Unanswered questions about Nigeria’s dream car

IT is just as well President Goodluck Jonathan never allows himself to be distracted by the hysterics of critics of his administration and his party, PDP. I think he has finally come to terms with this ceaseless attack in spite of his valiant efforts and giant achievements in the implementation of his own transformation agenda as parts of price of leadership. In recent times, in areas such as the aviation sector where giant steps are being made, his embattled minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah has chosen to celebrate these achievements on her own. In the case of the agriculture sector, the achievement is selfevident with the availability of cassava bread initially restricted to the table of the rich and those in government now within the reach of ordinary people. In far away Davos, Switzerland, the attention of the media was on the energy sector. Predictably, the greatest news-that we are finally going to have our own ‘made in Nigeria car’, which in government’s view, deserved celebration, got drowned in the cynics lamentation about the fraudulent implementation of the privatisation of the iron and steel sector, which they claim has sealed our hope of ever becoming an industrialized nation. But the happy news of a Nigerian dream car, first broken to the president by Carlos Chosen, the Managing Director of Nissan in Davos, Switzerland, is according to the government, ‘a boost to its National Automobile Policy’ whose objective ‘is to make new cars affordable to more Nigerians.’ Towards this end the government ‘will encourage Nissan to produce cars in the range of N1.2 to 1.5million. And as a demonstration of government seriousness, it has already set aside N240m to purchase some of the products that are still being expected to roll out from the plant in April for ‘SURE P’. To confirm the commitment of NISSAN, Carlos Chosen has indicated the company will bring its ‘global suppliers to guarantee quality spare parts and create a viable auto mobile support industry’. On its part, our own government is committed to building of ‘automotive test centres and laboratories to conduct vehicle hemoglobin comprehensive test of parts and component that will enhance overall product quality.’ Perhaps government is restricting our participation to this limited role because of its experience in the last 14 years. It will be recalled PDP administration at the onset of the fourth republic inherited a thriving automobile support industry. Michelin and Dunlop that have since relocated outside Nigeria were active, employing thousands of Nigerians, until the energy crisis coupled with government’s indiscriminate issuance of import licences and granting of waivers drove them out of the country. Similarly, there were about 16 viable battery manufacturing firms spread from Ojota, Trade fair complex in Lagos, through Keana, Nasarawa , Goni Gora, Chikun,and Sabo, all in Kaduna; Jimeta-Yola, Adamawa, Oluyole, Oyo and Nnewi in Anambra State. They suffered similar fate because of massive importation of both fairly used and sub-standard battery products from China, Korea and Turkey. In place of popular local brands like Exide and Ibeafo batteries, we today have as many brands as there are importers, most with a life span of six to 12 months. Much as it can be said that the president is implementing his party economic policies which many argue favour only the privileged and those in government, the president can take advantage of hindsight to find out why the efforts of ‘Nigerian dream car’ by past Nigerian governments failed? It is on record for instance that between 1970- 1980, the government, in conjunction with some automobile plants in Europe set up Peugeot Nigeria Ltd. (PAN), Kaduna, and Volkswagen of Nigeria Ltd. (VWON) Lagos; Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company (ANAMMCO), Enugu, Styr Nigeria Ltd., Bauchi, National Truck Manufacturers (NTM), Kano, and Leyland Nigeria Ltd. Ibadan. Prices of products of the locally assembled vehicles skyrocketed beyond the reach of Nigerians who resorted to fairly used (tokunbo) cars. Most of these government initiatives even after privatization by PDP government had by 2007 collapsed. Our problem is complex. Precisely because of greed, our reckless leaders have been unable to manage areas where we have comparative competitive advantage like large rubber plantations and byproducts of petroleum refined products to sustain and support the tyre and battery manufacture sectors. But this has been compounded by our past colonial masters who have resolved to retain our big market for their finished products or as dumping ground for their obsolete industrial complexes. The result of our new plan for local assembly plant for the Nigerian dream car is therefore not going to be different from what happened in the 1980s when France and Germany sold their refurbished obsolete plants to Nigeria after acquiring new technology. The new Nigeria assembly plant will probably roll out models already on their way out in the home country. In an environment where there are no rules and where government endlessly engages in issuance of import licenses and granting of waivers for party sympathizers, the local assembled cars will most certainly face competition from the state of the art, new, computerized and more fuel efficient products we cannot prevent from entering the Nigerian market. In a free market economy, how does a government that cannot control price of kerosene in spite of billions of subsidy maintain a regime of subsidy to keep price of the Nigeria dream car at N1.5m? Who are the share holders of the company? In an incisive opinion piece in this newspaper last week, Kunle Bello a retired Managing Director of M-Tel referred us to ‘The British Privatisation scheme that took off in 1979 and transferred about 50 companies to private hands of over 10million shareholders out of a population of about 52m and raising more than #50billion from the scheme for the exchequer. In the case of the French-regulated privatization, it led to allotment of shares by France’s ministry of finance to firms, employees, public and even private investors. He drew comparison between these and our own process whereby our own BPE (Bureau for Public Enterprises) according to House probe, merely supervised underhand dealings by privileged group as shown by the sales of Daily Times , NICON, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC) Oku Iboku and, Aluminiium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) Ikot Abasi .etc. What is the share spread of the recently privatized energy sector whose new owners now plead for government for equity participation? In the ongoing energy sector summit, the minister of finance disclosed only this Monday that government is setting aside 500 million dollars to aid the new investors in the energy sector. What was the outcome of such bailouts for the aviation, textile and banking sectors? This is why Nigerians need more information on the ownership structure of the company that is saddled with the responsibility of manufacturing the Nigeria dream car at a government pegged price.

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