By Judith Ufford
Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of Innoson Vehicles Manufacturing Co. Ltd, the first indigenous vehicle manufacturing plant in Nigeria was born in 1961 in Umudim, Nnewi, Anambra. He is the last of six children born to Mr. and Mrs. Chukwuma Mojekwu of Uru-Umudim Nnewi, Anambra State. After his education, he started trading in spare parts under the name Innoson Nigeria Ltd in 1981. His company is third after Leventis and Boulos Enterprises in assembling branded motorcycles in the country.
His business has metamorphosed into four manufacturing companies namely: Innoson Nigeria Limited Nnewi, manufacturers of motorcycles, tri-cycles, spare parts and accessories; Innoson Tech. & Industries Co. Ltd Enugu, manufacturers of Household and Industrial Plastics, Health & Safety accessories, Storage containers, Fixtures & Fittings, Electrical components & accessories; Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) Nnewi, manufacturers of Capacity City bus, Mini & Midi buses, Pick-Up trucks and Garbage Collecting vehicles; General Tyres & Tubes Co. Ltd Enugu, manufacturers of Tyres and Tubes.
The vehicles in IVM fleet range from cars, trucks, SUVs, compactors, etc . Presently, the company has made in-road into some African countries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone, Chad, Niger, Togo.
As the first indigenous motor manufacturing company in Nigeria, he says he wanted to prove that Nigerians can do it. This he says has been proved. According to him, the inspiration to go into vehicle manufacturing was drawn from a desire to see Nigerians drive new cars. “Nigeria has become a dumping ground for second hand cars. I know it was the high price of new vehicles that made Nigerians resort to patronising old vehicles, but since we decided to manufacture the vehicles here, the price is affordable, and our people can drive new vehicles again,” he told Vanguard in a recent interview.
When the company began, no one gave him a chance. He recalled that not so many believe it will work, but today, ” they can attest to the fact that it’s working. People from other countries are coming to copy what I did to replicate it in their own country”. This story success has ensured employment for about 7,400 Nigerians who work in the company’s factory.
For his efforts, he has been made Deputy Chairman, Board of Trustees, National Coalition for Jonathan/Sambo Presidency, November 2013; The honorary Life Vice President of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines & Agriculture (NACCIMA) on November 23, 2013; Ambassador for Peace by St. Andrews Anglican Church, Trans Ekulu, Enugu, April, 2012; Entrepreneur of the Year by Wesley University of Science and Technology, Akure, Ondo State, March 2012.
He is also Most Outstanding Indigenous Entrepreneur in the Manufacturing Sector by Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ECCIMA) in January 2012; National Council Member, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. Conferred the National Honour of the Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) on November 2011 by His Excellency, President Goodluck Jonathan; Awarded Doctorate Degree in Business Administration (DBA) by Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Enugu in November 2011 amongst several other awards. Dr. Chukwuma who loves playing tennis is married to Ebele and they are blessed with children.
During an earlier interview with him, he recalls that : “I started as a small business man dealing on spare parts at Nnewi. At that time, people were bringing only second hand motorcycles to Nigeria, and I felt there should be a way to reduce the price of the new ones, so that people will be interested enough to buy new ones, rather than the second hand motorcycles.
“I travelled overseas and found out that there were four companies importing motorcycles into Nigeria. First was Leventis that was bringing the Honda brand, the second company was Yamaco that was bringing Yamaha, the other company was Bolus that was bringing Suzuki and the fourth was CFAO that was bringing moblet.
“These were the companies that were dealing on motorcycle in Nigeria, and my company was the next one. So when I went there, I discovered that when they brought the motorcycles in crate and each crate contained one motorcycle which took a lot of space and you can put about 40 units in one 40ft container. In one container with 40 units of motorcycles in a 40ft container, the motorcycle will become expensive. So after evaluating it, I went to overseas and packed 200 units in one 40ft container and my price came down by 40%. Of course, this was cheaper.”
How was he able to pack 20 units into one container? His response was simply ingenious:
“Because of my experience in spare parts, I knocked it down and brought them here, and arranged mechanics to assemble them, to couple them manually. The first five containers I brought in took me about three months to sell. I went back and brought another ten containers which took me about one month. I went and brought twenty containers and it took one week, and when I brought fifty containers, people were now paying in advance before they landed.
“There was a time I was bringing 200 containers of motorcycles every month and spread them across Nigeria. Because of that idea, my own price was cheaper by 40%, before other people saw what I was doing and followed suit. That is why today, motorcycle price crashed to N60, 000 from a high price of N150, 000 in the past.
“It was in the course of doing this that I discovered that there are a lot of plastics in a motorcycle, and that is one of the reasons I set up a plastic plant to produce the plastics components locally. These are some of the things I did to bring down the cost of motorcycle to about N60,000. Today, nobody thinks of buying second hand motorcycle anymore in Nigeria. Everybody wants to buy new one because new one is cheap, and I am going to do the same thing with motor vehicles.
“In the near future, you find out that all these “Tokunbo” vehicles in Nigeria will not work out as people will prefer the new ones. With the support of Nigerians, we will see that we will be there.
“Today, we are importing engines; we are importing certain components for motor manufacturing, but after sometimes, we will make them here. With the support of Nigerians and the government we will make everything here, then Nigeria will be the first in Africa to manufacture full made in Nigeria vehicles. According to Dr. Chukwuma, the vehicle factory was set up for the entire African continent and not Nigeria alone.
Said he said: “In the near future, I’m sure we will take over the motor business in Africa. This of course is with the support of Nigerians.” To this end, the federal government has directed all MDAs to patronise locally made vehicles and other goods. Inspite of this good intention and directive of the federal government, Dr. Chukwuma observed that “sometimes some ministries would prefer Toyota or other brands that they have used for 50 years. They don’t want to try our made-in-Nigeria brand. But the ministries that have taken the bold step of using our products, are happy they did”.
The Innoson boss would boast beating his chest that the Innoson brand is comparable to any in the world and that spare parts are no problem. “Presently, our manufacturing plant at Nnewi is built to service the entire African continent, and good enough we have been meeting up with market demands. Our strategy is to plan futuristically, knowing that huge orders will come, and as it stands today, we are able to meet up with the huge demands. We have the manpower and modern technology to cope with expected challenges.”
Recently, at the Federal Executive Council meeting, the Minister of Trade and Investment revealed that the multinational Nissan company has written that they want to partner with Innoson in vehicle manufacturing in Nigeria. While Dr. Chukwuma, acknowledged this development, he was not so willing to let the cat out of the bag. According to him, I’m aware that they have made such move, and on our part, we are ready to go into any cooperation that will boost the nation’s economy, and lead to increased productivity and provision of jobs for our youths.