Shortly after General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) assumed office as President in 2015, he delivered a speech at the National Defence College in Abuja saying he wanted an overhaul of the country’s Defence Industries Corporation (DICON) a military division responsible for weapons production which was set up in 1964 after its first technical partner , Fritz Werner of Germany designed and built it’s Kaduna Ordinance Factories with the following production capacities, 5000 units of BM59 Riffles per year, 18000 units of SMG 12 per year, 12000 rounds of 7.62mm X 51 per year and 40,000 rounds of 9mm X 19 per year. But the factory fell into decline after the Nigerian civil war .
“We must evolve viable mechanisms for near-self-sufficiency in military equipment and logistics production complemented only by very advanced foreign technologies”, said the President. He affirmed that Nigeria’s dependence on other countries for critical military equipment was unacceptable.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan focused on foreign suppliers for weapons to fight the Boko Haram insurgency and had its fingers burnt. In 2014 a dispute arose between Nigeria and South Africa after South Africa seized $15 million in funds which Nigeria said was legitimate deals procuring weapons for our armed forces.
But President Buhari demonstrated his seriousness to ensure local production of arms on February 2, 2018 when he signed the Executive Orders 5 (EO5) directing ministries, departments and agencies of government to engage indigenous professionals in the planning, design and execution of national security projects and maximise in-country capacity in all contacts and transactions with science, engineering and technology components.
Since Buhari’s Executive Order 5, DICON in collaboration with an indigenous arms company, Proforce Defence limited, manufactured the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protective (MRAP) vehicle named in honour of General Victor Ezugwu on whose stewardship as Director-General of DICON the MRAP was manufactured. The Ezugwu MRAP is reportedly armoured against small arms fire and using flat bottom armour technology, its hull can withstand a 7kg TNT explosion and its wheel can withstand a 12kg TNT explosion.
Deploying the Ezugwu MRAP has tremendously improved the operational efficiency of Nigerian troops fighting terrorism, banditry and other emerging security threats in the country. The Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister affirmed the efficiency of Ezugwu MRAP when they ordered 52 more of the MRAP to be produced for the Army by the third quarter of this year . This is in addition to the 25 already in use,
DICON is reportedly looking at supplying the police and other security agencies many of its non-kinetic equipment for their operations. Other locally produced vehicles include Conqueror and Champion Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) that were designed and built by the Army’s engineering unit.
Proforce is equally delivering its APC’s to the Army even as the recently established Nigerian Army Vehicle Manufacturing Company (NAVMC) is said to be developing several armoured vehicles namely an Infantry Patrol Vehicle (IPV) fitted with a mounted heavy machinegun, a Light Tactical vehicle armoured personnel carrier for the Nigerian military. The Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika, says his ministry will partner with DICON in various areas including airports security.
However the Nigeria Army is still dependent on profiteering foreign suppliers of military equipment at the expense of Nigerians, many of whom live below the poverty line. The country is still experiencing severe shortage of modern military equipment which is extremely important in terms of the continuous fight against terrorist groups in the country.
This is because the contract obligations of western manufacturers of those military hardware are based on their own perceptions of current processes and political situation in Nigeria and the regime’s ambitious. These companies also get additional gains by using their governments to block Nigeria’s opportunities for developing military and technical cooperation with over countries which might propose more profitable military equipment contracts without any political claims.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, like the President equally made a case for less-dependence on western-made arms in August last year when he disclosed that some world powers have refused to sell weapons the country required to combat insurgency.
“When the international community is weighed by unsubstantiated arguments to deny the country of vital platforms and weapons to fight insecurity, you cannot turn around to accuse the country of not fighting terrorism” he said.
Nigeria must continue its march to develop its own modest military industrial complex. The current dependence on foreign arms suppliers given their contract obligations, even undermines the capacity of the Nigerian State to enforce the liability of foreign arms suppliers for the violation of international law in Nigeria. It equally incapacitates the Nigerian state to mediate between international actors and their host countries, reducing the country to a giant without strength.
Ikwue writes from Akwanga