Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

Revitalising Our Local Defence Industry

National Concord, Nigeria

The Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, has expressed concern over our dependence on foreigners for our basic defence needs. The chief of army staff who made the remark while addressing a seminar on military training and doctrine recently in Minna, Niger State, re-stated the fact that a country that depended on others for its defence requirements could not claim to have any control over its security.

We share with General Babangida's sentiments over the rather perilous nature of our defence system and capability, especially our obvious exposure to the whims of foreign powers and arms merchants. No one can dispute that self- sufficiency in arms production, as in food production, forms the basis or otherwise of the strength of any modern nation. Political independence has little meaning and relevance to a country whose population can neither defend itself against external aggression nor take care of its citizens, economically. Defence creative capacity defines a country's unmistakable position in the affairs of the world and the extent to which it can sustain its ideological view-point.

Though as an underdeveloped country there appears to be a definite limit to which we can on our own produce high arms technology, there is no reason on earth why we should not be able to produce, two decades after we set up a so-called defence factory, the kind of light weapons used in the First World War.

It is sad that in spite of the civil war and the successive military governments that presided over the affairs of this nation, the Defence Industries Corporation in Kaduna can only produce small calibre arms of the G3 and 7.62mm ammunition variety. It is, as Defence Minister, Domkat Bali observed, a thousand pities that the defence factory in Kaduna is not even in a position to manufacture explosives.

But it is ironic that while both the chief of army staff and the defence minister expressed serious concern over the sorry state of our local defence industry and talked about plans for "armament modernization," this year's capital defence allocation stood at a disadvantage compared to the ministry's recurrent expenditure. This should not be the case.

We cannot afford, in this economically hard, yet unsafe world, to expend a good chunk of our national income on the maintenance of an unnecessarily over-sized armed forces personnel. Certainly, this cannot be done at the expense of much-needed defence equipment and weaponry. Though weapons do not fight wars, the numerical strength of an army does not, on its own, determine capability. Fire power and mobility determine the efficiency of an army, not mere numbers.

We believe that the numerical strength of our armed forces which, according to the latest figures released by London's Institute of Strategic Studies stands at 150,000 (Army), 8,000 (Navy) and 7,000 (Air Force), is too large. Despite the size of our country we could do with less and, of course, younger men. At the moment, the highest number any of our neighbours has is 7,000 for its army - which probably boasts of more sophisticated weaponry.

This is the time, therefore, to attempt a balance between our hard-ware defence needs and the maintenance of our armed forces personnel. Perhaps when this is done we may have begun to talk meaningfully of financing a local defence industry

No Medieval Bestiality, Please

The Guardian, Nigeria

In these perilous times, a wide range of debate is necessary if we have to unravel the debilitating factors which have led this country to its present socio-economic morass. These debates should in fact be stepped up and should involve all sectors of our population (workers, soldiers, peasants, students, teachers, women, journalists, bureaucrats, and the ever-increasing army of unemployed).

We all must never be afraid to pose any kind of question aimed at solving our problems, even when some of these may not be readily answered. Countries that have marched to civilization have been able to do this precisely because of the high premium their citizens place on posing critical questions about themselves and their societies. The marked progress these countries have achieved derives from these critical enquiries.

An intimidating feature of our current social malaise, and which calls for critical debate, is the question of armed banditry. Violent robberies which in the past were often carried out in the night, are presently becoming a day-time event. It is a serious problem, and the government has already dusted up, with minor adjustments a decree which condemns a convicted armed robber to the firing squad. There appears to be a national consensus that this punishment is justifiable in the current circumstances.

It is, however, a different situation when one contemplates the suggestion by Governor David Mark of Niger State that bandits should be shot in their legs and allowed to bleed to death. Mr Mark claims that this form of medieval bestiality would act as deterrence to other potential robbers. Really? To what extent did the public executions of the mid '70s deter armed robbers? Hardly. On the contrary, there was a defiant increase in violent crimes. So, cutting off noses or legs or ears of robbers as we all watch them die will not deter anybody disposed to violent crimes.

There is understandable frustration at the seeming intractability of the armed robbery phenomenon. But we must go beyond superficial solutions and save our sensibilities the gory spectacle of public executions and worse.

The increasing wave of armed robbery is intrinsically linked with the deterioration of our economic situation as many influential commentators have already observed. At the moment, thousands of our citizens are losing their jobs, and many are reduced to a frightening state of penury and hopelessness. It is conceivable that armed robbery statistics can only increase as the economy worsens.

It therefore follows that the lasting solution to armed robbery requires a much more fundamental approach which has to critically confront our entire socio-economic ethos. It cannot be achieved by taking a backward march into inhumanity.

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