Military varsities as vistas of academic, security renaissance

Headquarters of Nigerian Defence Academy

They were known for coup plotting. Now, they have strong interest in academic excellence, the news that the country’s military hierarchy is planning to establish universities for the armed forces seems to be a welcome idea. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal examines the importance of establishing military tertiary institutions in a country like Nigeria.

There are at least 42 military universities in the world. The oldest is said to be found in Austria, Theresian Military Academy -Wiener Neustadt – the oldest military academy in the world, founded by Empress Maria Theresa.

It is no wonder then when the Federal Government announced early this year that it would establish an aviation university.

For a nation that gained its independence 57 years ago, Nigeria has the opportunity in the 21st century to leapfrog into technological and academic advancement that are commonplace in the world today.

Therefore, when Sen. Hadi Sirika, Minister of State, Aviation, made public that there are plans underway to establish an aviation university to promote research, development, and production of higher-level management manpower for the industry, it came as no surprise.

The minister said, “The aviation university will be different from NCAT. The university will be fully into research and development and production of higher level management manpower need of the industry. The university will go into research, with the hope that in the near future we will be able to manufacture aircraft components, until when we are able to produce the aircraft itself. Since the technology is available around the world, it is our own ability and capability to pursue it.”

Not a few experts, both in the military and civilian education system, believe that the establishment of more military tertiary institutions is long due. According to them, such institutions will serve as an impetus, not only to improving the nation’s military prowess and importance on the African continent, it will also serve to engender competition in the areas of research, invention, and innovation making conventional universities to be competitive.

By April, following Sirika’s announcement, the Nigerian Army said it had established a university – the Nigerian Army University of Technology and Environmental Studies (NAUTES)– in Biu, Borno State.

According to the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Nigerian Army Institute of Technology and Environmental Studies was upgraded to the NAUTES.

Buratai said, “The university was conceived as a unique institution that would be different from the nation’s conventional universities. The concept is to make it a solution provider and a centre of excellence for a variety of technologically related ventures such as generation and armament production. In pursuant to this laudable initiative, the Borno State Government has allocated 5,000 hectares of land located in Biu for this purpose.”

The location of such a university in Borno may not be unconnected with the Boko Haram insurgency that has nearly consumed the state.

The Army chief stated further, “The Nigerian Army under my leadership would continue to ensure improved infrastructural development and increase in equipment holding through effective maintenance culture.”

Buratai noted further that the establishment of the military university was based on the requirements and challenges where solutions could be found not only in the military strategy for tactics and operational activities but in science and technology.

He said, “We have taken steps already to actualise the university project. We have already got the military allocation for this year’s national budget, which is one of the requirements of establishing the university. We have a lot of requirements in order to keep pace with global trends.”

But the proposed university is not a warmongering institution as Buratai explained.

“This proposed Army University, sited in Biu town of Borno State, is equally a solution centre to national development and requirements where solutions from different fields of human endeavours are brought for considerations,” the army chief added.

The decision to establish the university in Borno, according to VenturesAfrica, is a “conscious and symbolic one”. There are already plans to fund it under the 2017 Appropriation Bill.

In April, during the First Quarter Conference in Maiduguri, the federal government re-emphasised its determination to put an end to the Boko Haram insurgency.

“Since their dreadful emergence, Boko Haram has not only cost Nigeria many lives, property, and severely threatened its national security and Borno state has been at the centre of all of their activities. The Nigerian Army has recorded tragic losses and small victories accompanying numerous operations in its bid to stamp them out entirely from the country.

“The need for more intelligent approaches to the Boko Haram insurgency by the Federal Government has been repeatedly emphasised. With the proposed opening of the army university in September, it would appear that the government is listening, and the country is on its way to witness it take on a better-suited armour of battle – a sociologically-inspired one,” VenturesAfrica noted.

It added that students at the army university will be provided with knowledge on how to detect early signs of aggression, determine what factors account for their evolution, effectively combat terrorism in cases where it already exists, amongst other much needed social benefits.

