring.
DICON was established by an Act of Parliament in 1964, for the purpose of manufacturing arms and ammunition for the nation’s military and security agencies. The West German manufacturing firm, Fritz Werner was its technical partner which was assigned the task of providing technical expertise and setting up the ordnance factory in Kaduna. Fritz Werner designed and built the Kaduna Ordnance Factories in 1964 with varying production capacities to produce light weapons. In 1979, the Federal Government signed an agreement with Steyr Daimler Puch AG (Defence Division) of Austria. The agreement provided for the construction of a factory building at Bauchi State, complete with all utilities for the production of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC). All of these were built but later neglected at various stages. Chinese experts who were at some point engaged to work on a new production line also left. And with these setbacks, arm procurement became a cocoon of sleaze.
The consequence of negligence and maladministration is that the country’s defence complex has continued to depend on the whims and caprices of outside powers. An embarrassing moment for the country in the arms importation regime was the recent case when cash running into several millions of dollars ostensibly to shop for arms in the black market was seized by the South Africans. There was also the embarrassing news that the Boko Haram insurgents were more kitted than the nation’s soldiers. In ways that stood against efforts at defeating the insurgents in the north-east, the United States refused to help the country with equipment and training on grounds that Nigerian troops were involved in human rights violation in the frontline. The U.S. rationalised its position under the Leahy Act which prevents it from supporting other countries’ militarily on grounds of human rights violation. The morale of the nation’s army and national pride were harmed in no small way for a country ranked as a regional power.
A nation’s weaponry and arms production are a source of national pride. It is an embedded element of the traditional concept of national security that focuses on a country’s ability to defend itself. Citizens’ security is guaranteed to the extent that the state is able to offer protection from both ideological and military interferences from other states in the global system. Whatever its present fortune, DICON has the capacity to manufacture weapons and in fact did so in recent past. Obviously infected by the Nigerian factor of deliberate undermining in order to allow for profiteering by arms merchants and contractors, the military was, before now, consciously underfunded by self-interested past leaders who equated their personal greed for power with the national interest.
In order to bolster the new impetus for domestic production, commandants in such strategic areas should be left to complete their assignment while competent retired officers should be employed as consultants or be allowed to work there in some advisory capacities. Also, Nigeria should harness whatever is left of the expertise in weaponry developed during the civil war by Nigerians of eastern extraction to boost the defence industry. Historically, military technological development always sprouts from a nation’s war experience. Also, the defence industry must build synergy with the academia and tap into its research potential while the Diaspora community has a lot to contribute as well. The arms industry is highly innovative and Nigeria must harness all resources to keep up with the pace, at least in the manufacturing of small arms and light weapons for internal security.
That Nigeria lags behind other developing countries in self-sufficiency in arms production should be a source of worry. Nearly 55 years after independence, the country ought to be able to boast of a flourishing industrial military complex that is able to manufacture not only the platforms required by the military but also some civil goods for the national economy. It is an assault on the Nigerian national psyche to know that the Brazilian Defence industry which was sired about the same time as Nigeria has progressed from manufacturing of mere ammunition to combat helicopters. A nation is secure only to the extent that it has the capacity for self-defence.