Senator Ben Murray Bruce and Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran, Managing Director, Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON) Automobiles are both strong advocates of a sustainable market for made-in-Nigeria cars. However, they differ on the closure of the nation’s land borders to importation of cars, reports Bennett Oghifo

The Managing Director, Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON) Automobiles, Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran said his company is unable to expand its assembly plant because everybody drives imported used/tokunbo cars. “If you are driving cars that are made locally, then it will create avenue for additional production and that will create additional avenue for more employment, and create avenue for value added and for GDP; it is chain.”

Aromolaran said he is principally the first person that fights bringing tokunbo items into the country, adding that it matters where a vehicle was imported from, regardless of the fact that everyone desires to drive one. “It is like birth pain; you have to go through that pain before the child comes out. We must all undergo the pain of developing this industry before we can all enjoy the benefit of a viable auto industry.”

Ban on importation of vehicles through land borders…
Aromolaran, who is also the President of Nigeria Auto Manufacturers Association (NAMA) said he defers from his guest, Senator Ben Murray Bruce on the federal government’s ban on importation of vehicles through the nation’s borders.

Senator Bruce said the policy does not make sense, because it would lead to job-loss and explained that the vehicles should be allowed to enter the country with the government ensuring that it collects appropriate duties.
He stated that any Customs officers, who attempts to short-change the government should be sacked to send the message home that the government was serious about not losing money at the border posts.

However, Aromolaran is different on this, saying “I don’t think it will deprive people of jobs. What is happening is that cars come in through land borders, but there is no assembly plant in Cotonou or wherever; they all cars coming from Europe but the come in through Cotonou and because they don’t want to pay duty, they come through wherever.

The same people they employ to drive these vehicles in can be better employed if the industry grows and everybody pays his appropriate duty to government. Those cars that come in through the border don’t pay duty, even when they come through our gate at Seme, they just settle people and they drive pass.

“We are one of those who are fighting that the government should shut down those land borders, because none of those countries that they pass through has an assembly plant but they collect duty on what they have not earned; let our own customs collect the duty.

After the closure, those who cannot find work in auto distribution should wait for our own cars that will become the stock of second hand cars. If they allow locally assembled cars to grow, then in the next three years our second-hand market will not be tokunbo cars but cars derived from the ones we produce here. That is how every country develops it second market for cars.”

He said they have their strategy on how made in Nigeria cars can grow; “we can do it and Nigerians will be proud to drive cars that are assembled here.

When I resumed here (VON) we started by taking auto mechanics off the streets; mechanics with small shops and their apprentices and trained them formally and turned them into what I can call super mechanics now. They work on an automated conveyor system and they know that the result of their work is important to the next stage and they dare not make mistakes.”

He said they want to create value in the local sense and that Nigerians should also have a sense of pride that the vehicles were made in the country and so would have to use it.

Quality control…

Aromolaran assured that they have strong quality control from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who are their partners.

He said, “Nissan will not allow any vehicle to leave this plant except it has passed all its tests. So, we adhere to quality control and we have done it to the most sophisticated cars. The Nissan Patrol that we produce here can stand against any car produce by any other brand.

“So, we haven’t done badly but what we want is for Nigerians to give us the opportunity to expand this facility and let us do it here. Of the top-10 most populated countries in the world, only two- Nigeria and Bangladesh don’t have a viable auto industry and we need to change that.”

The market…
Nigeria has a huge auto market in Africa, particularly the West African segment. “The market is there and where Nigeria is in West Africa is almost in the middle of Africa; Egypt and South Africa are both at the extreme ends of the continent.”

He said they have “looked at the centre core of Africa as our base and we need to allow the auto sector to develop here. We have followed the growth of South Africa meticulously to see how they arrived at where they are now.

They are working with us and are producing so much because they see Nigeria as a potential market for their components and not for their fully built cars. They know that when Nigeria’s market develops, they well have a market for their components. They have come here and are helping us to push to develop our auto industry and we are busy fighting our industry because the people who are just importing and selling do not want the auto industry to develop.”

Leave the border open…
Senator Ben Murray Bruce is against shutting the nation’s borders because “if you shut the borders, then you’re going to create massive unemployment among millions of people who live in the border towns. The inefficiency or incompetence of Customs should not be the reason you shut down borders rather you improve the quality of Customs and border patrol in Nigeria.”

Giving an analogy, he said, “When I built the first movie theatre in Nigeria, Nollywood came to me and said that I’m killing Nollywood because my theatre prevents them from exhibiting their movies, which, those days was on VHS- and that James Bond movie will be superior to Nollywood movie.

“So, I asked them a question, do I reduce my standard to accommodate you or do you increase your standard so you can make more money. Ten years later, I won the argument and now they are making millions of dollars.
“So, if you shut down the borders because of the incompetence of Customs and those who guard our nation, then it is a disservice to our people.”

Senator Bruce said he believes the cars should be on ban and “Customs officials who do not do their job should be fired.

It is the same position I am taking with the aviation industry- it is a big disgrace. I am very happy that the vice President visited the airport. They generate a hundred billion in cash annually, yet the toilets don’t flush, escalators and lifts don’t work.

The place is a monumental disgrace- They raised $500 million from the Chinese, yet no airport is functioning and sacking 10 people is not going to solve the problem as far as I’m concerned. It needs total overhaul and total privatisation; a big portion of the revenue they make is spent on salaries and no productivity.”

Nigeria, he said has two kinds of people, producers and consumers. “If you’re a consumer, you get fat and if you’re a producer, you get freedom to produce.”

Senator Bruce said he supports made in Nigeria and that Nigerian companies should be successful. “I believe we should all drive made in Nigeria cars and also believe we should buy what we like but we must create the environment to buy made in Nigeria cars.”

He then charged the banking sector, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, to create a seven-year loan with five per cent interest so that a young graduate can buy a car of three to four million naira in his lifetime- that is what I call the triangle of life. “Also, you insist that all government officials should drive only cars that are made in Nigeria, buy law.”

He said the loan should be for new cars made in Nigeria alone. “If this is in place, then who is going to buy a 10-year old imported car? The government and the Ministers of Transport and Aviation need to think and think about Nigeria and then they can fix this problem. It is not rocket science.”

Senator Bruce, who drives an electric Kia Soul, said he would do all that was necessary to promote made in Nigeria products, “but we cannot move forward if all we do is for a young graduate to drive a 30-year car.”

Made-in-Nigeria Hyundai i10 presentation…
The story of the made-in-Nigeria Hyundai i10 that was presented to a reporter of The Nation Newspaper began last November when some members of the Senate Committee on Trade, led by Senator Ben Murray Bruce, in the performance of their oversight function, visited VON Automobile in Lagos.

It was during the brainstorming session during the visit that Senator Bruce challenged the management of VON to do a raffle draw among the journalists present for one of them to win a made-in-Nigeria Hyundai i10.

The draw held and a reporter from The Nation Newspaper emerged winner. The lucky winner was presented the car by Senator Bruce in presence of his wife, and the Managing Director, Volkswagen of Nigeria (VON) Automobiles, Mr. Tokunbo Aromolaran.

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