NAUTES is also expected to provide a highly improved environment complete with adequate infrastructure to propel research and solution for the security and intellectual needs of the military and the country.

Beyond that, the university will also serve as an economic catalyst for the war-ravaged area, bringing needed development in terms of technology and modernization.

Until that announcement, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) was the only military university in the country.

How can the usefulness of establishing a military university be further illustrated? The China’s National University of Defence Technology or the People’s Liberation Army National University of Defence Science and Technology – a top military academy and research centre – provides an answer.

The university is under the direct leadership of China’s Central Military Commission, and dual management of Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China and Ministry of Education. It is established to facilitate the development of Chinese higher education.

The NUDT was ranked as one of the top four universities in China, ranked with a seven-star status along with the Peking University, the Tsinghua University, and the University of Chinese Academy of Science when it was ranked the second time with Chinese civilian universities in 2015.

Since being founded as China’s supreme military academy Harbin Military Academy of Engineering in 1953, the university is seen as a symbol of modern Chinese national defence science and technology, playing a major role in the country’s scientific and technological activities such as the Manned Space Flight Project.

As one of the most difficult universities to enter in China, the NUDT admits freshly graduated high school students into its undergraduate programmes through the rigorous Chinese National Higher Education Entrance Examination.

The first Nigerian Army University has a reputation to churn impeccable graduates. But it is expected to do more than that in view of the country’s dire need for an innovative and forward-looking technology and research-driven institution.

In August, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, made a similar announcement that there was the plan to establish four new universities in Nigeria for various military bodies. Three of the four universities are in the Army, Navy, and Maritime.

In 1991, the Nigerian military high command noted, “Nigeria boasts of comprehensive and almost completely ‘indigenised’ professional military training institutions, including the national triservice Nigerian Military University, the Command and Staff College, and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies. In addition, each service maintained extensive training programmes for its own needs.”

The central pillar of the military training establishment was the Nigerian Military University. Founded in 1964 in Kaduna State as the Nigerian Defence Academy, its commissioned officer candidates in 1983 had a staff of about 1,100.

The academy was upgraded and re-designated as the “national Nigerian Military University in 1985” and awarded its first degrees in September 1988. By 1989, it had trained about 5,300 officers, including 300 from other countries.

In a message to the 104 graduating officers in September 1990, the former military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, had announced that the academy would be moved to a permanent site by mid-1992.

For prospective army officers, the academy offered a two-and-a-half-year programme leading to commissions as second lieutenants. Naval and air force cadets attended an 18-month joint training programme, after which successful candidates advanced to specialised training with their chosen service before commissioning.

Military education experts underscored the importance of military universities, citing the example of the Naval Training Command (NTC) established in November 1986.

The navy relied primarily on West German and British firms to help establish its technical and professional schools. A new Underwater Warfare School, built by Dornier of Germany, opened in 1990 with more than 600 students. In late 1989, plans to set up a naval military school were delayed by budgetary limitations, but officer training cooperation was being explored with India. By 1990 about 85 per cent of naval training had been localised, resulting in annual savings of N100m.

For its part, the NAF Training Command operated three flying schools offering comprehensive flight, armaments, helicopter, and paratrooper training, and a Technical Training Group. The air force had specialised schools for such subjects as primary and advanced flying, helicopter weapons, and tactical training.

Primary flight training was conducted at the 301 Flying Training School at the Nigerian air base in Kaduna under the air force Tactical Training Group; British Bulldogs were the primary trainers, and Aermacchi MB-339ANs were used for basic and advanced flight training.

In July 1989, the Student Pilot School graduated 11 of the 14 candidates who started the course. Since its inception in 1964, more than 600 pilots from the NAF and from other African countries have graduated.

For a nation with a chequered history of coup d’état, it seems to be everyone’s desire to see how military universities will churn out graduates who will be champions of innovation, development and good governance.

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