In 1997, a brilliant electrical engineer and lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Dr Ezekiel Izuogu, designed and developed the Izuogu Z-600, the first made-in-Africa car. The BBC described it as “the African dream machine”, as 90% of its parts was sourced locally. At a projected retail cost of $2, 000, it would have taken the world by storm and become the cheapest and most affordable car on earth. With mass production planned under Izuogu Motors plant in Naze, Owerri, the prospect of an industrial revolution in Nigeria was in the making.
The car was equipped with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that got 18mpg and allowed the car to achieve a top speed of 140 km/h. Front-wheel drive (FWD) was chosen over rear-wheel drive (RWD) because a transmission tunnel, which RWD requires, would be more expensive to fabricate.
Then head of state General Sani Abacha set up a 12-man panel of inquiry made up of professionals to ascertain the roadworthiness and authenticity of the car. After several days of probing, the committee gave Dr Izuogu’s car a clean bill of health, recommending that some of the bumps on the body of the car be smoothened.
This happened five years before India built its first car known as Indi.
At a well-organised unveiling ceremony during which General Abacha was represented by his deputy Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya, thousands of people including over 20 ambassadors were in attendance. The federal government promised a grant of N235 million [about $12m at the time] to Dr Izuogu.
An excited Izuogu is still waiting for that grant up to this day. No dime was released to him.
In 2006, the government of South Africa invited him to do a presentation on the car, in the presence of several world-class engineers. Impressed with his presentation, South Africa invited him to come and set up a plant in the country and begin production.
Dr Izuogu reluctantly agreed, though he wasn’t happy that the locals of Naze and the Nigerian human resources environment would lose the benefits of employment generation.
On Saturday, March 11, 2006, at about 2am, about 12 heavily armed men broke into Dr. Izogu’s factory in Naze and carted away various machines and tools including the design history notebook of Z-600, the design file Z-MASS containing the design history for mass production of the Z-600 car, and the moulds for various parts of the car.
“It seems that the target of this robbery is to stop the efforts we’re making to mass-produce the first ever locally made car in Africa. Other items stolen included locally produced timing wheel, locally produced camshaft, locally produced crankshaft, locally produced engine tappets, 20 pieces each,” said Izuogu. “Also stolen were 10 pieces of locally produced Z-600 engine blocks, 10 pieces of locally produced pistons, four pieces of engine block mounds, four pieces of top engine block moulds, 10 pieces of engine fly wheel and two pieces each of rear car and front mudguard moulds.”
The inventor regretted that not only did they lose over one N1 billion in monetary terms, but also time (about 10 years) and the energy it took to design and produce the moulds. “To worsen the matters, our design notebook was also stolen,” he stated.
He regarded the incident as a national economic disaster because the nation had lost a technological and intellectual property.
The Nigerian press was quiet about this story. The setback and government’s attitude frustrated Izuogu. And his dream died.
Izuogu’s story is one shared by many talented Nigerians. In fact, after the Nigerian-Biafran war in 1970, great inventions from the “rebel” territory were assembled and set on fire! The inventors had made vehicles from scrap, made rocket launchers, refined fuel in kitchens, built and maintained airstrips, and contributed to other war efforts that kept Biafra going as Britain, Russia and other world powers hired to fight Biafra unleashed their firepower. Rather than be used to build Nigeria’s tech industry after the war, the geniuses were ignored. Some of them fled overseas to contribute to the technological revolutions of the Western world.
Many a young Nigerian have, through their own sweat, made various brands of aircraft and cars. Some have invented generators that run on water or gas. On occasion, they appear at trade fairs. Owing to irregular and inadequate power supply, budding entrepreneurs have relocated even to neighbouring Ghana.
Nigeria has ignored them all. Instead, many ministries, departments and agencies the governments have created are meant to obtain their shares of crude oil money and dispense to idlers parading the corridors of government. Nigeria has not ceased to be a consumer nation, 60 years after independence, even as unemployment and poverty rule the roost in the country.
–– With agency reports