Jelani Aliyu,MFR has become a household name in the automotive industry, having succeeded in designing globally admired vehicles. President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to appoint Aliyu as the Director-General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council was therefore a demonstration of commitment to the implementation of a world-class automotive policy that can position Nigeria among the committee of nations that manufacture and export vehicles. In this exclusive interview with YUSUF ISSA – ANUPHAWI, Mr. Aliyu told our correspondent that the time to revolutionize Nigeria’s automotive industry is now.He also outlined the benefits of the NAIDP bill which was recently passed. The National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC) is one of the institutions that are being transformed to key into the diversification drive of the Federal Government. Excerpt…
The National Automotive Industry Development Policy (NAIDP) also known as the automotive policy was recently passed into Law. What are the prospects?
The NAIDP bill is an initiative to promote local production of automobiles in Nigeria. It provides incentives such as tax lien, tax breaks, tax holidays to support local production and discourage importation of used vehicles that pose an unfair threat to local production and also which we know are very unsafe and not just right for Nigeria. So the NAIDP bill in a nutshell is here to support local production so that we will build the vehicles that we need. And as we do that create thousands of jobs and protect the Nigerian Industry from unfair importation of dilapidated products.
As a follow up question to that, are you satisfied with Nigeria’s attitude towards used vehicles?
Well for a lot of Nigerians, that is their only option. A number of the new vehicles are currently too expensive for the average Nigerian, so the only option a lot of people have is to go for used vehicles and that is why we are here. Also that is why we have this objective to begin to produce vehicles in Nigeria that are affordable, brand new vehicles, so as we move forward as the NAIDP initiative builds momentum, the objective is to have more local production, more efficient and more affordable vehicles for Nigerians who would by then not be forced to buy used vehicles because they have this better option.
Despite the inability of the country to produce fuel powered cars to meet the needs of the domestic market you were reported in the media the last time on the strategy to produce electric cars what informed this your plan?
Yes, this is a very exciting development globally we look at what’s happening around the world, there is an advent of electric powered vehicles. Vehicles that don’t use gasoline, diesel nor petrol; they are powered by electricity. Electric motors are supposed to replace fossil fuel powered motors. A number of countries have already set targets through which they would outlaw the use of fossil powered vehicles. There is global awareness and environmental consciousness that humanity as a species now acknowledges that we have to protect our environment. We have only one planet ‘this earth’ and we have to protect the eco system. So, there are technologies now that we leverage because humanity now realizes that we cannot continue to fight and destroy nature, we must see it as a medium from which we learn, draw energy and live in harmony with and not to continuously go against it. So Nigeria cannot be left behind, we have to jump onto that progressive bandwagon.
If you look at what we are trying to do, we are working on bringing major OEMs, the big car companies, into Nigeria so that they can set up shop and produce locally. Pretty soon the only types of vehicles produced by the companies that we want to bring into Nigeria will be electric vehicles. So, if we don’t start to prepare ourselves with the necessary infrastructure to support electric vehicles, we will be left out in the cold. And if we insist and say well, let the whole world go into electric powered vehicles we will stick to petrol powered vehicles, it will be very possible that we will be hit by sanctions and then we would be one of the very few, countries that continue to use petrol powered vehicles.
Very recently, world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss the issue of climate change as well as how to tackle factors that contributes to climate change. Don’t you think that producing electric powered cars could be a threat to Nigeria’s economy giving that we are a mono economy and what we have to sell majorly is fuel?
Well, there are two things there.
1: The administration that we have now as you know is very progressive, they are genuinely interested in the progress of the whole country and the administration understands that we have to diversify from oil. We can’t continue to depend on just one commodity. The economy cannot be based on just one sector that is why there is a call for commitment to diversification into industry, agriculture and mining. So that is no longer the case. We as a country are beginning to move away from crude oil economy and the rest of the world has already moved away from it. So, the revenue that we use to get from crude oil as we know is no longer there and it will only continue to diminish and that is why we are diversifying away from crude oil. And this moment and in this time of vehicles now powered by electricity is unstoppable whether we join the movement, or we don’t, it will continue. We can’t stop it and so our best option is to be part of it, also our best option is to be one of the leaders in the adoption of that technology. It’s in our best interest and we can do it.
Coming from the international community to occupy this position, you know that there are a lot of challenges before you to win the war. I call it war because people still love used cars more than new cars. And out there you know how the system works and bringing that experience from the global level to Nigeria, how do you relate with the big names, I mean global manufacturers outside Nigeria, how do you relate with them to develop Nigeria and automobile Nigerian industry?
