By Azuka Onwuka
I was sad over the weekend: very sad. Something that should have made me happy turned out to cause me sadness.
I saw a picture and story of Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State presenting some 25 cars to the police in Anambra State. I was happy. About five years ago, indigenes of Anambra State were scared to travel home because of kidnappers.
Things got so bad that Anambra State indigenes, who used to ridicule any Igbo person who conducted customary marriage rites outside the home state, began to conduct the igba nkwu in Lagos and Abuja and other cities. Happily, Mr. Peter Obi, who was the governor then, with the assistance of the community vigilantes and the police, rose up to the occasion and fought the kidnap menace doggedly. It was drastically reduced – almost eradicated.
When Obiano took over as the governor of the state in early 2014, he paid serious attention to security. And the remaining hoodlums in Anambra State got killed, arrested or scared away.
So, when I saw the picture of the array of vehicles Obiano bought for the police over the weekend, I was elated that he was still not taking any chances on security.
But then I zoomed on the pictures to see the logo on the cars. Lo and behold! It was Toyota, a Japanese brand! My enthusiasm fell. Indignation took over. Why?
Anambra State holds the record of being the first state in Nigeria where a local car manufacturing plant was established. Note that I did not say “car assembly plant.” Innoson Vehicle Motor Manufacturing Company Limited, founded by Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, gave Anambra State that record. Chukwuma had the options to set up the plant in a commercial city like Lagos or Port Harcourt, where it would be easier to get bigger patrons. But he chose to go to his village in Uru, Umudim, Nnewi in Anambra State to site the plant.
As governor of Anambra State, Obi gave the IVM brand maximum support. He bought trucks for the community vigilantes across the state. He bought buses for all secondary schools as well as many government agencies. He bought Sports Utility Vehicles for the traditional rulers. He bought cars for senior civil servants. These vehicles were purchased from Innoson. He did not stop there, he became the unofficial “advertising manager” of Innoson vehicles, seizing any opportunity of public speech to tell the story of Innoson and the need for Nigerians to patronise our own so that they could grow and be like those other global brands we cherished. The government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as well as some other states also patronised the vehicles.
However, with the coming of Obiano, it seemed patronage of locally made vehicles by the Anambra State Government dipped or rather stopped completely. When Obiano launched the Anambra State City Cab Scheme with 200 cabs in December 2014, he was accused of patronising Nissan (a Japanese brand). When he launched the Anambra State Mass Transit with 40 buses in February 2015, he was accused of patronising TATA (an Indian brand).
Last week too, the Abia State Government made a similar vehicle donation to the police. About three weeks ago, the Lagos State Government donated vehicles to the police too. Both Abia and Lagos patronised Kia, a South Korean brand. Even though it would have been lovely for Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia to patronise Nigerian made vehicles as a way of supporting the Nigerian economy, they could be somewhat excused because Innoson in particular is not based in their states. But what excuse does Obiano have for not patronising a brand made in his own state?
Innoson provides thousands of jobs for people, who help to reduce the unemployment rate in Anambra State, thereby reducing crime and insecurity in the state. These people also pay tax. The company pays tax too. The company provides business for other companies that are its suppliers. Its existence helps to develop Anambra by attracting other businesses. In addition, it is a pride to the state.
Sadly, the state government dissipates energy and resources preaching to indigenes of Anambra to invest in the state. If it does not patronise the company that already exists in the state, and it folds up, what is the moral justification to ask indigenes to come home and invest in the state?
There have been accusations against the state governor that he ensures that anybody who is “in good terms” with Obi is blacklisted. If this is true, then it is unfortunate. There is no need to bring in such sentiments into such a serious issue like developing Anambra State.
An individual can choose to patronise a local or foreign brand. But a government should give precedence to its local brands at all times, because when its brands grow, the government’s economy and image grow. When a government supports its own brands, the citizens gradually feel confident to patronise the local brands.
Even though Innoson vehicles have proved to compete with other foreign brands on quality, there are those who justify the non-patronage of local brands by government by saying that local brands don’t usually have the same top quality as foreign brands. But such an argument is hollow. When Toyota started, it was ridiculed as an inferior brand. Today, nobody sneers at Toyota.
Prof. Pat Utomi usually says that when Malaysian engineers first constructed a bridge, it collapsed. The Malaysian government did not blacklist them. It told them that having constructed a bridge that collapsed, they should go back to the drawing board and construct a bridge that would not collapse. That is how government treats its own so as to advance technologically.
The Nigerian government cannot be saying one thing and doing another: looking for investors and snubbing local investors. Local brands must be protected against foreign brands. Other economies do it despite their claim to be free markets. For example, I felt sad when HiTV lost the English Premier League rights to South African-owned MultiChoice in July 2010 because of bank guarantee. Immediately that loss occurred, I knew that it was the beginning of the end for HiTV and all the jobs it provided. That happened shortly after. An uncaring nation like Nigeria watched its local brand die for a South African company to take over the pay TV market as a virtual monopoly! Unbelievable!
It was the same way our local football league was allowed to plummet for European clubs to take over the minds of Nigerians, to the extent that a Nigerian would stab and kill another Nigerian over two English clubs.
Even though I have never attended Pastor T.B. Joshua’s Synagogue of All Nations, I have always liked the fact that while Nigerian Christians and Muslims flood Israel and Saudi Arabia respectively on pilgrimage, he was able to found a church that attracts Europeans, Americans, Asians and other Africans. Europeans and Americans on a regular basis even work as his aides in a country where a secondary school leaver from Europe, the United States or South Africa comes to a local company and becomes the boss because he is White.
Before Innoson took the bold steps of starting the vehicle manufacture in Nigeria, the car companies in Nigeria saw the country as a nation good enough to buy their vehicles but not good enough to host their assembly plants. The auto policy of Jonathan forced them to change that parasitic relationship and set up plants in Nigeria.
Nigerian motor brands should be treated as national icons: supported and promoted by both the Federal Government and state governments. But for Anambra State, it is tragic to patronise foreign brands to the detriment of its own.