How I Built Bombs for Biafra - Kaine

Saturday Vanguard last week in Enugu met Engr. Edmund Kaine, who built bombs and other explosives for the defunct Republic of Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War. He later became Chief Executive, Projects Development Institute, PRODA, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.

He spoke with BASHIR ADEFAKA on how Nigeria can emerge a technology power.


How did you start out in life?

I started out in life like anybody else. But in my time, Nigeria was just coming out of what I call the past age and moving slowly tino the modern age. We didn't have tarred roads. We didn't have electric fans. The radios were boxes with wires.

The schools were not many. In Lagos, you had only a few colleges and so many people didn't really have the opportunity. But people were happy.

I went to St. Monica's Catholic School, Lafiaji. I attended St. Gregory's College, Ikoyi both in Lagos. The only luck I had was that my father became a lawyer and could send me abroad.

In those days, it was fashionable to do Engineering because Nigeria didn't really have prospects. It has not changed much today. But I chose to do Engineering because I liked technology: I liked Engineering. I read books about people going to space.

I read books about Stevenson who discovered the Railway and by God's grace, I became an engineer. But I only really got fulfilled as an engineer when I went to the then West Germany. That was where I found the opportunity I was looking for: To go into the factories. Then, I came back to Nigeria and, as I said, the country still had very little for those who really wanted to practise engineering;,mechanical and so on. Not much.

There were a lot of opportunities for civil engineers, that is, structural engineers who could design moderate buildings. But fortunately for me, I was able to work in the Projects Development Institute (PRODA) in Enugu after the Civil War under Ukpabi Asika, Governor of then East Central State, which comprised Onitsha, Enugu, Owerri put together. I retired from PRODA as Chief Executive many years ago and since then, I have been on my own. PRODA is a parastatal of Federal Ministry of Science and Technology.

Why does Nigeria lag behind in technological development despite experts like you in that discipline?

I have tried to make it clear to people that technology is not taught in technical schools and universities. Technology, as it is, is the property of a few multi-nationals. It is where they are; and they only let it out when they are in their own companies. But you can negotiate and buy the part you want.

Technology takes a long time to be acquired. Every technology is the result of intensive work and expenses, stressing over many years and when you acquire it, it becomes a precious property. And you cannot get it free; you cannot get it because you are too clever. So, you acquire it somehow by setting up the modalities for acquiring it.

We have thousands and thousands of engineers in the world and in Nigeria, but they don't have the technology. The technology is the property of those who have it, who have developed and are using it: the companies. We have to be clear about that.

If you worked in a company for a long time, you may see some aspects of the technology and come back with it for your own company. But you may find it difficult to utilize because you still need a lot of other services to complement it before you can get a product into the market.

We are still very much dependent, technologically. Can't we get out of this?

The main problem I think is that we have not defined our objectives. In many places where I worked as head, I'd say to them, what do we want to see in the next 20 years? Let's talk about that and agree, then we know what to do now to get there.

As a people, we must define what our country should look like in the next 30 years and then we must start now to see how we achieve it.

Again, most of the people in Nigeria don't know that the basic goal of a leader is to ensure that every individual in the community is utilized to his best capacity. If a man's talent is for football, he should be given every opportunity to play.

So, we should discover the potential of every individual and make use of it. That will be the focus.

Things like building roads, streets, schools are part of this but the main focus is what is every Nigerian individual capable of doing and is he given the opportunity to do it? That should be the main focus. And that is why a man like Chief Obafemi Awolowo was great! Because his main focus was: What does everyone of my people want? If there is a Yoruba man or woman somewhere there, is he or she happy with what he or she is doing?

That was Awolowo's focus and that was what made him great. And he did so many things; all geared towards that. He started the first television station in Nigeria and by extension in Africa so that every Yoruba man could watch television not because he as a person wanted to see television. But he wanted every Yoruba man to use TV to broaden his knowledge.

That, I think, is the greatest quality of a leader: To concentrate on what the smallest individual wants. We are not doing that. Building roads, building hospitals is fine! But again, that is not the soul of the matter.

So, what is the soul of the matter?

I have told you. It is to make sure that every individual should do that in which God has given him the talent to achieve his best.

How does that translate to the issue at hand? Our interest is in how we too can emerge as part of technology-based society. How do we do it?

