Slow pace of mechatronics training

Last Tuesday, the Director-General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), Jelani Aliyu, revealed that the federal government has rolled out plans to train about 3,200 youths in mechatronics this year as part of its deliberate attempt to boost skills acquisition and promote local production of automobiles. He said they would be trained through the N-Power scheme of the federal government.

 Aliyu made the disclosure while addressing the Commerce and Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CICAN). He told the gathering that the council had so far trained over 20,000 youths drawn from different parts of the country.

He lamented that Nigeria spent a whopping sum of $80bn importing between 300 and 400 vehicles to the country annually, noting that such importations added no value to the economy.

The NADDC helmsman said that the council was working with the federal government to unveil the National Automotive Industrialisation Development Plan (NAIDP) to support the industrialisation of the automotive sector in terms of producing vehicles in the country.

He further revealed: “The NAIDP is supporting local production and discouraging importation of cars into the country. “We are currently in the process of building three Automotive Industrial Parks in three states, namely Kaduna, Osun and Anambra. “We are working with the Bank of Industry and all relevant stakeholders will be involved.”

He hinted that the council had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Volkswagen to get the automobile giants back to the country to resume production of Passat, Golf and Volkswagen products. Blueprint commends the NADDC for being proactive as well as its foresight in taking the initiative which began about 10 years ago.

However, the process of bridging the technological divide being witnessed in the automotive industry is too slow. In 2009, Aliyu’s predecessor, Aminu Jalal, raised the alarm that about two million mechanics were faced with imminent joblessness.

For those who could still not comprehend the alarm, it means that the types of vehicles our roadside mechanics are familiar with are gradually being phased out of the market owing to the rapid development in technology.

Most of the vehicles being imported into the country now are made of a highly sophisticated combination of mechanical and electronic parts which the average mechanic cannot comprehend; he lacks the ability to read and interpret electronic circuit diagrams.

This problem ought to worry every owner of new-generation cars, the old-fashioned mechanics, spare parts traders and importers, as well as the government at all levels. Small wonder, it is now common to see vehicles being towed over long distances to the few workshops that can repair new-generation vehicles with minor problems.

Many vehicles have also been grounded or abandoned altogether because the owners have become victims of guesswork by ignorant road mechanics. Following Jalal’s revelation 10 years ago, the then National Automotive Council (NAC), the Nigerian Automobile Technicians Association (NATA) and other stakeholders decided to develop a training programme to remedy the artisans’ deficiencies.

However, it is not a cheering piece of news that only 20,000 out of the two million identified a decade ago have been able to cross over to the digital age. What this slow pace means is that the approach has been desultory.

We blame successive governments for their poor policy implementation and lack of political will and commitment. In the 1970s, a foundation was laid for an industrial revolution in the automotive sector following the establishment of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, the steel rolling companies in Jos and Katsina, as well as the machine tools factory in Osogbo.

Unfortunately, these organisations were plagued by high-level corruption and mismanagement until they became moribund. Were Nigeria serious about that revolution, made-in-Nigeria vehicles would have flooded our roads by now.

 Nations like India and South Korea that were less endowed with raw materials and that were on the same pedestal with us in the 1960s have become giant automobile manufacturers and exporters. Their vehicles such as TATA, KIA and Hyundai are among those that our local mechanics are incapable of repairing with confidence.

To bridge the digital divide, the NADDC, NATA and other stakeholders have to go the extra kilometres in their drive to suck in the army of ignorant mechanics. If the council is training a little over 3,000 artisans/youths annually, it may take eternity to go round the over two million identified a decade ago.

The NADDC and NATA should also put together a sustained workshop-to-workshop campaign to encourage the local mechanics to embrace the emerging technologies, considering the fact that some of them might not be susceptible to changes or willing to take time off their jobs to embrace the process. The two bodies should ensure that owners of new-generation vehicles are guaranteed happy motoring

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