Ugwuanyi and the Economics of Local Capacity Building

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

By Ikem Okuhu

I remember that it was back in year 2003 that I first came across the proposition, “Proudly Nigerian.” Strangely, it was tobacco manufacturing company, the British American Tobacco (BAT) that connected me to this purpose statement at a time they had just launched their factory in Ibadan and were struggling to respond to new regulations against cigarette marketing. I am not sure now whether it was BAT that first coined that phrase that became their value proposition at the time, but I recall the then Managing Director, Nicholas Hales appearing at the press conference where this tagline was launched, dressed in white agbada and green Hausa cap to read a speech that suggested BAT was a “Proudly Nigerian” brand.

Ever since then, I have had a strong connection with this value proposition, especially given its relevance in encouraging Nigerians to take pride in products that are indigenous to the country, activating taste and quest for Nigerian consumables and cleansing the people of the inferiority complex that made people view foreign goods as superior to those made in Nigeria.

The truth is that no economy has ever grown when its government and people refuse to express belief in local products. Against this background, it becomes important to appraise the recent purchase of 100 utility trucks from Nigeria’s wave-making vehicle manufacturing company, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Ltd by the Enugu State Government in the light of the compelling need by governments at all levels to begin to demonstrate measurable confidence in Nigerian brands as a means of instigating economic growth.

The rhetoric for government to support the brave efforts of Chief Innocent Chukwuma at establishing a vehicle manufacturing company in Nigeria has been on for a couple of years and I am aware that a large number of opinion leaders in the South-eastern part of Nigeria have been strident in their call for the governments of the five states in the region to lead the way in beating the patronage path towards buying the Innoson brands of vehicles.

By acquiring 100 utility trucks from Innoson, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has fulfilled the expectations of many who view Enugu as the standard bearer of the South East and perhaps south-south, being as it was the capitals for the old Eastern Nigeria and East Central State.

In placing the bet of the Enugu State Government on Innoson, the Government of Enugu State has therefore set an example that very likely be emulated by other governors in Nigeria a development that will certainly reinforce the value the ordinary Nigerian will begin to place on these brands of vehicles. And with this, the country will begin to find answers to the challenges facing indigenous Nigerian brands. It is very well known that one of the major issues stymieing the growth of indigenous Nigerian brands has been the hypocritical disposition of government and leaders across many layers of influence who vote for indigenous brands with their mouths while providing more effective endorsements for foreign brands with their pockets.

To grow any brand, the question of “who is using it” will have to be answered and Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has led the way to providing this critical response. It is worth recalling that Peugeot brand of cars became the favourite car for Nigerians when it became the “official” government vehicle in the 1970s. All government officials were given Peugeot vehicles as their official cars and those who applied for car loans also got the same. And from the 404 brand, the French automaker sold millions of its 504 and 505 brands of cars in Nigeria. Elizade Motors followed the same path when it got the franchise for Toyota in Nigeria. In its marketing, it also targeted government agencies and the banks, which at the time, was transiting from a staid, colourless sector to one of style and elegance. Today, Toyota is the most popular car brand in Nigeria by miles.

It follows therefore that the example set by Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in procuring such a large number of vehicles will act as a seal of confidence and endorsement of the brand, a development certain to draw many people into trial patronage that will likely lead to repeat purchases.

Next to “who is using it”, those working to push a new brand into the market will also have to answer the question of visibility. In doing this, new and even old brands invest huge resources in advertising and activations of all sorts in reaching the customer. But Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has answered this question for the Innoson brand. It needs stressing that the vehicles so procured were investments made to improve the security architecture of the state in the light of recent challenges that attempted to fracture the safety of lives and property in the once very peaceful state. With 100 vehicles on the road, patrolling the length and breadth of the State, the governor has created opportunities for a lot more people to come in contact with this indigenous brand of automobile. A billion naira worth of television commercials will not match this in effectiveness.

Most Nigerians, especially those in the segment in which the Innoson brand finds itself at the moment, ask two questions each time they want to buy an automobile. The first is, “Is is rugged”? The second question is “how fuel-efficient is it?” These questions will be answered by the kind of duties these new vehicles are going to be performing – security. A vehicle that will constantly be on the move, covering the rough and smooth terrains in the state will demonstrate how “rugged” the Innoson brand is.

As a country, Nigeria has created more jobs abroad than it had for its citizens in the country. Even the crude oil, the country’s main foreign exchange earner has been taking more money from Nigeria than it is bringing in. In 2018, statistics showed that the country earned $54.5 billion from crude oil exports but spent $54.6 billion in the importation of refined petroleum products.

This damning statistics once again not only highlighted the failure of the country to maximise opportunities in the oil industry value chain but also became an early warning of impending economic challenge should the country continue to spend more than it earns. In addition, it presents an opportunity for the re-evaluation of all economic priorities with a view to discovering how much value that can be generated within the country and the complements needed from abroad.

The Nigerian automobile industry presents an opportunity for economic revival. Industry experts say that the country imports between 500,000 to one million vehicles annually. Even if we use the base figure of 500,000 as the parameter and place the average value of each vehicle at N10 million, it means the country spends about N5 trillion in the importation of vehicles per year. As conservative as this figure is, considering the low base figure used, it presents a frightening evidence of the size of capital we forfeit to other countries because of our poorly developed automobile industry. This is why it is important for deliberate efforts to be my by the federal and state governments to replicate the example already set by Governor Ugwuanyi in developing a taste and preference for locally made automobiles and encouraging other citizens to do the same.

The value chain that will be unleashed when all tiers, agencies and organs of government in Nigeria begin to follow the example from Enugu can only be imagined.

*Okuhu, a media aide to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi writes from Enugu