You, see there are certain macro areas which are defined at high level like power. In the next 30 years, we should know what type of power Nigeria should be having. Everybody should know that now. We will not be running all thermal power stations any more because the oil resources will be very low, if not exhausted.

Fortunately, there is technology for wind turbines, which is the new one now, and solar energy. Solar energy is only applicable so far to residential areas, offices and so on. But wind turbines have succeeded in producing electricity that can be distributed nationwide. For example, Germany has an installed capacity of 30,000 mega watts.

In 30 years' time, when our oil will have dried up, Nigeria should know by now, that they should have something like 50,000 mega watts from wind alone and they should start working towards it from now.

Now, take the area of transportation; all these big lorries won't be in place because they will not have enough fuel again. Nigeria should know that in the next 30 years, the most effective and surest way to guarantee sure transportation is high speed electric train. And we should now start thinking about how we can have enough of it linking the vital areas of the country. We should, in fact, start working towards it: Not only thinking but implementing it. By now, we have only 30 years.

There are other areas and many of these things. The problem is not only installing it but how are we making some of the things by ourselves? Do we have the technology to make and maintain it? That is government issue but all those things, when they are really in place, will be operated only by the private sector. If government operates them, they will be flop.

We are a technology consumer, not producer. Whose responsibility is it to get these things done?

There are so many questions in one piece. But as I told you, there is nothing wrong in importing. Every country imports. But those things that you need in large quantities, you should make most of them here in your own country.

Those things that you have advantage of over other countries, like fruit juice, you should make them in your own country. Those things that other countries have advantage of over you, like precision instruments, you should import.

If this world is to have a good economic stability, then all the countries in the world should know that there is the need to distribute the production facilities equitably among countries. Some countries cannot just be making raw materials, mining and some others are making all the finished goods. That is one of the main reasons why the economy of the world is in .... affecting those of other countries.

If you want to acquire technology, the government itself must know what to put in place so that the technology will flow in. It is deliberate government policy and it must be implemented.

When China went out to acquire technology, they made a simple rule that no foreigner must touch a screw driver in their industries. If a foreigner touches a screw driver in China, he goes to jail. If it didn't make that rule, it wouldn't have acquired any technology. All those things imported would have just been useless now awaiting to be repaired.

As for India, they used to pick bodies of people who starved to death from various homes in the country. But when they realised the way out and wanted to really develop, they did not stop any foreigner from touching a screw driver but they made their own rule that for every product that would be imported into India, the makers, the foreigners, should bring the drawings showing the details of how that product was made.

Through that, India got technology and their status changed. The Chinese system opted for citizenship training about the working of those technologies and when the multi-nationals and the foreign companies realised that, they insisted that China must bear the cost of training the Chinese people. And the cost was enormous, which they agreed upon.

You see, it is one of these things that Nigerians don't know here. The cost of training your individual is enormous. Even in advanced countryies, people are being trained and re-trained. When your graduates come out, to be able to function, they will have to keep on going through training and training. But not just train them and at the end, they are looking for work.

No. It is part of the general plan of making sure that everybody is being utilised to his fullest. A lot of things are needed.

All those things must be put in place. Everybody has to think very hard. You have to have managers, people who can manage. Even if it means importing managers. Without a manager, a good one, anything you put in place will just fizzle out to nothing. If any manager fumbles, you sack him and bring another one on board. It is not easy, but we need a crop of good managers, even if it means getting them from abroad. Without that, anything you put in place will die. The rate at which enterprises collapse in the world is colossal.

What happens if we fail, consciously or unconsciously, to plan ahead of these realities?

I am afraid that the earthquake in Haiti will be child-play compared to what Nigeria will look like in the next 30 years if we don't have some of these alternative facilities in place.

What we need to really do this is a leader. Only the person to be held responsible for it, is the President. I had been in the service, on a national assignment under President Ibrahim Babangida. I went with Chief MKO Abiola on tours of Indonesia for purposes of trying to see how they developed and use the idea for our country.

It is the President alone that can begin to galvanise the ministers and the people if he wants to get these things in place, especially the private sector, the police force, the security forces.

In Indonesia, before they attracted these investors and all these capitals to do those things, they did a lot of things and they showed us what they did to make the country beautiful and convenient for multi-nationals to come and set up industries there.

