The Innoson Saga: Why Local Manufacturers Must Be Encouraged, By Uju Obii-Obioha
At a time the government should be encouraging local manufacturing, one of the country’s greatest manufacturers is being humiliated by the EFCC and GTB. It sends the wrong message to aspiring local manufacturers all across the country.
The present administration has been talking a lot about decreasing Nigeria’s reliance on imported goods and coming up with policies to encourage and increase local manufacturing. The goal is that if we focus more on local manufacturing, we will start exporting more, therefore increasing foreign exchange earnings for the country. It is a sensible plan/policy to embark on but the recent issue between Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) Company and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) makes one wonder how serious the administration is about encouraging local manufacturing. Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) company and Guarantee Trust Bank (GTB) had a disagreement over a loan and the issue was taken to court as a civil matter, therefore the EFCC had no business interfering in their dispute. The mission statement of EFCC is to “rid Nigeria of Economic and Financial Crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global fight against money laundering and terrorists financing”. Therefore, it is clear that they should not have involved themselves in a civil matter. It is the job of the courts to determine if Mr. Innocent Chukwuma (founder and CEO of IVM) is guilty of any crime alleged by GTB.
IVM is the first automobile manufacturing company in the history of Nigeria and that in itself is a noteworthy achievement. In the past we had automobile assembly plants such as Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria (PAN) and Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company Limited (ANAMMCO), but they were not automobile manufacturing companies. They were subsidiaries of Peugeot and Mercedes Benz respectively. Mr. Chukwuma has been celebrated by our political leaders over the years: the Goodluck Jonathan administration conferred the national honour of a member of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR); his business has been patronised by a number of state governments in Nigeria, and prominently the Peter Obi and Willie Obiano administrations in Anambra State; also, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited his plant in Nnewi in 2016 and pledged to provide support to all local manufacturers in the area.
While I commend the various governments for honouring Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, they are still not doing enough to promote and boost Innoson Motors through patronage. We cannot be promoting local manufacturing when our leaders’ convoys are filled with foreign vehicles. In the United States, for instance, virtually all police vehicles are American-made and the official vehicle of the president of the United States is a Cadillac. The Queen of England always rides in British car models like the Rolls Royce and Bentley. This is how governments support their local manufacturers and not by singing their praises, while patronising foreign brands. IVM employs about 50,000 people today, so the government needs to ensure that the company thrives because the economy benefits from huge employers of labour.
Also, Nigerian citizens need to take a chance on IVM cars. The more we patronise these vehicles, the more their quality improves. As they sell more vehicles, their manufacturing costs decreases as a result of the economics of scale. As the quality improves, the cars will attain international standards and start getting exported to other countries. Mercedes Benz did not become successful without the support of German citizens.
At a time the government should be encouraging local manufacturing, one of the country’s greatest manufacturers is being humiliated by the EFCC and GTB. It sends the wrong message to aspiring local manufacturers all across the country. I give credit to the Senate leadership for coming to Mr. Chukwuma’s aid by speaking out against his arrest and for stating that his issue with GTB should be resolved by the courts and not EFCC.
The issue of mass unemployment in Nigeria can only be solved by the private sector investing in big businesses, especially manufacturing companies with the potential to hire thousands of people. The job of the government is to come up with enabling policies to ensure that local businesses/manufacturers succeed.
Uju Obii-Obioha, a procurement professional and contract specialist, writes from Maryland, USA.