BY MOSES AKAIGWE
It was very interesting watching the convoys of eminent dignitaries arrive the Eagle Square, Abuja, for the official hand-over ceremony on May 29: While President Muhammadu Buhari, came in an Infiniti SUV, the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was seen earlier alighting from what was either a Land Cruiser or Sequoia, but clearly a Toyota. Just before the oath-taking, President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, arrived in a premium luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The former Vice President, Arch. Namadi Sambo’s motorcade was not noticed on arrival, but a common denominator was that neither did any of the state dignitaries ride in a made-in-Nigeria car to the venue, nor did a car from the domestic auto industry seen in all the fleets of mainly black cars. Not even the open-body Mercedes-Benz G-wagon that drove the new president round the square was home-made.
Some auto industry stakeholders who also observed the scenario recalled above, have been wondering why locally made cars were denied their well deserved roles at that very important and symbolic national ceremony. It is not easy to forget that the last time a made-in Nigeria car was so honoured, was in 1979, when the then Head of State, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, rode in a Peugeot 505 produced by Peugeot Automobile in Kaduna, to the Tafawa Balewa square, Lagos, where he handed over to the incoming president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Apart from the symbolic role he let the 505 play at that hand-over ceremony, Gen. Obasanjo, as a matter of policy, ensured that locally made cars were the official vehicles at all levels of government while his tenure lasted. And this helped to drive the patronage of the products of auto plants, like Volkswagen in Lagos and Peugeot (both car makers).
Ditto for truck assemblers, including ANAMMCO (Mercedes-Benz), Enugu, National Trucks Manufacturers (NTM, for Fiat/Iveco) in Kano, and Steyr in Bauchi.
Curiously, Obasanjo’s civilian regime that began in 1999, did not re-introduce the same policy of making vehicles from the domestic industry dominate the convoys of government officials. So, it did not surprise the auto makers that preference for imported vehicles in government circles was the order of the day, regime after regime, until the automotive policy (popularly called the Nigerian Automotive Industry Development Plan (NAIDP) took effect in 2014, one year to the end of the tenure of Dr Jonathan’s government.
But, with the May 29 ceremony in mind, it appears to industry watchers that government has not been promoting the products of its own policy, because Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company (IVM, Nnewi) which was the first to produce an SUV in the country, and VON Automobiles Nigeria Ltd with its own Nissan Patrol, have vehicles that can be added to the official state car fleet. The duo also has a line-up of other models of passenger cars.
Same for United Vehicle Assembly Limited (UVAL), the car-making corporate sister of Kia Motors Nigeria Limited which now produces, apart from sedans, Kia Sportage, Sorento and the top-of-the-range Mohave (all SUVs).Presently, PAN Nigeria produce sundry passenger cars that can conveniently fit into any official convoy.
And, if armouring is a requirement, the stakeholders argue, Proforce Limited, in Ode-Remo, Ogun state, has been rendering the service for years, in addition to partnering with the DICON (Defence Industries Corporation) to produce hardware for the military. So, why not to do same for government?
To one of the auto industry chieftains who watched the Eagle Square ceremony, Mr. Rasheed Adegbenro, the absence of locally made vehicles in the official convoys and the disdain for the extant laws and directives on the patronage of products of the assembly plants in the country, is unpatriotic and injurious to the interest of manufacturers in the sector.
“This development has made nonsense of government campaign concerning patronage of local industries. In addition, government has lost the moral right to galvanise the general public to support made-in-Nigeria products”, remarked Adegbenro, who was the Assistant General Manager (Sales/Public Relations), in the first generation Volkswagen of Nigeria, and until recently, the Ag. Director-General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN).
Recalling that the first unit of Nissan Patrol with V8 engine VON Automobiles produced last year in Lagos was presented to the then President Jonathan to show what the plant could do, the Managing Director, Mr Tokunbo Aromolaran, confirmed that the auto makers in the country have the capacity to produce car for official use and the local market.
Also reacting, an auto industry analyst, Mr. Banwo Omagbitse, drew attention to an existing law (Gazette No 28 Vol. 81 of April, 1994) and circular which prohibit all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) patronizing imported vehicles, except where such cannot be produced by the domestic auto industry. According to him, in line with the auto policy, PAN is migrating from SKD (semi-knocked down) to CKD (completely knocked down) production of the 301. Therefore, he said, the plant and other auto makers, should be encouraged through government-driven patronage.
Not only did the Jonathan regime discourage MDAs from patronising imported vehicles, it also introduced (through the auto policy) a tariff regime with a differential of at least 60 percent between fully built up vehicles and CKD imports by the local auto plants, which favours the latter.
The introduction of NAIDP has since encouraged Innoson, initially a bus, utility trucks, pick-up and SUV-producing plant, to widen its vehicle range to include passenger cars (Umu and Fox), while VON Automobiles, also rolled out sundry models of Nissan and Hyundai.
What this means, according to auto industry stakeholders, is that the domestic auto plants have the capacity to produce a variety of vehicles for local consumption, including the official state cars. Saying they are not unmindful of the advanced specifications of vehicles for use even at the presidential or gubernatorial level, including luxury, communications, special convenience features and armour plating (bullet-proofing), stakeholders believe that the industry is equipped for the task.
“It is patriotic and normal for the president, prime minister, governor, and other top government officials, to use vehicles made in a country”, argued the Chairman of the Innoson Group, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, who prides himself on being the owner of the first indigenous auto brand in Africa. “This is what happens in other countries of the world. Innoson has models of SUV plus other saloons. PAN has models of Peugeot, just as other assembly plants have others products. So, the industry can give government officials whatever they want”.
Chief Chukwuma is right: In the United States, the presidential car is a Chevrolet Kodiak-based, Cadillac-badged limousine often referred to as Cadillac One (made by General Motors of the US). In the United Kingdom, the Prime Ministerial Car refers to the British manufactured vehicles used by the Prime Minister – currently they are armoured, custom built Jaguar XJ Sentinel supercharged 5.0-litre V8 models, built by Jaguar Land Rover of the UK. The German Vice Chancellor’s official car is usually provided by the country’s leading luxury car makers – Mercedes-Benz, BMW and the Volkswagen Group, while the French President makes his choice from either Peugeot or Renault, both of them indigenous to France.
“I can understand President Buhari and his deputy not arriving in made-in-Nigeria cars on May 29. Maybe they simply made use of what was provided by the out-going regime. But, Nigerians will watch out to know what cars they and other government officials will be having in their motorcades”, remarked Dr. D.V.C. Obi, a vocal auto industry chieftain and MAN sectoral chairman.
(Moses Akaigwe 08072100049 [email protected])