The new national automotive policy planned by the Federal Government is yet another indication of the state’s potential for good dreams. This is a policy which, if implemented to the letter, can turn around the country’s transportation and economic terrain for good. There are of course areas to be threaded carefully, so that the travail of the average Nigerian in commuting from one place to another is not aggravated. This for instance could happen if government goes ahead with its plan to restrict importation of used vehicles before putting in place a workable public transportation alternative provision, given that most of the vehicles used for that purpose now are fairly used and imported. Therefore, seeing the present dream through is a major challenge facing the authorities in the country. No doubt, had all the lofty dreams of the past been realised, Nigeria would have joined the league of developed nations.
The thrust of the new national automotive policy as announced by the Minister of Trade and Investments, Mr. Olusegun Aganga, is to encourage in the short run, patronage of locally assembled vehicles and ultimately, the manufacture of made-in-Nigeria vehicles. The project is expected to create employment opportunities locally, and boost technological development. It is also projected that this will reduce significantly the $3.4 billion expended on vehicle importation annually. To bring the dream to reality, three automotive clusters would be created in Lagos/Ogun, Kaduna/Kano, and Anambra/Enugu states as the locations of the new vehicles to enable them share resources and reduce cost of investments. Government believes that this measure will lead to the revival, expansion and development of the petrochemical and metal/steel sectors which in turn will culminate in the return of tyre manufacturing industry to support the automotive sector. As incentives, government proposes to make use of only locally assembled vehicles as official cars as it was the case in the Murtala/Obasanjo (1976-1979) era, and would increase tariffs on imported vehicles to protect the local assembly plants. However, these measures are not really novel, as the country had gone through the same route in the past; which culminated in the establishment of five assembly plants – ANAMMCO in Enugu, Steyr in Bauchi, Leyland in Ibadan, Peugeot in Kaduna and Volkswagen in Lagos.
But the plants died gradually owing largely to government’s lack of commitment, insincerity and unfaithfulness to its policies as well as corruption in high places, inconsistent policies and misplacement of priorities. Regrettably, there is little to suggest that the same problems are no longer with the country, and that they will not similarly afflict the current attempt.
Nonetheless, the new policy has good economic potential. It is long overdue considering that such a policy has propelled other countries of Nigeria’s status into self-reliance technologically and economically. The prospect of technology transfer it offers and the attendant goodwill it will fetch particularly in the west coast of Africa makes the proposal deserving of support from Nigerians.
What is required of government is to do things differently this time around. Obviously, the country cannot afford to go the whole hog at once; there is need for strategic planning and deep thinking. There must be proper reflection on the methodology to adopt on how to successfully implement the programme and to achieve its objective. It is advisable to adopt an existing vehicle brand, seek a franchise for it from the manufacturers and in the meantime build a programme that will ensure the manufacturing of its spare parts over time. The percentage of the local content vis a vis the ones to import should be determined early as primary issues to be resolved before restricting importation of vehicles, which government is poised to do this month. It may be appropriate to start with the assembly of vehicles as a first step and thereafter begin to increase the local content gradually in an organised and well-structured fashion. It is on record that before its decline, the local content in the production of Peugeot had risen to 40 per cent. Secondly, government’s stake in the project should not be too high and possibly should be limited to providing an enabling environment, to encourage foreign investors to bring in capital and run it in line with international standard. Every stage of the project must have a time frame within which to achieve its objective. And as imported vehicles are phased out, the locally made ones should be made affordable to the average Nigerian.
Above all, the effect of phasing out imported vehicles should be cushioned by rapid investment in public transportation. Significant emphasis should be placed on the development of affordable mass transit system across the country. In this regard, rail transportation has an edge over other modes and to that extent, deserves optimum attention. It is imperative to carry along all relevant agencies of government to ensure success of the programme. And government’s commitment to the project should at all times be unwavering and devoid of politics. It may be a way for government to endear itself to Nigerians.