When you say people love used cars more than new cars it’s because of these reasons:
Used cars are lower priced, these used cars are what people can afford and the new ones are a bit too expensive. But our objective, NADDC together with other relevant stakeholders, is to enable the production of brand new vehicles in Nigeria that surpass the used ones. What we want to do is to say ok, Nigerians bring in used cars that are about 5,10,15 years old, how do we provide the latest versions of those vehicles right here. Am sure Nigerians would go for the brand-new vehicles and we are also looking at providing a vehicle financing scheme where Nigerians don’t have to put down a hundred percent. So, you go down maybe put down a five percent and then pay for the vehicle over time, we will just lease it for two or three years and then take it back and the person will get another new one. So, we are looking at providing financial options to Nigerians so as to allow them get into new vehicles. Not too long ago we were in South Africa and we met with major OEMs such as BMW, TOYOTA, NISSAN and VOLKSWAGEN. And we discussed with them on how best we can bring them into the country and they were very excited, there were are a number of things that we discussed and we need to work on, and which we are already working on. One of the most important thing is to pass the NAIDP BILL that would protect foreign investments and that has been passed. So that is a major development. NADDC is working very seriously on bringing these manufacturers into Nigeria. And to build this sector we need Nigerians and friends of Nigeria. So, in a nutshell the old vehicles that Nigerians love and want to bring in, we are looking at how to produce their latest versions in the country at an affordable price.
What is your relationship with Nigerian Universities and Colleges of Technology on automobile policies and local content?
Well the big thing is you know there is a skills gap in Nigeria, the number of people that are trained in automotive sector whether in producing vehicles or in servicing and maintaining them is very low compared to the demand. Our engineers go through universities but are not really practically oriented so NADDC is working closely with a number of universities to see how we can up the ante in training engineers to be really practically oriented, we have already donated a number of mega electronic equipment to a number of institutions in Nigeria for example the Lagos state polythecnic and we have others in the pipeline such as ATBU Bauchi and University of Ibadan, We have already bought equipment that would be supplied to them very soon so we are working very closely with institutions of higher learning to see how we can develop the curriculum and develop really practically minded automotive engineers.
Do you have a budget for all this?
Yes, whatever we do is in the budget. As a government body whatever we propose to do must be captured in the budget of a particular year.
How much do you propose to spend on some of these, this year?
Enough to do what we have to do.
Now the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is desirous of establishing Motor Industrial Parks as part of the ERGP Implementation, how do you react this?
This is an exciting development in terms of automotive sector being fully engaged. When you look at a vehicle, it is made up of thousands of components and each component is made by different companies and we bring them together and assemble as per the standards of the OEM, the designer and developer of the main vehicle. So the production of components is essential to a healthy automotive sector and that is one of our objectives so we are looking at setting up three automotive industrial parks in the country, one in Kaduna, the second in Oshogbo and the third is the most advanced in terms of progress in the project, that is in Nnewi.
As we know, Nnewi is a hot bed for automotive and auto parts. It has a common history in that sector. So we are having this auto park right there in Nnewi, we are engaging stakeholders both national and international to make sure that this automotive industrial park in Nnewi is really relevant to where the industry is headed in the future because we don’t want to start to enable the production of parts that would be obsolete in a couple of years so whatever we begin to produce in Nnewi we make sure will be relevant in the next 10, 20, 30 years. There is already a committee set up comprising representatives of NADDC, the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, other stakeholders. We’ve had discussions. When we were in South Africa we met with NACA which is a consortium of manufacturers that assemble or produce components and we hope to engage them even further into being one of the off–takers in places like Nnewi, but there are so many opportunities there to really go in there not just to make a contribution to that region but to the whole Nigerian automotive eco system. Like I said we are not just building another automotive industrial park, we want it to be tied into the three major trends of automotive industry such as electrification, autonomy and right sharing. I know this could be topics of debate but like I said we have to be world standard and whatever we do from now on we have to make sure it is as advanced as it would be in any part of the world.
What is the status of the government-owned automobile assembly plants?
As we are all aware there is what we call installed capacity and actual capacity when we are dealing with how many vehicles any particular company or outfit manufactures, for example a company could have the capacity to build maybe 10,000 vehicles per year but because of other challenges they can only produce a thousand. This is a major challenge being faced by a number of stakeholders in Nigeria, so we are working with all relevant stakeholders to see how we can really increase that capacity and for the ones that have stopped production we are also working towards reviving them. But the important thing here is to understand is that in this age, all this momentum needs to be private sector driven. The government is not the right institution to go into many places and actually be the one that produces or manufacturers goods but we are here to enable, to facilitate and to empower the private sector to really go into this industry. So some of these facilities that used to be active 10, 20 years ago that are now dormant we are very willing to come in and support the private sector in reviving them or even in starting to produce newer types of vehicles there.
Lastly, what level are you taking the national automotive design and development council to, say in 10 years?
In 10 years, we really hope to have a very high percentage of vehicles used in Nigeria to have been made in Nigeria. But then not just to produce vehicles but to also have Nigerians as part of the design and development phase because we can’t just produce vehicle we have to look around, every day you hear that a young man in Lagos has designed a certain type of vehicle another young man in Bauchi has done something, so a lot of times these young kids have nowhere to go, so I’m really proposing a dedicated automotive design and innovation institute where these young men and women can go and become professional automotive designers and developers so that they would design the Innoson vehicles to come out in the next 10 years, so they can also design a whole new company, its vehicles or maybe even work for TOYOTA or HONDA to design Nigeria’s specific Toyota or Honda, there is so much capability, so much talent in Nigeria and I think this would be an avenue to really give it all the necessary support it needs so that Nigeria’s would become innovators in the automotive sector.