By Ayobami Oyalowo
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.~ George Orwell.
To govern a people is not necessarily rocket science for as long as the government sincerely seeks the best interests of those it purportedly wishes to govern. Nigerians generally are the easiest to govern with simple, almost basic needs and requirements, from their government.
The continuous deceit and lies by the ruling elite, either military or civilians, have created a huge gap between the rulers and the ruled; therefore the citizens of Nigeria have come to see the various governments as a bunch of liars, while those in government have also not helped matters.
Issues within and policies of government at all levels are carried out in the fashion of a secret cult; nobody outside the few privileged elites know exactly what goes on within government, therefore rumour mongering thrives and since those juicy rumours mostly fill up the void left by the over secretive government (and as the saying goes, “life abhors a vacuum”), the rumours, hearsay and innuendos help to serve the people’s curiosity.
Democracy has a new meaning in Nigeria. To our politicians, it means soliciting for votes every four years. The voters (electorates) are mere guinea pigs to be danced to and danced with during jamborees called electioneering campaigns, after which they are quickly forgotten and dispensed with by the almighty political kingmakers until the next elections are around the corner.
The Nigerian democracy is never about debates and exchange of ideas nor are the governed allowed a say in how their affairs are run. In fact, the government expects the “poor serfs” to be grateful for having the opportunity to have few roads patched and boreholes dug in their community. The Nigerian democracy is a four year ritual where huge and empty promises are made with no intention whatsoever of fulfilling them in anyway.
Recently it came to light that The Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday 2nd October, 2013, finally gave its nod for the new national automotive policy. The government said it was disturbed by the whopping annual N550 billion spent importing cars and it therefore took the decision to grant approval to the new policy that has been on the drawing board for over nine months.
The new development is also expected to revive, expand and develop the petrochemical and metal/steel sectors. The proponents of the policy claim it will also see the return of the tyre manufacturing industry to profitability ways to support the automotive sector.
To the uninitiated, one could easily jump for joy. But hold on, don’t celebrate yet: let us go down memory lane.
In the early 1970s, in the pursuit of what was said to be the “import substitution policy” of the Federal Government then (a policy that was mouthed to ultimately obliterate the importation of vehicles into the country; which this new automotive policy seems to be echoing), Volkswagen and Peugeot plants were started in Lagos and Kaduna respectively. These two government sponsored CKD assembly plants were followed by the FGN establishing four commercial vehicles’ assembly plants in Ibadan (Leyland), Enugu (Mercesdes-Benz ANAMMCO), Kano (National Trucks Manufacturers) and Bauchi (Steyr Nigeria) in 1976.
Also, agreements were signed in the early ’80s for the establishment of five minibus assembly plants (Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Isuzu and Mazda), but just as the previously established plants were going out of business (barring Peugeot in Kaduna and anemic versions of Mercedes-Benz ANAMMCO in Enugu and Steyr in Bauchi) these newly planned plants didn’t commence operations. In 2010, a local entrepreneur, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Ltd in partnership with a Chinese automaker commissioned Nigeria’s latest automobile assembly plant.
Let us ask ourselves a basic question: who was consulted before Aganga and his group of wise-men came up with this policy? When or where were the exhaustive debates held to get the buy in of stakeholders? Aren’t we merely embarking on another wild goose chase?
Let’s be clear, having in place a good policy is always the best in the long run, but government is supposed to be for the people and by the people. You can’t shave my head in my absence, can you?
A cursory examination of the failed historic import substitution policy may help us to appreciate the inherent emptiness of the new automotive policy. Before such an ambitious policy can be successful, certain fundamentals must be in place: One, the requisite human capital, with the relevant automotive mechatronics capacity to engage the electronics and computing technologies that define the modern automobiles–ought to be in place.
This vital condition is presently lacking because of the generational systemic failure of our educational/technical training programme. Nigerian universities and colleges of technology are still using totally obsolete curricula (like carburettor technology that’s been outdated for over two decades now) to teach our undergraduates specializing in automotive engineering.
