May 29 was a day of great interest for all Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, as all eyes were focused on Eagle Square the venue of the handover of presidential power. But for members of the Nigerian automotive industry, there was an added significance to the event. Apart from observing the official segments of the handover, the automotive stakeholders kept their eyes open to see how many made-in-Nigeria cars would ferry high government officials to the presidential inauguration, as they are aware of the promotional value for Nigeria-made cars such displays have – they were disappointed with what they saw.
The outgoing President, Goodluck Jonathan arrived in a premium luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon car; the incoming President Muhammadu Buhari came in an Infinity SUV; while Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was seen alighting from either a Landcruiser or a Sequoia, needless to say, all foreign made cars.
The truth is that it is the patriotic duty of Nigerian leaders – be they the president, ministers, governors, senators, representatives or heads of parastatals – to use made-in-Nigeria cars as their official vehicles. They have no business using foreign cars as official vehicles.
Let us look at a few foreign examples: In the US, the traditionally used presidential car is a Cadillac One made by GM, the US car company. In the UK the traditional Prime Ministerial Car refers to a number of British manufactured vehicles used by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The vehicles currently used are armoured, custom built Jaguar XJ Sentinel supercharged 5.0-litre V8 models built by Jaguar Landrover of Britain.
The French president chooses from Peugeot or Renault, both French carmakers and the German Chancellor chooses between, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and BMW, all German carmakers. The Emperor of Japan uses a Toyota Century, while the Prime Minister of Italy uses a Maserati. So it was very disheartening to see that on that very important day, the leaders of the most populous Black country on earth arrived in foreign made cars. This predilection and indeed bias for foreign cars cannot be said to be as a result of a lack of made-in-Nigeria cars.
Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company, the only indigenous vehicle manufacturing company in Nigeria for the time being, could easily have provided its SUV brand, the IVM 6490A for the official use of the government, boosting employment and stimulating the economy, but instead they were ignored.
Olusegun Obasanjo, as a military head of state used assembled in Nigeria Peugeot 504 as official vehicle, after which President Shehu Shagari dropped the policy. Since then leaders (including Obasanjo in his second administration) have shunned the use of locally manufactured or assembled automobiles while in office.
An important benefit of the use of locally made automobiles as official car by the president and other high officials is that it immediately raises the profile of the brand in the eyes of the public – making it more attractive to consumers – which can lead to a jump in orders, job security and job creation.
But by not using locally made cars the government sends a message that it is only paying lip service to its automotive policy.
While it is possible that President Buhari and his deputy may have simply made use of cars provided by the outgoing regime during inauguration, now that they are in power – without prejudice to their choice of private cars – it is their patriotic duty to officially use made-in-Nigeria cars.
Security and the need for armoured plated cars can be cited as reasons for going for foreign made cars as opposed to locally made cars, but that is something that customization of locally made cars can easily take care of. If the Defence Industries Corporation (DICON) is not a white elephant project there is no reason for it not to be able to properly amour the official cars of government functionaries. Alternatively, there are private armourers that render such service today in the country that could be contracted to do so by the government. Charity begins at home.
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