Monday comment1

The progress in self-reliance in the defence sector should be sustained, writes Salisu Na’inna Dambatta

Exciting times are clearly back at the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), Kaduna, where activities are picking up reminiscent of its busiest era in the early 1970s.

The upswing in production activities at the armament manufacturer was triggered by a directive by President Muhammadu Buhari that the armed forces and paramilitary organisations in the country procure some of their materials, including uniforms, from the organization.

The recent signing of an agreement between DICON and the Nigerian Army for the local fabrication and supply of 28 units of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle is the latest publicised major military procurement from DICON. It represents a commendable compliance with the directive of the commander-in-chief. 

The fact that the vehicle was designed and built by Command Engineering Depot in collaboration with the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria is evidence of the determination of Nigeria to achieve substantial self-reliance in the design, fabrication and deployment of robust military equipment in-country.

Recall that Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to President Buhari issued a press statement saying that the president had on Friday, August 7, 2015, instructed the Ministry of Defence to prepare a plan for the establishment of a Military Industrial Complex in the country. 

The president gave the directive in a speech at the graduation ceremony of the National Defence College. He said Nigeria’s over-dependence on other countries for critical military equipment and logistics was unacceptable. “We must evolve viable mechanisms for near self-sufficiency in military equipment and logistics production complemented only by very advanced foreign technologies,” the president said. 

While DICON and the research arm of the Nigerian Army are making joint efforts to achieve the goals set by the president through collaborative projects, other sister services namely the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force are treading the same path of developing or sourcing many of their needs at home. 

Marine and Petroleum Nigeria, an online outlet, reported that the Nigerian navy has entered into an agreement with Nigerian ship builders for the fabrication of 100 vessels.

“In its bid to adequately patrol the waterways and curb illegalities in Nigeria’s maritime domain, the Nigerian navy has entered into agreements with two indigenous companies to manufacture about 100 gun boats and patrol vessels in Nigeria,” the report says.

The contract indicates that various classes of vessels including gun boats, patrol vessels, ambulance boats, mass transit boats and boat houses with special adaptations for efficient naval operations were ordered. Some of the boats are 8.2 meters long, fitted with automatic grenade launchers (AGL), which are extremely versatile high velocity ammunition. 

The Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, said the locally-built vessels “contribute to Nigeria’s national security and prosperity and come at half the cost of acquiring vessels from overseas.” 

The Nigerian Navy has earlier built NNS ANDONI, the country’s first locally built warship. It is a 31m Seaward Defence Boat (SDB) with sufficient fire power to beat enemies at sea.

The navy also built NNS KARADUWA, which is a 38.9 meter-long boat designated as SDB II. It was commissioned in December 2016 by President Buhari, roughly one year after his directive at the Defence College, Abuja.

The Nigerian Navy says the vessel has a draught of 4.1m, a breath of 7.5m, a top speed of 22 knots and an endurance of 12 days at a cruising speed of 12 knots. KARADUWA can carry a crew of 37 while its weapons comprise a remote-controlled 20mm gun, six 12.7 machine guns and one 40mm AGL.

In a similar inward-looking drive, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) said on its website that it has signed an agreement with Machine Tools, Oshogbo, covering training, machining, fabrication, casting as well as research and development. It also covers the development and provision of personal, vehicular and aircraft protective equipment.

The Nigerian Air Force has equally signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with 15 universities in the country for research and development purposes. The agreements are yielding the desired results.

And the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) Kaduna, showcased the outcomes of its Research and Development (R&D) breakthroughs, during its 47th convocation ceremony. They included a prototype Oleo-Pneumatic Shock Absorber for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), an Automatic Solar Tracking System and a Rocket Launcher Circuit Test Box. Others were a prototype of Light Weight Helicopter, an unmanned Hexacopter as well as the adaptation and installation of BO-105 Helicopter guns on the Bell 412 Helicopters.

In its continuing bid to boost self-reliance, the NAF, using its technicians, has successfully reconfigured two demilitarised Alpha Jets in its inventory that were without weapon delivery capability into combat platforms that drop lethal ammunition.

In summary, it can be seen that the Defence Industries Corporation and the military services are working with other institutions to achieve near self-reliance in the design and development of military equipment.

The tempo of our national progress toward self-reliance in the defence sector should be expanded and sustained in line with the vision of President Buhari to develop “a modest” military industrial complex for our country.

 Dambatta is a retired Federal Director of Information, Abuja