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Partnering government in patronising locally manufactured automobiles

General Olusegun Obasanjo in his first stint saw the need to tighten the spending of government. To tackle this, he came up with austerity measures. And in a bid to further protect the economy, his junta made the importation of cars difficult leaving Nigerians with no option but to patronise Peugeot and Volkswagen cars both of which had assembly plants in Kaduna and Lagos respectively.

The administration did not stop there; it used government-owned media stations like the NTA and FRCN to school Nigerians that the decision was taken in their best interest. That worked like magic. Before you know it, Toyota, Mercedes, Opel and Fiat cars disappeared from Nigerian roads allowing Peugeot and Volkswagen unfettered dominance. The relics are still here as can be gleaned from our military establishment's continued predilection for the Peugeot brand.

Why is he taking us down this memory lane, you may wonder? It's because our today government is set to take a cue from as it was then. There goes another reason why we can't despise history since it always offer us a book to borrow a leave from. It became expedient to exhume this example which occurred during Gen Obasanjo's regime of February 1976 to September 1979 in order to assure the current government that it can succeed in its determination to travel a similar road.

If the military junta succeeded then, this government can succeed as well. All it requires is tenacity and unity of purpose. Yes, the present government is set to thread the trail blazed by Gen Obasanjo and his co travellers. This it did by declaring, last Wednesday, that all vehicles to be purchased by it would be from local assembly plants, except those so specialised that they could not be produced in the country.

This is captured under the Automotive Industrial Policy Development Plan for the country which hopes to significantly reduce the high vehicle importation bill in the country that stands at $3.4bn (N550bn) in 2012 rising from the N4.2bn spent for the same purpose in 2010. These figures are major capital flights that cannot but have a devastating impact on any nation's foreign reserve.

And it goes beyond its pillage on the foreign reserve to also destroying the local economy. But were there to be functional car assembly plants in the country, that will automatically attract companies that manufacture tyres and other ancillary parts of automobiles, creating job opportunities in the process. It would also provide the much-needed stimulus which will revive our comatose steel industry. Eventually, it would lower the price of automobiles such that Nigerians can easily afford them.

A situation where the foregoing obtains remain a veritable sine qua non for a buoyant economy. Granted that I'm not an economist to effectively correlate them, some of the things I know for sure is that if government stays true to this propitious policy, there would be great investments in flow that would in turn create lots of job opportunities in the country. And, in the long run, it will be a source of revenue generation to government through the payment of tax.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga disclosed this much when he said: “A transformed automotive industry will realise its potential as a major driver of economic growth and diversification, job creation, local value addition, and technology acquisition."

That part on economy diversification thrills me unend because if there is any economy in the world that needs diversification, it is absolutely that of Nigeria. This is owing to our dwindling oil revenue occasioned by oil theft and the fact that the world is shifting focus from our type of oil deposits to shale oil. Not minding we've been trying to achieve diversification through agriculture, the word itself would better attain its true meaning if automobile manufacturing is thrown into the potpourri.

This new policy deserves to be so welcomed that anything detracting from it should not be welcomed. That's why I'm not happy with the proviso in the policy statement which holds: "...unless it is specialised in nature and the NAC has certified that it is not produced in Nigeria."

Must they drive in such specialised vehicles? Aren't we in the same age with Jose Mujica, Uruguay's 40th president, who would rather drive around in a 1987 model of Volkswagen Beetle? My major grouse with this stipulation is that our politicians can easily take advantage of it. Being who they are, they can use it as an excuse to continue importing exquisite cars from outside our shores. Such that when asked, they will readily tell you that the car in question is specialised and have been certified as not being produced in the country.

In the republic of South Africa, the government in that country drives or buys no other cars except the ones assembled in South Africa. This is notwithstanding the specialised nature or otherwise of whatever vehicle is to be bought. This disposition of South Africa explains why Toyota, Mercedes and BMW all have assembly plants in that country that has a population of 50million and not Nigeria that is populated by close to 170million people.

It goes to show that investors are solely out for places they are sure of a guaranteed market. With a bound market in place, they can even disregard the energy challenges to be faced since they know they will always get around. Cast your mind to Nigeria restricting her large number of public office holders to using cars from a particular company, then would you understand what proceeds await such companies: proceeds that defies whatever hiccoughs to be faced.

Little wonder, car manufacturing giants like Toyota and Nissan are expected to announce their commitments soon. They just have to, since the size of those within the corridors of power in Nigeria eclipses what they can find in other African countries. And going by the insinuation of President Jonathan at his last media chat, the size is not likely to be abridged any time soon. Thus, the companies need not be disturbed with the number of those government will be buying for.

However, while they may dilly dally in coming, they should know that smart businessmen like Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company (IVM) have already begun the process. And from all indications, people like him are having a swell time doing business in the country. It is a common sight to see their long buses criss-crossing some major cities in the country providing intra-city transport services.

Government not need wait endlessly for the kind of companies it is expecting to come before effecting this policy. Lest, their delay in coming becomes a reason the policy will become kaput. The car assembly and manufacturing factories already on ground should be used in kick-starting the policy. When this is done, we wouldn't need to beg foreign car manufacturing companies before they start making their ways to this place.

It will be instructive to call on the states and local governments in the country to subscribe to this Automotive Industrial Policy Development Plan being promoted by the federal government. None of them should constitute itself as a clog in the wheel of progress. They too are in the habit of procuring cars. Thus, they should always endeavour to buy made-in-Nigeria cars, and not those made abroad. For the rain of this policy will pour on them just it would on the federal government.

The legislative arm cannot be sidelined in an issue like this. In as much as they have an obsessive inclination to use eye-popping official cars which they readily sell to themselves when leaving office, they should be assiduous in providing the legal framework for this policy to succeed. They are the ones that can make it outlive the present government that conceptualised it by giving the policy a legislative backing.

I'm sure this is one major commitment from government that foreign investors are waiting to see before they make that move we are all expecting from them. For none of them would want to establish a car assembly plant today only for another government to come up tomorrow and lift the embargo on government patronising cars made abroad. Hence a strong legislation is necessary and our lawmakers should get at it.

And as government works to bring this extremely expedient policy to life, let us as Nigerians meet it halfway by resolving to go for our locally manufactured vehicles next time we want to buy an automobile. Patriotism requires we do this, nous expects this of us and our bank accounts will be happy when we do this. It's high time we started seeing made-in-Nigeria vehicle the same way Americans see Ford automobiles. We absolutely don't need a Gen. Obasanjo to make us do this.

Ugochukwu is a freelance journalist you can follow on twitter via @ugsylvester or reach through: [email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi