President Muhammadu Buhari last week unveiled locally built Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) war vehicles named Ezugwu. Produced by the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) and Command Engineering Depot (CED), the tanks are "designed to carry out insertion and extraction of troops, assault, counter-terrorism, delivery of high fire power and urban warfare."
Other armaments unveiled during the Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference, in Kaduna were anti-aircraft guns that also carry a crew of twelve commanders, driver, two gunners and eight soldiers.
The president said these were parts of efforts to modernize the Army and to promote local content towards developing Nigeria's Military Industrial Complex.
In a major policy speech at the National Defence College in Abuja on August 8 2015, Buhari had tasked the Ministry of Defence to ramp up the domestic manufacture of weapons and to draw up "clear and measurable outlines for development of a modest military industrial complex for Nigeria."
If the array of military hardware displayed last week is a direct consequence of the President's promise four years ago, then it gives great hope that Nigeria is once again on the path of matching words with action. But this hope can only be sustained if the Army continues to roll up more potent weapons in the coming years and use them well to secure the country.
A long overdue project, the vehicles would protect Nigerian soldiers from being killed by landmines planted at unsuspecting communities or fields by Boko Haram fighters being displaced by soldiers. Most countries fighting intractable wars use MRAP when taking possession of areas that had been under the control of insurgents for months or years. In Nigeria, in increasing numbers from improvised explosive devices planted in roads by insurgents have created havocs to soldiers and civilians. This is why DICON's feat is very relevant in the war against terrorists in the North-East.
While the military and the government are entitled to bask in the glory of the moment, it is worth stating that similar weapons and other equipment were launched with fanfare in the past only to prove ineffective at the critical moment.
Again, the manufacture of these weapons came about 40 years late because DICON, established in 1964, was supposed to have built such weapons a long time ago. Brazil and India set up their military industrial complex the same time as DICON, and had gone ahead to build not only a formidable defence system but they are now into nuclear and space technology.
DICON, on the other hand, has fallen into decline due to unpardonable neglect and lack of patriotism. As a result, it has lost not only capacity but focus. Until recently it was mainly engaged in the production of rifles and civilian tools such as furniture and plaques. This is no thanks to the conduct of the military/political elite that have run the country to ruin.
Yet it must be acknowledged that the recent achievement is a positive development, coming at the time when Nigeria is in the middle of war and hard pressed for weapons. Nigeria has wasted a lot of time but it is hoped that we have learnt our lesson. It is good to start somewhere and the recent launch of new military arsenal can be viewed as our new take-off point.
There is no bigger priority now than ending the Boko Haram insurgency. We should produce enough of these weapons for deployment to former strongholds of terrorists. We call on government to give DICON the necessary financial support to achieve this objective. As it stands, if more MRAP are not produced, government would inevitably import them to effectively fight terrorists. The MRAPs is touted as the answer to some of the factors that have prolonged the war. Nigerians are expecting to see the impact of these new weapons as they are deployed in the NorthEast soon.