Recently, the director-general, National Automotive Council, Alhaji Aminu Jalal, said that last year, the country spent about N1.2trillion on the importation of various brands of vehicles. These vehicles ranged from fairly used cars, otherwise known as Tokunbo, to brand new cars. Jalal added that this is exclusive of the amount spent on tractors and military vehicles imported during the year under review. The breakdown shows that N550bn worth of vehicles, N500bn spare parts and N150bn worth of tyres were brought into the country, by the three tiers of government, private corporate organisations, as well as individuals.
This is unacceptable in any market-driven economy. A nation desirous of freeing itself from dependency would have insisted on the manufacturers siting their companies here. A few years ago, assembly plants in the country were doing well and employing thousands of artisans, engineers and administrators.
Curiously, the NAC helmsman made these revelations at the corporate headquarters of Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria in Kaduna. Nigerians' penchant for jettisoning home-made products is becoming legendary. Regrettably, this fad has had adverse effects on industrialisation. It is a notorious fact that PAN at the height of its glory in the 1980s had 4,000 permanent workers, several casual workers and many under indirect employment. It produced no fewer than 90,000 cars annually. Today it is a shadow of itself, producing only a miserly 3,000 cars a year, with a staff strength of only 250. Over the years, this lack of protectionism has stifled the economy. There has been no clear policy to halt this drift and the automobile sector, like most other promising sectors of our national life, has witnessed a free fall.
Most government officials are guilty of this shallow preference for foreign-made goods and vehicles. Our finance ministers and the Customs top echelons often boast about the high revenue generated from imported cars. It is said to have raked in over N300bn in 2012.
Last year, the National Assembly alone paid richly for imported cars. The 109 senators got at least a Toyota Prado jeep each and the 360 representatives were bought Toyota Camry model cars. All Supreme Court justices are driven about in foreign-made Mercedes Benz cars, while recent events have shown that it seems some ministers are addicted to foreign-made armoured, luxury cars of different makes. We need no soothsayers to tell us that this year, the country's vehicles import bill will surpass last year's.
This trend is not good for our country and it will not help the economy to grow or recover either. The country needs a policy to encourage automobile companies to locate at least their assembly plants in Nigeria. If pursued, this will enhance industrialisation, create healthy competition, improve production standards of vehicles at globally competitive prices and boost technology transfer in the transport sector, as well as the nation's local content and employment profile.