Nigeria Can Become Africa’s Auto Hub, Says Innocent Chukwuma

Innocent Chukwuma

While the dust raised by the supply of over N1billion Prado Jeeps to Anambra lawmakers rages, the Chief Executive Officer of INNOSON MOTOR Limited, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, took time out to explain his own side, he also tells of the importance of local patronage, how former governor Peter Obi keyed into that arrangement and his relationship with Governor Willie Obiano. 


Your company has been in the news in last few days over the alleged demand by Anambra lawmakers for your product instead of Prado. What is your take on that?

To start with some people feel that I may have instigated the problem. Even the Speaker of the Assembly called me to ask me about it. But the fact still remains that I never spoke to any lawmaker or instigated any of them to ask for my product. I do not beg anybody any establishment to buy my vehicles. I produce and supply on demand. If you like any of my products, you come to the company and make your orders and we deliver.

So the allegation that I talked to the lawmakers is not true. Besides, I do not have any problem with my governor, Willie Obiano. I enjoy a good relationship with him and his government. I have many of my friends in his administration. It is important to note that currently His Excellency Willie Obiano has placed an order for the supply of 40 of my vehicles and he has already paid for the products and very soon we shall supply them.

I want to use this opportunity to make it clear that none of my staff or even myself asked the lawmakers to demand for my products. I do not have to do that because my products speak for themselves. If you like them you buy and I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. I understand the demands of our people and we try as much as possible to salvage their situation. This is a made in Nigeria product and we in the Innoson Group will continue to assist our people.

So far what is the spread of your vehicles and the level of patronage?

I supply my vehicles to many African countries as much as they place their orders. I supply to countries like Mali, Ghana, Sierra Leone among others. If you go to those countries, you will see them and my products have never failed them and they keep coming back. Here in Nigeria, the past government at the centre was my highest customer. I produce a lot for them like the military heavy duty vehicles. Also states like Enugu, Ebonyi also buy my vehicles as well as Imo, Ekiti, Gombe and Bauchi states. At the moment our capacity has increased but it has not been easy meeting up with the demands. Like I said before, it depends on the orders they place. The last regime of Mr. Peter Obi gave me so much support. He placed so many orders and we delivered and through his regime, he kept the factory busy. The former governor brought about 3,000 vehicles for the then state government and I am grateful for his support to my company.

What informed your decision to go into motor manufacturing business?

In the time past people are of the view that Nigeria or Africa cannot produce cars, trucks and other vehicles. So to me it was a challenge. Nothing is impossible in Nigeria if we choose to be more focused than ever. It is all about taking the right step and getting our priorities right. It is my vision that in no distant time Nigeria would be the hub of auto business in Africa. This was how other countries in Europe and America started and today they are the world best. If we continue to patronise Nigeria-made goods it has a multiplier effect on our country’s economy in terms of foreign exchange. It will also expand our market and encourage other forms of allied based industries. It also carries along the growth of small and medium scale industries in Nigeria.

There is no doubt that you are an employer of labour. How many people are in your employment?

Auto business in key to the growth of employment in any part of the world, each vehicle has more than 1,000 parts and they can be produced locally, here in Nigeria. This is because every professional has something to do in the production of a single car. That means employment for a lot of people across the line. In terms of employment, INNOSON Group has between 7,300 to 7,500 workers. We have the manufacturing section and other parts of the vehicle, we have mill and mill factory that is the plastic products. In-fact we have the largest plate factory in Africa and it is based in Enugu. So the level of employment is high and people are fully engaged.

Some time ago, some Niger Delta Youths were sent to your factory for training, how have they been performing?

Interestingly they are doing just very well and this is encouraging. Some of them are now working in the factories because we have to retain some of them while others chose to go into private practice. You can agree with me that there is no youth that do not have potentials, all that we need is to expose them and direct them well and they will make the best out of it. It is only idleness and lack of mentorship that is the cause of youth restiveness.

It is not only the Niger Delta Youths, but other youths from other parts of the country can also take advantage of this to improve themselves and make the best out of it. Our brothers here are also be ing trained and empowered with skills that would guide them in future. So auto business is key to employment in Nigeria.

Practically most people are going into auto business and some do not venture into other areas. Do you not have this fear of saturation?
It is not fair to say that because some others are into other products. I have colleagues who are not into motor business, but into drinks and foods. All of us cannot be in the same business. It is a question of where you are good at and you invest in it.

For instance, INNOSON Group has gone into agriculture and that is what we are doing in Nsukka in Enugu State. We have established a tractor plant in Nsukka to encourage mechanised agriculture and this would go a long way in encouraging our youths to go into agriculture. We have gone into partnership with the University of Nigeria. Nsukka (UNN); that is their agriculture department and in no distant time you will see the success and its positive effects on the agricultural sector. We are bringing in the expertise while the university comes in with the administrative and academic input and that is good for Nigeria’s economy.

A lot of people are already interested in this venture and even those that are into private or co-operative farm settlements; you know that Ebonyi and Enugu states have something to share in terms of agriculture, so it would improve food production in both the South East, South-south and even the North East, such as Benue and Kogi states. You can see that we are not only into motor manufacturing but agriculture and that is full scale mechanized agriculture. Nigeria as a country has gone far beyond the normal farming because of our population and the modern trend now is mechanized agriculture and our younger generation needs this new development.

But power supply has remained the bane of the manufacturing sector and indeed Nigeria’s economy, how have you been managing?
You indeed have a point there but until the power sector gets better than before we rely on power generating plants. We know that power is the problem and I am happy with the efforts being made by government in improving the power supply in the country. It has not been easy for us here and even the Federal Government, but we are optimistic that things would get better in no distant time.

Most companies maybe producing below the optimal expectation but if we improve more on the power sector, most companies, that is small and medium scale industries would do well and improve on their respective capacities. You also know that it affects employment because some establishments may choose to down size their work force because of the cost of production.

It is my firm belief that something is going on in the turn-around of our power sector and I urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to relent in what his administration is doing in the area of power generation and distribution, because Nigerians would certainly gain from it.

What is your position on the Ajeokuta Steel project that has been abandoned?

Well it is unfortunate that the project is still the way it is and a lot of money have so far been spent on that project. I do not know what the government position is on that project but it is my opinion that, had it been the project had come on stream, it would help us in the motor manufacturing business and other related companies.

It should not be allowed to remain like that something needs to be done in that area. For example, this has led to the buying of used vehicles by Nigerians because the new brand vehicles are on the high side and the average Nigerian cannot afford it. It is because of that, that we in INNOSON have ventured into producing new brand cars that Nigerians can afford; cars that do not run into millions of naira but something within the reach of the average Nigerian.

Some of these used vehicles may not last up to five to six years and you will begin to experience problems here and there. Some of them do not have spare parts available in commercial quantity. But if it is INNOSON the parts are affordable and you can be rest assured that the cars would be maintained.

Nigeria recently turned 59 what are your expectations?
We need improvement in power supply which government is already tackling. We need to improve on our agricultural sector so that our economy will diversity and this over dependency on petroleum would reduce. It has not been that bad for Nigeria since independence but we must set our standard and be more focused in creating enabling environment for our economy to grow and fight unemployment which would in turn fight corruption in our society.