Thursday, 25 April 2024 14:28

Beyond fighting insurgency, here’s the critical role of the military in Nigeria’s tech and economic transformation - Justice Faloye

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Some disgruntled politicians and citizens often wish that the army takes over after shambolic elections or economic mismanagement. Army coups swept out post independence democracies across Africa, and ruled for decades until it became obvious that they had no business with politics and governance. Since returning to democracy, we have been in search of the right political systems and economic ideologies to bring prosperity to our people, but the current political class has no solutions of how to attain the prosperity of the industrialized world.

George Washington, the largest slave owner became a soldier to protect the local slave economy from British colonialists, while Alexander Hamilton, a soldier, is the acknowledged father of USA big business. Following the mid 1800s railroad boom, the iron merchants turned to building skyscrapers with the surplus iron, before finally using it to build armoured plates for the Navy and armoured vehicles. The First World War caused widespread public discontent that the USA had been dragged into what was essentially a European Colonial War, and led to the 1934 Gerald Nye Senate Committee Hearings that showed that the Navy/Army were the main salesmen of arms makers that dragged the USA into war to sell their munitions.

In what is known as Peace Dividends, the production plants of war goods incorporated producing consumer goods, producing consumer cars alongside armoured vehicles, radios with radar, etc, which brought a long period of prosperity and employment by what was aptly named the Industrial Military complex.

Not only in USA has the military been at the economic foundation of nations, as the British Empire was built on the efficiency of turning slave ships into battleships. This was known as Mercantilism whereby nations used their army to back their businessmen to takeover natural and human resources.

In actual fact, the prosperity of Eurasian empires dating back to Babylon was based on war economics.

At the end of the 350 year slave based economy came colonization that led to the First World War, and the start of the Industrial military complex of turning war goods into consumer goods, followed by the Second World War when production facilities of fighter jets were adapted for passenger jets and air travel, before the Cold War and its military intelligence became computer technology and the internet, which is the current economic growth driver.

California, currently the world's fifth largest economy, was a desert that first attracted people during the short-lived 1848 Gold Rush, whose fortunes were turned around by the airborne military industrial complex. Its clear skies and huge expanse of land was conducive to testing of airplanes and siting of huge factories that employed millions of people. Its Peace Dividend was Hollywood. With the advent of computer technology, the military industrial complex built the Silicon Valley which also worked with Hollywood, its Chief marketer. In time, California became the most populous and richest USA state with a GDP of nearly $4 trillion. Texas also became second richest due to its abundant oil and the relocation of the military industrial complex facilities there.

The most pronounced use of the army to build an industrial military complex is the Peoples Liberation Army, which built the Chinese railways that stimulated industrialization to liberate their people from poverty. So did South Korea's General Park Chung Hee. Unfortunately unlike other races, African national armies evolved from slave/colonial armies used to suppress their peoples, and after independence used to protect neocolonial interests. Nigeria's army originated from the 1863 Lieutenant John Hawley Glover's Constabulary Force, largely composed of freed Hausa slaves, primarily established to protect the Royal Niger Company and push British colonialism. After the defeat of Benin Empire, it was consolidated in 1900 into the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF), before finally becoming the Nigerian Army in 1956. Despite becoming national armies in Nigeria and Ghana, senior military were set up to protect Western neocolonial interests and sometimes overthrow their national democratic governments.

Due to their misconceptions, the armies never saw themselves as the liberators of their peoples, especially by building their own industrial military complexes that would not only make them truly independent but provide employment and prosperity. Initially the Nigerian army bought its arms from about 13 different nations.

However, in 1964 the Nigerian army set up the Defense Industries Corporation of Nigeria, which became more functional with the 1967 Civil War, assembling other nations weaponry like AK 47. Over time, it produced more weapons and even started building furniture for the civilian populations. So one wonders that if it knew that it could make profit from consumer sales, why not develop the whole industrial military complex?

Coloniality of knowledge robs us of the philosophical foundations of what the army and industrial complex is about.

Olusegun Obasanjo, then military leader, probably the most pro-development head of state, went about Operation Feed the Nation, instead of Operation Industrialize the Nation, which should have been done through the army. As a politician, he established Transcorp as a massive investment vehicle to build an industrial complex, but it takes more than investment, and requires political will which civilians can't summon.

Part of the military’s mandate is simply to lay economic foundations, and the first step had been taken with the establishment of DICON. Since defense industries needs consumer industries to share overheads, the army should present plans of how to lay iron rails across Nigeria in record time like the Peoples Liberation Army. Unless we don't want our army to be self sufficient would politicians obstruct them.

At present, only China can build railways and unfortunately our political class is tied to the West that would sabotage Chinese involvement. Left to the politicians, we will wait another generation through nepotistic contracts. The Army is the most disciplined and technically skilled institution that can carry out the task of laying our railway foundations for industrialization, which it will then protect from internal and external saboteurs with weapons that it makes.

The extant two North-South railways will become a grid by laying three East-West railways - Lagos-Calabar, Ilorin-Yola and Sokoto-Maiduguri in three years. Government and public institutions are not good managers of business, so once the infrastructure are built it must be privatized, and either the army builds the rest to fill up the 9 box grid or the privatized companies and state governments can build the feeder routes to every corner. Railways provide the highest return on investment of USA industries at 50.93%, and could bring close to $100b annually to Nigeria, in addition to the fact that it has the highest income and employment multiplier effects across the economy. For every Naira or person employed in the railway it stimulates N20 and 20 new jobs in agriculture, car manufacturing and other heavy manufacturing, logistics, freighting and other new sectors. Being the largest contraption of Iron and Chemicals, it will multiply tenfold the combined contribution of a mere 1.6% that iron and steel, plastic and rubber, and electrical and electronics currently make to the economy.

Since President Bola Tinubu's hands are tied by the West from doing business with China, especially on economic liberating infrastructure, the army should leave chasing terrorists and bandits to the politicians that should restructure, decentralize and specialize the police force, and instead focus on building an industrial military complex through Defense Industries Corporation (DICON) with plan for 10,000 kilometers of railways to employ millions and liberate us from poverty.

** Justice Faloye, President ASHE Foundation, Afenifere Deputy Publicity Secretary, is an Economist and author of The Blackworld Evolution to Revolution.

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