It seems that the target of this robbery is to stop the efforts we are making to mass produce the first ever locally made car in Africa
By Douglas Anele
As everyone knows, the topic that is trending most in Nigeria today is “EndSars,” the catch-phrase for spontaneous protests especially in the south against police brutality and atrocious activities of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) against the people.
However, the issue will not dealt with here today not because it is unimportant but because I consider it very urgent to draw the attention of my readers to the very troubling but almost forgotten story of Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu which emblematises not only the Igbo predicament in the asphyxiating Lugardian contraption we live in but also underscores the heart-rending persistent failure of leadership that tends to cripple the best and brightest in the country.
Although few news outlets carried the news of Dr. Izuogu’s demise about three months ago with a brief account of what happened to the locally-made car he pioneered, the historical significance of that event was lost on most people.
That Nigerians collectively are historically pachydermatous is beyond dispute, which is why they often chase shadows instead of spending time and effort on things that really matter.
That said, no right-thinking human being who reads about what happened to his fundamental contribution to automotive engineering would not be thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed of belonging to a country that wastes its most creative talents as a result of sheer wickedness, toxic ethno-religious bias and plain stupidity.
Also in the category of wasted talents aside from the scientists and engineers responsible for the Biafran technological achievements during the civil war were Profs. Ayodele Awojobi and Gordian Ezekwe whose engineering genius was neglected by the ruling elite till they died partly due to frustration caused by a system that elevates mediocrity over competence and ability.
The tragic experiences of these scholars are classic examples of how hideously incompetent leadership destroys the most brilliant minds upon which every society depends for innovation, creativity, wealth creation and, ultimately, self-reliance.
Dr. Izuogu, an indigene of Akokwa, Imo state, was a brilliant electrical engineer and lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede.
In 1997 he designed and developed Z-600, the first indigenous car manufactured in Africa. The car was described by the BBC as the African dream machine given that 90% of its parts were sourced locally.
At a projected sales cost of 2,000 dollars, Z-600 probably would have attracted worldwide attention by becoming the cheapest and most affordable car on earth.
With mass production of the vehicle envisaged under Izuogu Motors plant in Naze, Owerri, the prospects of an industrial revolution in Igboland and Nigeria seemed a distinct possibility. Z-600 was equipped with a locally made 1.8L four cylinder engine that generated 18 mpg, which allowed the car to achieve a top speed of 140 km/h.
Front Wheel Drive (FWD) was preferred to Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) because the transmission tunnel necessitated by RWD would be more expensive to fabricate. One of the most encouraging aspects of this sad story as indicated earlier is that 90% of the car’s components were manufactured in the country, making it a truly Nigerian automobile.
Gen. Sani Abacha the military dictator at that time set up a panel of inquiry comprising professionals in the relevant disciplines to ascertain the roadworthiness and authenticity of the car. After painstaking investigations the committee endorsed Dr. Izuogu’s car and recommended that more work should be done especially to smoothen the body of the vehicle.
It is important to observe at this point that all this happened five years before Indians built their first car called Indi. Now, at a well-organised unveiling ceremony attended by Lt. Gen. Oladipo Diya who represented Abacha, in addition to over twenty foreign diplomats and thousands of people, the federal government promised a grant of two hundred and thirty-five million naira to Dr. Izuogu who, understandably, was excited.
But his excitement later turned to despair and disillusionment: Abacha did not fulfil his promise before his sudden death in 1998, and his immediate successors completely ignored the subject.
In 2006, after realising that Nigerian leaders were not serious, the South African government invited Dr. Izuogu to display the car in the presence of world-class engineers. The presentation was very successful, consequent upon which he was requested to set up a plant in South Africa and commence production of the vehicle.
He reluctantly agreed, although as a patriot he was unhappy that South Africans rather than the people of Naze and Nigerians in general would enjoy the benefits of employment generation arising from his invention.
Sadly, before he could set up the plant, on Saturday March 11, 2006, around 2 am about twelve heavily armed men broke into his factory in Naze and took away various machines and tools, including the design history notebook of Z-600, the design file Z-MASS containing detailed design descriptions for mass production of the car, and the moulds for various parts of the vehicle.
According to the heartbroken Dr. Izuogu, “It seems that the target of this robbery is to stop the efforts we are 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, all twenty pieces each.
Also stolen were ten pieces of locally produced Z-600 engine blocks, ten pieces of locally produced pistons, four pieces of engine block mounds, four pieces of top engine block moulds, ten pieces of engine flywheel, and two pieces each of rear and front mudguard moulds.”
He regretted that not only did he and others involved in the project lose over one billion naira, but also the time (about ten years) and energy spent in designing and producing the moulds.
“To worsen matters,” he says, “our design notebook was stolen. In my opinion, Dr. Izuogu was justified in regarding the robbery as a national economic disaster because the country had lost a significant intellectual property. Unfortunately, the Nigerian press did not give it the publicity it deserved and, as usual, Nigerians moved on as if nothing significant had happened.
Years after his dream of helping “Nigger Area” to join the comity of car manufacturing countries was blown to smithereens by Abacha, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Izuogu unwisely stepped into the corruption-infested murky waters of Imo politics by participating in the gubernatorial primaries for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The bohemian historian, philosopher and writer, Chinweizu, remarks, correctly in my view, that Izuogu’s case is a paradigm example of Igbo brilliance without wisdom, cleverness without common sense; an example of Igbo dreaming about industrialisation without political autonomy.
Furthermore, “Some Igbo boast that they will do a Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Bavaria or California without recognising that they first have to achieve the political autonomy that made such models possible. Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
Didn’t our precolonial Igbo ancestors say: ‘ana azotagodu ala tupu azowa ute?’ But our brilliantly certificated modern Igbo are too brilliantly blind to see wisdom in such folk sayings.”
Chinweizu affirms that only “an Igbo clever fool” would try to build a manufacturing plant without having the political and security forces to protect it.
To be concluded…