Let’s accept this blunt truth from the onset. Nigeria is currently paying the price for the crass neglect of several cardinal requirements for prominence in the international arena. The most prominent of those requirements almost without question, has been our embarrassing failure to develop a potent military industrial complex since our independence more than half a century ago.
Our embarrassment is all the more telling given the fact that our founding fathers did realize the importance of a viable military industrial complex to the nation. In 1964, they established what is today known as the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) to produce small arms and ammunition for the use of the Nigerian Army and other Security agencies. Even today, a casual visit to DICON’s website will reveal the following legend as its vision statement: “to build the Corporation on a sound commercial footing to continuously produce and constantly improve on the quality of arms and ammunition needs of the Defence, Security and foreign policy of Nigeria with the best international standards”
What the website does not give is the full account of stories of the missed opportunities of DICON since its creation. In one particularly tragic phase in its tragic evolution into irrelevance, it was involved in the production of domestic consumables.
In sharp contrast, Brazil began manufacturing its first automatic pistols in 1954 and its earliest armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in the 1960s. Today, Brazil’s defense industry is booming, fueled by government incentives to modernize the country’s armed forces and develop a robust, export-oriented military industrial complex. Brazil has bought conventional submarines and helicopters from France, insisting on technology transfer and their assembly on its territory. It produces almost the entire aircraft requirements of its air force, and has also resurrected a plan to develop, beginning in 2016, its first nuclear-powered fast attack submarine! It is almost entirely self-sufficient in its armaments requirements.
And what about Malaysia which evolved into its present form in September 1963 – three years after Nigeria’s independence? While its defense industry cannot be compared to that of Brazil by any means, it has come a long way since the reforms deliberately embarked upon in the 1970s and 1980s with the ultimate goal of achieving self reliance.
The decision to proceed toward domestic production was taken for military rather than economic reasons: rifles could be purchased at a cheaper rate on the competitive international market than they could be made locally, but for national security purposes, it was deemed necessary to ensure an uninterrupted source of supply! They subsequently privatized some of its military industrial facilities in the 1970s. Today, Malaysia’s defence industry contributes to the growing supply of military assault rifles, small calibre ammunitions, and unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), patrol vessels, information and communications technology (ICT) based solutions and military gear and apparel.
This, then, provides the backdrop to the sobering situation in which Nigeria now finds itself. It is more than half a century since our independence, but Nigeria is far from achieving self-sufficiency in the critical armaments it requires to competently defend itself against domestic and foreign predators.
Even before President Buhari’s visit to Washington last week, it was apparent that Nigeria was at the mercy of the law authored by the ranking Senator Patrick Joseph Leahy, which prohibits the sale of American military hardware to nations whose forces are alleged to have committed serious human rights abuses in various theatres of operation across the world.
That means that at a critical moment in our history, the defence of our dear nations are to be determined by factors beyond our direct control. We must go on bent knees before prospective weapons suppliers for the critical arms required defending ourselves. It is a collective national tragedy. It is a price we are compelled to pay for the criminal neglect of our military industrial complex by successive regimes for more than five decades.
I have no qualms with nations enacting laws that suit them provided it is in their overall national interests, but what I find very nauseating and unacceptable is the selective application of the laws. The same America whose laws are against polygamy, recently legalized same-sex marriages. The same America that will not sale arms to Nigeria for the alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by our military sees nothing wrong in ensuring that Israel retains its military superiority in the Middle East, in spite of its illegal and de-facto imprisonment of several generations of Arabs in the Gaza and the West Bank.
In the desperate quest to get Israel to accent to UN-brokered Nuclear deal with Iran, America has offered to even increase its military aid to Israel by an additional 1.5 billion dollars per year on top of the three billion dollars it already receives annually to purchase US military hardware such as fighter jets and missile defence systems.
The sales will occur in spite of the well-documented chronology genocide and grievous human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel spanning several decades. Not only has the UN severally sought to condemn Israel for its actions, the Americans have become notorious for vetoing and precluding any such possibilities.
Only recently, it will be recalled, an international inquiry into Israel’s conduct in Gaza was launched after the UN’s Human Rights Commissioner concluded that there was a “strong possibility” that the country was guilty of war crimes. The 46-member Human Rights Council backed the Palestine-drafted resolution to begin the investigation by 29 votes. It was backed by fellow Muslim countries joined by China, Russia, Latin American and African countries except Nigeria under Goodluck Jonathan which abstained! America predictably voted against it, while most European nations like Britain abstained.
The same America, we must not forget, has continued to arm Egypt despite its serial repressions of bloggers and free press, along with its crackdown on credible opposition parties like the Islamic Brotherhood overthrown in a military coup which the US failed to decisively condemn. Only last month, the US announced that it had released 575 million dollars in military aid cosmetically frozen since the ousting of Present Mohamed Morsi – the democratically elected Egyptian President overthrown by the incumbent Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi Washington prefers to do business with.
While I welcome the thaw in the relations between Nigerian and the U.S., which suffered during the tenure of President Jonathan; what I cannot tolerate is the collective insult on the intelligence of Nigerians by the attempt to flaunt the Leahy law in our faces as a measure of American decency, or higher moral values, because it is far from reality.
Stripped of all pretences, the Leahy Law has been discriminatorily applied by Washington in furtherance of America’s own narrow national interests. If we stretch the matter even further, it is even possible to perceive a tinge of racism in its selective application. A law – any law for that matter- assumes credibility when it is universally applied without exception. If it fails to meet that litmus test, then it becomes the very instrument of oppression the Leahy law wants the world to believe it is against. Our situation should serve as a poignant lesson to our leaders. No other country can love us more than we love ourselves.