They made the place a haven for industries to come and set up. They made it their job to make sure that those industries came and were given every possible facility. It is only the President that can tell his ministers and his people: This is what I want and this is my focus and how we will work towards it. Everybody will have to work based on its vision and directive. It is not one man's responsibility now to get the many wrongs in this regard corrected.

Everybody, the journalists, all of you will focus on it, design programme of development and let the government and the people begin to change their thinking for the better.

What if the people the President galvanised fail or sabotage him?

Every football manager will give you the answer to that question. If the President cannot do it, he should go and get advice from a football team manager. Only him, I repeat, only the President has the power; the ministers don't.

Highest, he will deposed and another person is brought in, but he alone has the power to galvanise. If the President doesn't do it, nobody else can do it. That is why the Constitution gives him so much powers and so he has no excuses for not doing what he is empowered by the law to do.

Sectionalism has been Nigeria's albatross.

Throughout history, human beings have always been deceived in thinking that they, as a section, are better than the other. But God in His wisdom had created the universe and human beings with expectation that they would come together.

Because God has distributed these talents and unless you harmonise them, you cannot grow. It is like a forest, every small plant in a forest has its job.

Nigeria is blessed with so many diverse qualities: The Igbo, the Efik, the Hausas, the Fulanis, the Yorubas. A wise man will now look at these qualities by bringing them together. It is like a harmony. No matter how good a note is, if you keep sounding that note, you don't have music. But if you go to the next note and to the next note and put about 10 different notes together, then you have your melody and the harmony.

You cannot improve by using the quality of one tribe alone. You can't. You have to bring in various qualities. The problems are so complex because the problem of development is enormous. Many countries suddenly fall, many companies lose markets and die out.

During the Biafran time, why did you think, like many others, that the only way the Igbo could develop was by seceding?

Many countries in the world are often deluded. The Germans were deluded to fight Second World War. Now, they have everything; economic power and political power. The Japanese the same thing. A lot of nations and thinkers think erroneously.

In those days, we felt that we had to secede but we now know that it was wrong. It doesn't help anybody. I don't any longer believe that an individual can have so much. What we need is to think and focus on one problem so that we can find a solution to it. Let every individual focus, therefore, especially the journalists. You must increase the level of knowledge and awareness of the public so that they are aware that these problems are there and it takes cooperation, good thinking to do.

Along this line, I must say that the only mistake I ever made in my life was to believe that we could succeed by seceding out of Nigeria as Biafra. But it was also not our fault. The heavy attacks on the Igbo following the first military coup that killed prominent Nigerian leaders pushed us to the wall.

That coup was erroneously believed to be an Igbo agenda and so, every Igbo man living outside the Eastern part of the country was made to suffer for it. Left, right, back and front, the attacks were too much that all the Igbo returned home, banished, losing all their properties and other valuables. Those who could change tongues however stayed behind.

How did you meet Ojukwu and how did you come about making the bombs that were used in Biafra?

I met Ojukwu through Ukpabi Asika, the Administrator of East Central State. That is just about that.

At first, I gave the proposal for making those bombs to some military officers but they didn't take it seriously until when they had two weeks to the war and suddenly discovered that they needed so much. By the time Ojukwu saw the proposal and approved it, time had already caved in. But we tried our best and ensured that so much was done for the soldiers to have regular supplies.

But I made sure that those fighting around the area where I was producing were getting more of those bombs and explosives so that I did not need to start running around.

I must say that the fire brigade approach to setting up the bomb-making facility at that time was due to the general attitude of our people. I must also say that for the little we were to do, the Biafran government encouraged it and Dim Odumegwu Emeka Ojukwu was superior.

Can't Nigerian system improve on this technology for the military?

What we made in those days will fetch a price of zero naira today. We used the bombs we made locally in those days because we had no alternative. If you want to manufacture any product of that nature today, the quality, the standard, the level of the production, the price must be correct: You must source your materials, source management, everything. It is not just the technical know-how, they are there.

The technology we used in making those bombs and other explosives was fundamental. The technology of making bombs today is very high. We have to get that one and if we don't have it, we have to acquire it.

Also, look at some of these unmanned planes. From the satellite, they target spots on the ground and so it is.



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