How durable are your products compared to imported ones?
Innoson products are durable. Innoson products are as good as Japanese products, with Mitsubishi engine or some American products. It is not purely a local technology yet, because the engines of the vehicles are still being imported from places like Japan and America. It has all the advantages of Made-in-Japan vehicles like fuel efficiency, warranty, no overheating, and environment-friendly. Yet, the vehicles were built for Nigerian roads.
One of the advantages of buying Innoson products is that the owner of the vehicle can return the vehicles to the factory for refurbishment. At the end of the day, your vehicle would come out almost as new. Our raw materials are sourced locally, except the ones that cannot be got here.
Our record, within just a decade, confirms this: Over 10,000 vehicles manufactured, over 7,000 human resources and markets covering over 25 African countries. Presently, the company has made in-road into some African countries such as Mali, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Chad, Niger, and Togo.When I see the first model of Innoson vehicle still plying the road, moving perfectly, it gives me joy. It shows that our brand is good.
We manufacture according to models, according to what the person wants. We have about nine models. We are on buses. We produce 45-seater buses. We produce pick-ups and four-wheel drives. We produce cars, 1.8 litre, and 2.4 litre.
How do you feel seeing fairly used vehicles being imported into Nigeria?
The inspiration to go into vehicle manufacturing was drawn from a desire to see Nigerians drive new cars because Nigeria has become a dumping ground for second-hand cars. Just like this company pioneered the manufacture of Made-in-Nigeria motorcycle and helped to end the dominance of tokunbo motorcycles, we have no doubt that it will also help us to drive tokunbo vehicles away from Nigeria. I am working to have a brand new car sold in Nigeria for about one million or a bit more. Did you see how tokunbo motorcycle got phased off? Is anybody talking about it anymore? The only thing it will take for tokunbo cars to go from Nigeria is to let the prices of new ones come down. Make new ones cheap and affordable; make the spare-parts available and tokunbo will disappear. Who will like to buy an old car when he or she can spend less and buy a new brand? I must make a new one be cheap so that tokunbo will go in the nearest future.
What are the challenges you face presently as a company?
When the car manufacturing company began, we faced a lot of challenges because some people felt it will not work, but today I am the first black man to embark on such a venture. The commercial banks are not supporting manufacturers. The only bank helping industries is the Bank of Industry, but it cannot serve all the industries in Nigeria. The banks should reconsider and help grow the economy by supporting industries.
Government cannot do everything for you. Government will only provide good environment for industries to grow. More industries should be established. If there are more industries in Nigeria the cost of production will come down.
Who are your main customers?
When I was building my factory, I knew it was not only going to serve Nigeria, but other African countries as well. So, people from other African countries are coming to sign a MoU with Innoson Group. My joy is that in the nearest future, Innoson vehicles will be all over African countries. I want to develop the plant to the extent that all African countries would be coming here to buy products from us.
The other time, I went to the National Assembly to introduce my products to them. That is what I am supposed to do for them to know the types of products that I have. I have done that and their responses are coming. Some of them bought my products. The impact is coming.
How can local production assemblies be boosted or encouraged so they don’t face the fate of ANAMCO (Enugu), Styr (Bauchi), Layland (Ibadan), Peugeot (Kaduna), and Volks (Lagos), which have all folded up since?
If Ajaokuta Steel Company was working, it would have helped in making the price of cars come down. We are still getting most of the iron for manufacturing cars from outside the country. We don’t produce iron on our own. Nigeria has wasted a lot of money there and I don’t see much coming out of the place.
Do you think that privatisation will help?
The government had privatised such organisations as the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). And we have seen the unfortunate things happening there. Can we go on privatising things without having people with adequate knowledge to manage them? I don’t think privatisation is the problem. The problem is getting the right experts that can handle it. If the privatisation of PHCN had worked out well, it would have been easy for government to continue with privatisation in other areas. If it did not help, I don’t think it will encourage more privatisation.
How are you coping with the problem of electricity and other things involved in vehicle manufacturing?
If we have like 10 of this type of industry in this area, we don’t need to ask for electricity from the government. We can step down our own electricity and it will work. But because I am the only one here, I cannot do it alone. That is why it is good to establish more industries so that things will work better.
If we have many types of my industry clustered around here, it would encourage people to come and invest in electricity here; it would be cheap for the industries to get electricity and that will reduce the cost of production.
Why do you think Nigerians are not patronising your products as they should? Could it be cost or durability?
You know vehicle is a fashion thing. Everybody cannot like the same type of vehicle. Some people will like type A, while some will like B. That is why we have so many brands for people to choose from. Some people still like imported cars; that is their choice. However, the imported ones are very expensive. If they buy from our brands, it will be cheaper to maintain. But some people still prefer foreign ones. People have seen our brand as a good brand and are buying it. It started with one brand, but we now have up to 12 brands.
New models of Toyota cars in the market do not worry me. It is a matter of choice. What I am selling is Innoson. So, I don’t know about other brands.
How are you giving back to society?
At Innoson Kiara Academy, we train people on skilled jobs. We train young artisans on how they can stand on their own. They are trained on how they can open workshops to maintain vehicles in any part of the country. We train them on how they can become good mechanics, electricians or panel-beaters, among others.
By 2017 we have trained about 400 people, and they provide automatic employment for those who want to work with them. But if you don’t want, you can set up your own workshop in any part of the country to maintain vehicles. After the training, you would be given a certificate. The maximum duration of the training is nine months, depending on your ability.
When somebody is idle, he or she will start to think of what is not good for society. But when they have such training to empower them, they will be able to contribute to the growth of the economy. They are enabled to help society, instead of becoming a liability. They have to pay some fees to enroll for the programme.
Some of the ex-militants we trained are working in oil companies. Some of them who were trained in welding was employed to maintain pipelines. Before, they were unemployable, but they are now employable.