THE recent admonition by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that the Nigerian military should revitalise its capacity to manufacture arms and ammunition is both a wake-up call and a sad reminder of how the country has misplaced its priorities and missed opportunities to achieve greatness. In the context of current security challenges and the “arms race” it has provoked, and the state of the national and global economy, this resonates. Without further delay, Nigeria must radically restructure its crawling military industrial sub-sector to meet domestic demand and for export.
This requires a complete overhaul and massive private sector investment in the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria and in start-ups, with the objectives of reducing dependence on foreign armaments, building a regional and global arms manufacturing and export hub, and promoting skills acquisition, technology and innovation, and creating jobs.
At the 32nd convocation of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Osinbajo rightly pointed out that with Nigeria’s size, population, current security challenges and threats to its citizenry and sovereignty, it is “absolutely imperative that we build our indigenous national defence capabilities. This means revitalising our local military-industrial complex and investing in the local capacity to manufacture armaments.”
With emerging global threats, shifting alliances and disruptions to international trade, wise nations do not totally rely on imported armaments for their internal and external security. Besides, it is established that military investment drives innovation and IT, and economic development. During the early 1980s, the military-industrial complex accounted for 28.9 percent of all Research and Development spending in the United States. In Israel, over 150 firms are engaged in the defence industrial sector, and they export 70 percent of their products.
For Nigeria, concurrently at war with different non-state actors; bandits, Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists, armed herdsmen, kidnappers and other criminals, dependence on importation is injurious, unacceptable, and costly. Expending scarce foreign exchange earnings on buying most of its arms needs exposes the state’s vulnerability.
Today, Nigeria relies on others for basic equipment and weapons and ammunition from a multiplicity of countries. Police, military, and other paramilitary units have the standard foreign-made Ak-47 assault rifles; and tanks, armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery to ships and airplanes are imported. This also creates dependence on others for parts, ammunition, and technical expertise.
To be sure, no country today is completely self-reliant in military hardware, not even the major arms exporters. Despite being the top manufacturers of arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute, the United States, Russia, China, Germany, and Spain also import military equipment for their security forces.
Nigeria’s case is however another indicator of its dysfunctional governance. Like its counterparts in Brazil, India, and Singapore established in the 1960s, DICON was established in 1964 with German technical support. It had a promising start, producing 5,000 BM 59 rifles per annum, 18,000 units of SMG 12, 12 million rounds of 7.62mm X 51 per annum and four million rounds of 9mm X 19 per annum.
During the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), DICON tripled its production and played a significant role in arms supply. But thereafter, incompetence, stagnation, nepotism, and corruption reigned. It delved into producing items outside its core mandate, like furniture and industrial spare parts.
DICON admitted that “after the war in 1970 the lucrative arms market for DICON ended and in order to remain in business, DICON decided to use its equipment to produce civilian items.” What makes a country great is vision, translated into long-term policies that it doggedly sees through. While 58 years after it was established, DICON is not significant in the global arms industry, the results of visionary, responsible leadership are visible elsewhere.
Admittedly, DICON has been making strides recently, making drones, light weapons, vehicles and recently secured a contract to manufacture 52 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles in 2021. Compared to its peers, however, it is a late starter.
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Brazil’s Embraer, founded in the 1960s like DICON, by 1985, the New York Times reported, employed 100,000 workers, and 90 per cent of its production was for export, successfully cutting off its reliance on the US for spare parts and boosting the country’s earning from arms sales to $2 billion.
The value of its light arms exports, according to Publica, rose from $109.6 million in 2005 to $321.6 million in 2010, with an average of 2,456 arms exported daily. The 12 Super Tucano jets the Nigerian Air Force purchased from the US are actually a Brazilian brand. More than 50 armed forces across the world operate its defence airplanes and systems.
India’s military-industrial complex (also birthed in the 1960s) earned $1.47 billion in export revenues in 2018-2019. It provides 45-50 percent of the country’s defence products, according to The Economic Times. Juxtaposed with its position of the second largest military (after China) with 1.45 million active personnel, the third largest defence budget spender in 2021 (after US, China), and its reserve force of 5.1 million personnel, this is huge. India has built its own naval aircraft carrier, only six other countries—US, Russia, United Kingdom, China, France and Japan – have achieved that feat.
Nigeria’s over-reliance on others is fraught. When the US blocked arms sales to it, Nigeria resorted to the black market, during which its $15 million, including $9.3million cash, was seized by the South African government in 2014. Such an embarrassment could have been avoided if the country had a vibrant domestic arms industry.
India, Brazil, Turkey, Iran and others succeeded by the persistent pursuit of long-term policies and objectives, irrespective of administration, or external and internal political and economic trajectories. In September, India launched its first home-built aircraft carrier, in addition to other milestones. Singapore’s domestic arms industry started in 1967 is recognised globally despite focusing on small and mid-range armaments.
One route is privatisation; Brazil’s state-owned arms industry struggled until it was privatised in the 1990s; today, the government owns just 0.03 percent “Golden Share” in the Embraer. It was after privatisation that it soared. India has unloaded 20 percent of its state-owned firm. The Nigerian government should also divest from DICON and drastically reduce its stake to no more than 20 percent.
In the meantime, DICON should be run strictly on commercial principles. Appointments should be based on competence. Personnel should be head-hunted from around the world, including competent Diasporan Nigerians working in defence industries abroad.
Government should put in place favourable policies and a strong regulatory framework to drive the activities in the sector. Arms, ammunition, and armaments rely on steel, and moribund industries, including Ajaokuta, should be transparently privatised. DICON should undergo thorough audits and reform preparatory to a transparent, corruption-free, and crony-free privatisation.
In the late 1980s, a DICON-German collaboration produced the ‘Air Beetle’ aircraft in Nigeria, and they were good enough for training and surveillance. Such programmes should be upgraded, and new ones initiated.
Osinbajo’s call is timely; the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should drive the rejuvenation process. Nigeria should play ‘catch-up’ with other emerging economies in the military-industrial sector.
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