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Thursday, 29 August 2013
UNFORTUNATE: Nigeria’s first indigenous car: 16 years after, designer, Izuogu yet to get FG grant
Sixteen years ago, history was made when an engineer, politician and researcher, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu, invented the first Nigerian car after eight years or research.The invention was celebrated with, at least 20 foreign ambassadors and over 50,000 other dignitaries, including Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd.), who represented the then Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, when it was unveiled in Owerri, Imo State.
To compensate him for a commendable effort, the Federal Government promised to motivate him with N235 million after the panel of inquiry gave the car a clean bill of health, certifying it road-worthy. However, 16 years down the line, Izuogu, lamented that he was yet to get a dime from the Federal Government approval, even when the amount was a paltry sum compared to N1.5 billion government gave a foreign car manufacturing company then.
Narrating his frustrating and efforts of his to enlist Nigeria as industrial nation, Izuogu disclosed that he even had to reject a huge offer from a country that promised him $400 million if he could transfer the technology or design to them.
The scientist further disclosed that his pain was not the failure of the Federal Government to release the fund to him, but where the car would have placed the country. He said apart from producing the cheapest car in the world, the mass-production would have engaged millions of Nigerian youths currently involved in militancy, kidnapping and insurgence.
Nigerian leadership snubbed my inventive efforts. But in fairness to the late Gen. Sani Abacha, who was in power when I invented the car and who even unveiled it through his deputy, Oladipo Diya, he made commendable efforts.
I remember that more than 50,000 people, including about 20 foreign ambassadors from far and wide, gathered in Owerri, Imo State, during the unveiling. They actually came to ascertain the truth in a Nigerian actually producing a car from first principles.
All the South-east governors were equally there at the unveiling. The international media took it up, their Nigerian counterpart also did fantastic publicity. They told government that the car would provide the country opportunity to make Nigeria a world power.
The car I produced was to sell for $2,200 and everybody acknowledged that it was the cheapest car in the world. That car came five years before India produced its first indigenous car called Indi car. Before then, all the cars produced in India were only assembled.
It is on record that I produced my car four clear years before Indi car, but the India government saw theirs as an opportunity to change the economy. They pumped in money into the project. Today, the car is exported all over the world.
In my own case, there were attacks from left, right and centre. They questioned how I, an electronic/electrical engineer, not even a mechanical engineer, could have built a car. There were so many organised attacks against me until at a time I had to ignore them.
I ignored them because I only wanted to perfect the product and have it in the market to prove that it is possible. I never really wanted to settle down into mass-producing cars since I was doing other researches more important to me than the car. I thought government was going to take the invention up by giving me just a little settlement for my efforts.
I worked for eight years behind the camera. It was my company that funded it and I worked round the clock, combining it with political campaign. I would go for campaign at 7.00am, return by 7.00pm, sleep for about three hours, wake up by 10.00pm, go into my lab with my task force and work till 5.00am. I would then drop them off and go home. That was how that car was build for eight years. People were shocked when we unveiled it.
FG probed the car
So, when we got it out, of course, the Federal Government did the right thing by setting up a 12-man probe panel to investigate the authenticity of the car. They did the right thing by drawing experts from the various research centres. The panel came to Owerri, spent three days and probed every part of the car. They wrote their report to the Federal Government at the end of their visit.
The Federal Government wrote to congratulate me, stressing that according to the report of the probe panel, the work was a very credible one even though there were bumps on the body of the car. They told us to smoothen the bumps in addition to other things.
Of course, I was not surprised with the bumps because the car we did was a prototype, not the real thing. We knew that we have to make moulds that would give exactly the same thing if we want to mass-produce 1000 cars. The prototype was done with just plane hands.
The Federal overnment acknowledged that it was a fantastic work, but at the end of the day, the amount approved to support me in the further development of the project was N235m even when they were giving foreign companies operating in Nigeria N1.5b. However, they still sit on it and up till today, not a dime has been released to us.
A foreign country invited me to give lectures on the technology, but by the time I finished the lecture, the president called me for a meeting. I met with him and his deputy and they confessed they did not actually invite me for the lecture but to inform me that they were interested in the car.
They told me they were ready to put down $400 million for mass production on the condition that I bring the car from Nigeria to their country. I rejected the offer, insisting that my country must produce it.
Nigeria missed it
So, I have done my best to Nigeria to acquire the technology about 16 years ago. If Nigeria had mass-produced that car, we would have been talking of producing one million of it annually to march the current Nigerian population. It would improve the economy and the naira would be equal to a dollar.
All these young men into militancy, kidnap and insurgency would have been gainfully engaged because none of them would earn less than N100,000 monthly from that car alone. However, nobody listened to me. I have put it behind me and as a researcher, I have continued with other researches because there are so many other areas to explore.