Before the information went public, it was on record that Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing (IVM), the only Nigerian local auto manufacturer provided the needed spare parts for Nigeria Air Force (NAF) Fighter Jets to effectively prosecute the ongoing battle against Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East . Were it not for its intervention, the whole operation of fighting insurgency in the North East of Nigeria would have been grounded.
In a post by NAF spokesman, Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar lauded IVM management for “providing the needed technical support that has enabled the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to sustain its operations against the Boko Haram insurgents.” It went further to say that IVM at a time when the NAF would have been forced to ground its entire fleet of Alpha Jets due to lack of brake assembly IVM intervention through deployment of innovative expertise to locally modify and overhaul the brake assembly of the MB-339 aircraft for adoption on the Alpha Jets saved the situation. “This ingenious effort by IVM is instrumental to the continued operation of the Alpha Jets, and had helped to save the day when help was not forthcoming from abroad”, he said.
While recommending a national recognition and award for this patriotic and ingenious breakthrough by IVM, given the important role played by the Alpha Jet in the ongoing counter insurgency operations, Abubakar pledged to ensure further collaboration between NAF and IVM. The collaboration aligns with one of the key drivers of the CAS vision, which is “strategic partnership with ministries, departments and agencies for enhanced research and development”.
It was that assurance of a collaborative efforts that led to the signing of an MoU by both parties to exploit the feat and advance towards mass production of the Alpha Jet break assembly and other parts locally, expand the scope of existing research and development as well as to ‘build own capacity for enhanced self-reliance.’
The IVM team had earlier visited the CAS on his invitation with the assurance of IVM Chairman, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma that the collaboration would go beyond the Alpha jet break assembly to include replication some other spares needed by NAF.
At the signing of the MoU in Nnewi, Anambra State, the headquarters of Innoson Group, the Chief of Policy and Plans, Air Vice-Marshal James Gbum, who represented CAS, Air Marshal Abubakar shed more light into the genesis of the partnership.
According to him due to lack of spares especially the brake assembly, which were difficult to source abroad due to foreign exchange challenges, all but one or two of NAF fighter aircrafts, Alpha Jets, ‘a backbone’ to the fight against insurgency were grounded.
Abubakar, who was represented by the Chief Of Policy and Plans, Air Vice-Marshal James Gbum, said that the MoU would further solidify the collaboration, improve local content and engineering as well as save the country a lot of foreign exchange hitherto used to import expensive spare parts. A research by Kainji based Research and Development arm of break assembly overhaul could not pass the test.
“The Nigerian Air Force later discovered that Innoson Vehicle Maintenance Company at Nnewi is very capable of collaborating with the Nigerian Air Force to achieve the required standards of overhauling our break assemblies. The company was invited to headquarters Nigerian Air Force for discussion and thereafter went into research and development collaboration with the Nigerian Air Force and the result was successful. To this effect, we have reasonable number of these Alpha Jets serviceable daily to fight the war in the North East.” Gbum enthused.
He added that “the Nigerian Air Force considers this co-operation with the indigenous company as very important in producing some of the spare parts locally. This is in-line with the change agenda of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari and it is also in line with the vision and key-drivers of the Chief of Air Staff.”
In his reaction, Chukwuma said IVM’s ability to satisfy the high expectations of NAF earned it the deal. He pledged IVM’s competences in terms of human and technical capital to deliver world class spares that will suit the need of NAF and save Nigeria the capital flight through imports of foreign alternatives. He reaffirmed his commitment to the growth of Nigerian economy adding that with time his company would prove to Nigerian s that it has better competencies to match if not surpass the quality of foreign brands.
Anambra State Governor, Dr. Willie Obiano who had earlier played host to the NAF team described the partnership as great initiative and urged them to go beyond the deal to replace the imported Hilux brands with IVM brands. He revealed that 500 youths from the state were currently undergoing practical training on automobile engineering at the factory.
The action of NAF aligns with federal government’s policy to support local manufacturers as well as promote buy made in Nigeria to encourage growth of local companies as well as create jobs, a policy thrust of the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. After the swearing in of President Buhari, it was hazy whether the new administration would continue with the former President Jonathan’s Buy Made in Nigeria policy. But with the Mr. Godwin Emefiele- led Central Bank’s ban on allocation of forex on some listed items, the campaign to buy locally made products was revved up. With that the demand for IVM brands and other locally manufactured products soared.
Already more than a cursory attention is being paid to IVM brand by the current administration especially the upper chamber of the legislature with conversation on going that the brand be considered and approved as official vehicle to shore up confidence among Nigerians and indeed offshore markets where the brand is recording strong penetration. Already the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former governor of Ebonyi state and now Senator Sam Egwu and Chief proponent of Great Nigeria, Senator Ben Murray Bruce are among the Nigerians that are already enjoying a great ride in IVM SUV brand. Already, IVM is working on the bulletproof brand specially ordered by Bruce. It is expected to be delivered within 60 days.
The IVM commenced local manufacture of auto brands in 2007 with the production of sundry commercial automobiles, utility vehicles and passenger cars, in collaboration with a consortium of Chinese auto manufacturers. IVM has become a major supplier of buses to the country’s transportation sector, including the mass transit scheme launched in 2012 by President Jonathan. In 2014 IVM expanded its brand portfolio to include sedan cars to cater for the middle income needs.
With the partnership to produce spares for NAF fighter jets IVM has not only expanded its brand portfolio but also demonstrated its leadership position in Nigeria auto market and competence to compete in the global auto market.