President Goodluck Jonathan recently commissioned a ballistic vest factory complex at the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) in Kaduna for the production and sale of military ancillary products including bullet-proof vests and night vision goggle equipments.
The President, at the occasion, re-stated his administration's commitment to "creating the requisite enabling environment for local manufacturing industries to grow, become major employers of labour and progressively become globally competitive".
Established in 1964, DICON produces arms and ammunitions for Nigerian military and the nation's other security agencies. It operates an Ordinance Factory in Kaduna where it manufactures small arms and ammunitions including assault rifles (similar to AK-47), machine guns and sub machine guns. Its Special Vehicle Plant undertakes the refurbishing and upgrading of Scorpion light tanks and Styr tracked Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs). The company has also developed 60 and 81mm mortars. DICON remains the only legal small arms and light weapons manufacturer in Nigeria.
The Act of Parliament establishing DICON requires it to use its excess capacity to support the development of local industries. However, the Nigerian public perception of the company today, several years after it came into existence, is that DICON has not sufficiently met the expectations of its founders. President Jonathan, in his speech at the occasion, lamented that DICON has been limited by its inability to expand its production, hoping that the recent commissioning of the vests factory would provide basis for that expansion.
On January 24 this year, DICON and MARON Nigeria Limited signed an agreement to establish the factory. The joint venture agreement is in furtherance of the Federal Government's policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the defence industry. MAROM-DOLPHIN is an Israeli company that specializes in military and security textile products. MARON says it is the main authorized supplier of tactical and bullet-proof vests to the Israeli military and ministry of defence. The DICON-MAROM partnership, according to Mr President, signifies that DICON has keyed in to government's local content policy which aims at building indigenous capacity for the development of our national economy.
It is nonetheless a laudable stride that DICON is now able to engage in the local production of bullet proof vests and textile wears for the Nigerian armed forces and other security agencies in the country. It is an improvement in the area of local capacity production. The local manufacture of these materials and equipments will save the country a lot of cost especially in the given circumstances of insecurity in the past few years where huge budgetary allocations are expended to purchase tools to tackle such challenges that threaten the very essence of our corporate existence. The sale by DICON of locally manufactured armoured fabrics and vehicles to neighbouring countries that are in need could make the venture a sustainable source of revenue for the country. As a sovereign nation, the local production of our military wares gives us a strategic advantage as such would keep our enemies in the dark about the stockpile of the country's armament. Importing all that the country needs for her territorial integrity exposes her to open threats, leaving the country at the mercy of countries from where weapons and allied equipments were imported.
While it is commendable that DICON produces light weapons, it is not good enough to stop at that because similar companies in other countries like Brazil that started almost at the same time with Nigeria have evidently gone far. DICON needs to and can do more specially by venturing into the manufacture of heavy military hardware including aircraft fighters. Brazil which started at the same time with Nigeria, for instance, today produces jet fighters. DICON is also encouraged to consider the possibility of producing electronic security gadgets for intelligence, forensic and surveillance purposes. This may include CCTV cameras, bomb detectors, etc.
In order to sustain the company, the government could compel federal agencies to patronize DICON unless the products they require are not produced locally. It could go further to ban the importation of all materials produced by DICON. While the DICON-MARON may be a commendable PPP initiative, it is important that the industry should, for strategic reasons, be more involved in partnership with local companies in order to enhance its capability and ensure the diversification of its products range for local needs.