Jelani Aliyu, is a car design veteran from General Motors (GM). He is also known as the designer of the Chevy Volt, amongst other vehicular creations in the United States of America. To him, spearheading a revolution that will change the face of auto-design and manufacturing in Nigeria and on the continent is a move that will domicile the country and continent on the pathway of sustainable development. He chats with DAVID AGBA
How has the experience being since coming on board as the Director General of the National Automotive Development and Design Council, (NADDC)?
It has been a very exciting and interesting experience. First and most important is that it is a great opportunity to really play a role in moving Nigeria forward, and specifically in helping grow the automotive sector in Nigeria in terms of local production that is geared towards creating more jobs and obviously providing those products within the borders of Nigeria. Then secondly, it is very exciting to have a team on the ground at NADDC dedicated to this cause
As you are aware, Nigeria has a huge population, and any country with a population of over 180 million is huge and big business, because transportation, automotive, airways are all crucial to the development of any nation because people have to move and goods have to be transported from one location to another.
The role the automotive sector plays in the social fabric of any nation is immeasurable, so it is really a great honnour and opportunity to be able to play a role in the development of this sector. There are a few challenges as it will exist in any situation, but I believe the commitment is there personally; the commitment is there with my team at NADDC to move forward and solve these problems and moving the sector forward.
How would you describe the challenges you have had to deal with since you came on board?
Well as you are aware, overall, the government of the nation; this administration is very different in terms of its intensive commitment to moving the nation forward, not just a part of the nation, but from the Atlantic shoreline in the south, to the grasslands of the middle belt all the way to the northern part of the country, this administration is committed to making people’s lives better.
And that is what it is all about. You talk about diversification from oil, you talk about industrialization, you talk about better education, and you ask yourself, what are all these about? It is all about making people’s lives happier and better. Being able to make the life of that little girl or boy happier, being able to give that little one an opportunity to have a smile on his or her face, it all boils down to that; that core human aspect of us to enhance what makes us human.
So, the overall challenges in the automotive sector are similar to other challenges we face in Nigeria. I always said the problem with this country is not lack of resources, it is not the lack of human capacity or intelligence and it is not corruption. It is just that we tend to forget who we are and what we can do.
And I think that once as Nigerians we realize that each person is essential to the whole development of the nation and we all wake up and play our roles together, magic will begin to happen.
Your passion for youth development in all areas of talents and skills is well known. What particular plans do you have for youths that are talented and have some level of expertise that the automotive sector can develop and build upon?
NADDC has lots of initiatives going. The very first one we are working on is the automotive design and innovation competition. This will be opened to all Nigerians, especially the youths and all those creative Nigerians out there. We will have two categories, depending on the person’s interests and strength to choose a category and design certain vehicles, and these vehicles we will ask them to design during the competition will not be sports cars or luxury cars. We have identified two types of transportation solutions that are basic, rudimentary and very appropriate to human and economic development in Nigeria.
So, we will have the competition out there and the winners will be chosen from all the six geo political zones of the country. And then we will also have national winners. We will take these winners to our Zaria office; give them all the necessary support needed, bring in professionals from Nigeria and from outside and take that winning concept all the way to a functional prototype.
Once we get to that prototype phase, then it will be ready for production and we will either license it up, or go into a joint venture with the private sector. Once we get to that stage, it becomes a private sector driven initiative. So this competition will go a long way in identifying these talented kids out there, and give them an opportunity to showcase what they could do. That is one.
The second one is in the near future; we are looking at a dedicated automotive design and development institute very similar to the type of school I went to in the United States. But again, the emphasis on the school will be for applicable automotive solutions that are needed in Nigeria and Africa. Vehicles that particular to us, our terrain, climate, our environment.
Apart from the issue of inadequate skills, what other challenges are responsible for automobile manufacturers like GM, Chrysler, Ford not having plants in Nigeria, despite the country being a major economic hub?
Like you said, these companies cannot justify why they are not here, and we have discussed this with them when we met in the global coalition for automotive conference in South Africa, and some of the challenges that they envisages are very real.
We have insufficient power. To run a very successful and sustainable auto industry, you need electricity continuously, because if you rely on personal power generation or local power generation, cost will just escalate. So that’s a challenge that needs to be addressed.
Apart from the challenge of power and infrastructure, what other challenges are there, why are the global automakers not manufacturing in Nigeria?
The market is still here, but they are also skeptical on the protection of local production in the country. Nigeria is one of the countries that is moving forward to protect its local production. In the National Industrial Revolution Plan, (NIRP), there is a part that protects the local automotive sector, and protects vehicles manufactured within the country.
There are a number of substandard vehicles being brought into the country that are unsafe, so we must find a way to stop that, and then also give incentives to local manufacturers to produce their vehicles in the country . But we really cannot overlook infrastructures. We cannot overlook the influx of substandard vehicles. We need to find a way around that, but then, I believe when a company really understands the potentials in Nigeria, they can see how big the market is. The potential are enormous.
Why has the scheme not been long implemented considering that is what is obtainable in other countries. What do you think is responsible for the delay in adopting this scheme by previous governments as far as vehicle financing and sales scheme are concerned?
I wouldn’t know that, but now that we are here, we are committed to doing it. You must also understand that when you look at Africa, there has always been challenges that are counter to development. But when you have new technology, new solutions that help you leapfrog and achieve what you were unable to achieve in the past, sometimes, it happens quickly. I think that’s what’s happening. We now have the technology that we can leverage, but we must have the commitment to leverage them. At NADDC, we now have and acknowledge these technologies, new solutions, and we will now use them to attain our objectives.