Two, in most countries where vehicles are manufactured, the assembly plants only constitute the zenith of an industrial pyramid of raw materials processors and parts-making industries. The National Automotive Council, the nation’s statutory body that’s laden with regulating activities and standards in the industry has less than 100 registered local automotive parts/products producers/manufacturers (and this includes manufacturers of basic seat covers, seat belts and other primary and less complicated components). And insofar as the import substitution policy of yore failed because these feeder industries were non-existent, it’s almost certain that the present ruse of a policy too will fail, as laudable as it seems on paper.
Three, it’s indeed an irony that unlike most auto making countries where basic electrical components like the air conditioning compressors, alternators, starters, etc, are refurbished locally and re-used in vehicles, the unholy alliance between incessant power outages, dearth of investment funds and almost a total lack of skilled manpower will starve the enunciated policy to the grave of its dead and delusional predecessor-policy.
Finally we have the small matter of extreme power failure and lack of basic infrastructure. If the tyre manufacturers abandoned Nigeria for neighboring countries of Ghana etc, in the past, has anything changed to warrant their returning to Nigeria?
It has become the tradition for supposed “technocrats” and political appointees to bring up bogus policies with no clear road map and measurable timelines, knowing that even when they fail, which they ultimately do, nobody will call them to question and none ever accounts for their failed stewardship.
Is it not paradoxical that the same administration that increased the number of years of automobiles imported to Nigeria from 10 years old to 15 years is the same government that has “reasoned” out this utopic policy? Is this not a major policy somersault?
I must state at this juncture that the government’s claim that N550bn was expended annually to import vehicles into the country seems a bit tall to me; if one assumes that the average price of imported automobiles (eighty five percent of which are used vehicles) is N2.5m and when one divides N550bn with N2.5m one will get a picture of 200,000 vehicles annually imported into the country! Something is totally wrong between this outrageous claim and the realistic picture of just over 100,000 vehicles averagely imported into this country annually.
Something is not just right about this new national automotive policy and the federal government led by President Jonathan needs to step it down until more exhaustive debates and national consultations with serious stakeholders is held in an atmosphere of genuine debate and policy review sessions where stakeholders can table suggestions on how to create the industrial eco-system that will help articulate the admirable objectives enunciated in the presently presumptuous policy.
For a country that intends to produce automobiles, there ought to be a viable steel industry but we all know the sad story of Ajaokuta, Itakpe and Aladja Steel rolling mills. Billions of dollars spent and completely mismanaged. Not a soul has been brought to book to account for the shenanigans. The money expended on those mills have not only been lost to the wind, there is nothing on ground to show for it, neither is anything been done to bring back these companies.
A serious country that intends to manufacture cars will also have an active tyre making industry fueled by local or imported rubber production. What happened to those rubber trees in the old Bendel area? As a growing child, I was serenaded with the commercials of Michelin and Dunlop tyres, among others. Where are they today? But our government, instead of starting from the base, intends to build a skyscraper from the top.
By July 1st, the cost of clearing a car will increase by over 70%. Before the initial tariff increase of March this year, a 2004 model vehicle was cleared at 250,000 and market price was 1.4m , now it’s cleared at a cost of N400,000 and the increment passed on to final consumers.
The federal government would do well to work on a plan to make car manufacturers (i.e. Toyota with a huge market in Nigeria) to establish assembly plants in Nigeria with a high percentage of local content. Nigerian engineers and other professionals would not only benefit in the massive number of jobs that would be created but in the long run, like Korea, we should begin to build home made cars to compete side by side with foreign ones. It is now time to revive the moribund steel rolling mills and prosecute those who mismanaged them. Also, make the environment conducive for tyre manufacturers and others who had hitherto fled, to come back to Nigeria.
The utopian picture as being painted by Aganga is nothing but another white elephant project, designed to line up a few pockets and emasculate genuine businessmen and women amidst the euphoria of an empty and cacophonous policy that is doomed to fail from the outset, while sounding the final death knell on the fast disappearing middle class and plunging them into further obscurity and economic chasm.
You don’t legislate production, you can only encourage manufacturers to produce by making the environment conducive for production. That is the surest way to create jobs, not the current ill thought out and knee jerk automotive policy.
This government should stop inflicting pains on Nigerians. If a deity cannot improve my lot, why not let me remain just as I am?
Oyalowo is a banker and public affairs analyst. Follow him on twitter @Ayourb