ABUJA (Reuters) - President Muhammadu Buhari said on Friday Nigeria planned to ramp up the domestic production of weapons for its armed forces, in an effort to cut the country’s dependence on imported arms.
“The Ministry of Defence is being tasked to draw up clear and measurable outlines for development of a modest military industrial complex for Nigeria,” Buhari said during a speech at the National Defence College in Abuja.
He said he wanted an overhaul of the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), a military division responsible for weapons production which was set up in 1964 but has fallen into decline.
Its factory in the northern city of Kaduna now mainly produces rifles and civilian tools, said Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu, adding that defense chiefs had been asked to “re-engineer” DICON.
“We must evolve viable mechanisms for near-self-sufficiency in military equipment and logistics production complemented only by very advanced foreign technologies,” said the president, a former military ruler.
Buhari took office on May 29 after an election victory earlier in the year that owed much to his vow to defeat militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose six-year-old insurgency aims to set up an caliphate in northeast Nigeria.
Nigeria’s military has repeatedly said it needs better weapons to fight the militants, who have killed thousands and left about 1.5 million people displaced in Africa’s most populous country.
Buhari said Nigeria’s dependence on other countries for critical military equipment was unacceptable. The administration led by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, turned to foreign suppliers.
Last year a dispute developed between Nigeria and South Africa after South Africa seized $15 million in funds which Nigeria said was for legitimate deals procuring weapons for its armed forces.
On Tuesday a group of visiting U.S. Congress members said Washington could lift its ban on shipping arms to Nigeria’s military to help fight the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, if Abuja improved its human rights record.
Since taking office, Buhari has replaced his defense chiefs and moved the headquarters of the military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri, the heart of the insurgency.
And he has worked with Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin to set up an 8,700-strong multinational force to tackle the militants, who have killed over 600 people in Nigeria since his inauguration.
Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Andrew Roche