The Nigerian government has depended on foreign arms supply in combating insurgency in the country. But as Nigeria’s insecurity situation escalates with new features such as banditry and Unknown Gun Men (UGM), the government is seeking a reprieve from dependence on foreign arms supply through local production of arms.
On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari said it’s time Nigeria starts building its own weapons to curtail dependence on foreign supply.
He made this known during his opening remarks at a two-day Mid-Term Ministerial Performance Review Retreat, organized to assess progress made towards the achievement of the nine key priorities of his Administration.
Buhari said he has instructed the Ministry of Defense to create a modest military industrial complex for the local production of weapons to meet some of the requirements of the country’s armed forces. He explained that the establishment of the industrial complex would address Nigeria’s over-dependence on other countries for military equipment and logistics.
The project, he explained, was being implemented under the Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), a military department responsible for arms manufacture.
“To address our over-dependence on other countries for military equipment and logistics, I have instructed the Defence Ministry to create a modest military industrial complex for the local production of weapons to meet some of the requirements of the country’s armed forces. This is being implemented under the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), a military department responsible for arms manufacture”.
In the past, the federal government’s attempt to purchase arms from the United States, under President Goodluck Jonathan, was reportedly rejected by the US government, at the heat of Boko Haram insurgency. Recently, Nigeria received six A-29 Super Tucano propeller-driven aircraft from the United States, which are currently being used for training, surveillance and attack by the military.
“It is gratifying to note that only recently, we received six A-29 Super Tucano aircrafts as part of our efforts to boost the nation’s campaign against insecurity. The propeller-driven aircrafts are being used for training, surveillance and attack by the Military. President Buhari said it is part of efforts to strengthen national security.
“As part of the efforts towards strengthening our national security, we have increased investments in arms, weapons and other necessary equipment; expanded the National Command and Control Centre to nineteen states of the federation; and established a Nigerian Police Trust Fund, which will significantly improve funding for the Nigeria Police Force,” he said.
The newly acquired Super Tucano aircrafts highlight how much Nigeria depends on foreign nations for arms, and it is believed to lend credence to the move by the federal government to establish local arms production. However, there is a major concern.
The proliferation of arms in Nigeria has become a national crisis that the federal government is grappling with. President Buhari mentioned arms smuggling as one of the reasons Nigerian land borders were shut in 2019.
Last year, SBM Intelligence’s report estimated the number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria at 6,145,000, with armed forces and security agents accounting for 586,600 firearms.
The proliferation of illicit firearms, which has unprecedentedly fueled crimes and terrorism in the country, has been attributed largely to locally made weapons. The National Small Arms and Light Weapons Survey said locally manufactured arms contribute to a large percentage of arms in circulation in Northern Nigeria especially in North Central, a point SBM Intelligence supported.
“In Benue and Plateau states, both in the North Central region, locally made weapons are estimated to be used in over 50% of crimes committed – 62% for Benue State, and 69% for Plateau State. In Adamawa State in the North East, it is 32%,” it said.
Against this backdrop, Nigeria’s government’s move to begin local arms production raises further concern about public safety since there has been a huge vacuum in efforts to control arms circulation. Although in May, President Buhari set up an arms control unit dubbed National Center for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NCCSALW), which is domiciled in the office of the National Security Adviser, there is skepticism about how much it can do.
Nigerian security forces have been accused of complicity in the smuggling of arms into the country, and helping local manufacturers of arms to distribute them across Nigeria. This loophole has fuelled doubts about the ability of the newly inaugurated NCCSALW to contain the circulation of illicit firearms in Nigeria, it also questions the government’s capacity to protect locally manufactured arms from getting into the wrong hands.