The coming of Major-General Suleiman Labaran as the 13th Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria(DICON) in June, 2009, was a pleasant surprise to majority of the staff of the corporation including the then Special Adviser to the Chairman on Special Projects, retired Colonel Segun Toba. Defence analysts knew the issues said Toba was at one time a directing staff at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, jaji. And he taught General Labaran at the prestigious military institution.
Prior to his appointment, he was in Bauchi as a one-star general discharging his duties at the military truck assembly plant. Even when he was in Holland in 2009 together with the then Director-General of DICON the matter of change of baton between them never crossed their minds as nobody leaked it to either of them.
But the then director-general, Major-General Charles Maduegbunam was the most senior military engineer who must take over at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, as the Director of Engineering Services was retiring. Events took place in quick succession and the new director of engineering services assumed duty in Abuja, while General Labaran shifted base to Kaduna as the Director-General/Chief Executive Officer of DICON.
Available information on the internet has shown that the Defence Industries Corporation (DICON) was established in 1964 by an Act of Parliament. After it came into being, a German manufacturing firm called Fritz Werner was assigned the task of providing technical expertise and as well as setting up an ordinance factory in Kaduna. This firm from West Germany therefore became the first technical partner of DICON.
Fritz Werner of West Germany designed and built the Kaduna-based Ordinance factories in 1964 with the following production capacities: 5000 units of BM 59 Rifles per year, 18,000units of SMG12 annually 12,000 rounds of 7.62mmx51 per annum and 4,000,000 rounds of rounds of 9mm x19 per year.
The 30-month Nigerian civil war which occurred 1967 and 1970 necessitated the tripling of the production rates and the factory was thus able to make a significant contribution to the war. After the war in 1970, the arms market also came to an end.
DICON then chose to remain afloat by producing civilian items such as rural water supply equipment, industrial spare parts, and furniture for sale. The fortunes of corporation dwindled under successive regimes and staff salaries were owed for many months. Under retired Brigadier-General Mohammed Buba Marwa who was appointed the Chairman of the Board of Directors the corporation returned to its oiriginal mandate as many fines hands were recruited to bring it up the international standard, once again. DICON made several accomplishments and achievements as rifles and military equipment had been designed, produced and tested to the admiration of two former Commanders-in- Chief.
Former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo launched the DICON-made rifle named “Obj
007” at Kachia Shooting Range in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State and late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua launched the locally manufactured “ Combat Kitchen” at Murtala Mohammed Square in Kaduna on the occasion marking the Nigerian Army Day and the Centennary Anniversary of the Nigerian Army. Imbued with a new breath of vision since his assumption of duty,Labaran has striven to reposition the resuscitated corporation on the path of steady growth and in keeping with its motto:”Towards National Defence and Enterprise”.
As part of his strategic plan of moving DICON to a higher pedestal, he has thought wise to create the Department of Business Development which a substantive director now oversees.
An inter-ministerial committee has also recently been set up on the need to expand scope and focus of the corporation which, according to him, must run on a sound commercial basis. The committee has since finished its assignment and submitted its report to the supervising ministry to study for necessary action. A bill for an Act is said to be in the pipeline that will help in redirecting DICON so as to compete on a firm footing with other defence industries across the globe.
DICON in 2011 invited some expatriates to meet the current Minister of Defence, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Halliru about their willingness to partner with the corporation in the production of military hard ware after they have fully appreciated that they are going into a viable venture.The expatriates were also in Kaduna to make their own on-the- spot assessment of the facilities installed in the factories.
The corporation has now deemed it fit to organise a 12-day investment drive training programme for the staff of the industry. The training started on Monday, May 6, 2012.
The main objective of the programme is to re-orientate the workforce from the culture of the civil service under which the corporation has been managed for over 48 years of its existence..
General Labaran has this to say on the programme:” If we are to run on a sound commercial basis it presupposes that we run like a proper industry that will make for itself and government. We cannot do this if the staff members are not properly educated and knowledgeable in the areas of investments. We have over the years operated more like civil service organisation and we all know the mentality of the civil service.
“We are going to have people who will come with their money to partner with us.As such we must understand the issues involved in such investments. And so we decided that our staff must have the basic skills in those areas and under the culture and value context.”
The Nigerian Investment Promotion Council has offered to do the training for the DICON’s staff in view of the fact that their involvement will further facilitate the inflow of the anticipated investments.
The Executive Secretary of NIPC Alhaji Mustafa Bello at the commencement of the training gave his own perspective as to how DICON should be transformed. He wants the corporation to wear the toga of Nigerian Communication Commission which is a regulator in the telecommunication industry. According to him, the manufacturing
ammunition should cease to the major mandate of DICON.
“A military industrial complex if well established, the quantum of resources it is going to turn up into the nation’s economy cannot be overemphasised. It is very expensive to produce military hard ware such as aircraft, armoured carrier, tanks, and if we are able to do them in Nigeria, we are going to save our economy huge amount of resources”
He cited the example of Israel which has acquired the knowledge to produce arsenal from the United States and that the quantum of arsenal the country produces locally has repositioned it well enough to stop importing military hard ware and yet be able to ward aggression and any form of security threat.
To this end, he said: “What we have today is to first start by training the staff of DICON to be able to acclimatise to a culture that aims at transforming the corporation into a regulator that will now see the advent of investments into a military industrial enterprise.”
Defence analysts believe that DICON will soon tranforn into a viable mass employer of labour judging by the fact that ammunition manufacturing is both necessary and inevitable both during war and peace times.
Shittu Ahmed Obassa wrote in from Abuja.