By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
HE neither exhibits the traits of an engineer nor possesses the paper qualifications to operate as one.
But, with a searing zeal, unbridled focus and determination to leave a mark as an inventor, Azibaola Emmanuel Robert, is comfortably at the threshold of making history as the pioneer Nigerian lawyer to manufacture electric cars, heavy-duty trucks and allied machines that the country currently imports from abroad.
But seared by his vision to invent basic and avant-garde brands of vehicles for Nigeria, Robert remains firm and resolute in his resolve to carve a niche in the car manufacturing sector and revolutionise the system for the good of the country and people.
And, for this reason, Robert, who was called to the Nigerian bar in 1995, is at the threshold of perfecting the car production line in Abuja. It is as if his entire life depends on the project that has the potential to thrust him with a global badge of honour as the first lawyer to produce cars in Nigeria and put his name on the sands of time.
Born in Otakeme community of Bayelsa State on February 13, 1969, Azibaola Emmanuel Robert has always demonstrated a desire for designing, craftsmanship and creativity even though he ended up reading law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and practised briefly before pitching his tent in human rights defence and promotion.
Although Robert is small in size, his head operates like a brain box loaded with brilliant and big ideas that can move mountains and create monuments. His obsession with creating things in order to add value to society must have been fired by his radical thinking right from his university days when he served as vice president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, in 1993.
He later plunged into human rights defence and promotion using the platform of the Niger Delta Human and Environmental Rescue Organisation, ND-HERO, to push for development, peace and environmental justice in the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta.
From the small beginning as the founder of ND-HERO, Robert went on to establish many big high-tech engineering firms such as Mangrovetech, Kakatar Engineering and Oneplus Holdings Limited – firms that handle sophisticated designs and engineering projects worth billions of naira across Nigeria, among them the Maitama Extension District Engineering Infrastructure project at the cost of N23 billion, Kyami District Engineering Infrastructure at the cost of N60.8 billion, the dredging and sand-filling of the Bayelsa International Airport at the cost of N10.4 billion and the Shore Erosion Control Works of Akepelai, Ayakoro and Otuoke Communities at N7.6 billion as well as the Apo-Karshi Road.
To satisfy his desire of designing and produce cars, heavy-duty trucks and machines that can move human beings, goods and services and improve the quality of life, Robert has been busy assembling a large number of precision engineering machines and tools and installing them in the FCT Industrial District in Idu, Abuja and the place is now a cynosure of some sort, attracting hordes of visitors on a daily basis.
Robert is aiming to produce the first set of cars, trucks and heavy-duty machines under the brand name of Zeetin Engineering, which is fast becoming a tourism centre in the Abuja Industrial Zone in Abuja given the number and calibre of sophisticated equipment already assembled and the kinds of clients, who besiege the premises daily.
Although his firm -Zeetin- is pioneering original equipment manufacturing into the machine-manufacturing arena, Robert is not an accidental inventor but a die-hard planner, explorer and creator who thinks through every process he needs to surmount in order to achieve his set goal.
That may explain why he chooses fabrication, cutting and joining of parts to make furniture, tools and machines over his law practice. Robert is so good in welding and fabrication using high-tech machines that he finds it very easy to produce any part needed for virtually any sector in Nigeria including aviation, oil and gas, marine and household.
When Robert is welding or fabricating in the huge factory, not many would ever suspect that he is a lawyer who merely shows raw interest in using machines to produce sophisticated equipment.
He is a wizard in handling precision engineering tools and a delight to watch when in operation.
Robert routinely operates all the complex machines and is able to explain to all what each does and how it works to produce whatever type of machine or tool is required. As of today, not many firms in Africa can boast of what Robert has assembled in Nigeria under Zeetin Engineering in his bid to roll out electric cars, heavy-duty trucks and machines.
Among the equipment already installed and working at Zeetin Engineering in Abuja, which can aid in the manufacturing of any type of machine, are: hydraulic angle rolling machine, hydraulic press brake, hydraulic steelworker machine, hydraulic swing beam shears machine, tank dish flanging machine, plate rolling/bending machine, five-axis waterjet cutting machine, plasma cutting machine, UMC 1600 machine and Accuway Lathe machine.
All of these put together can produce any component or part needed to churn out a car, truck or any other machine simply because they are essentially used in forging rings, flanges, bearings, gears, wheels and sleeve rings for use by the automobile, aerospace, oil and gas industry. Robert and his wonder-working firm are already being noticed and applauded by key stakeholders in the financial and engineering sectors. While the Bank of Industry and NEXIM have already visited the car-production plant in Abuja and given their support, the Nigerian Society of Engineers on December 7, 2021, at an elaborate ceremony at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, honoured Azibola Robert with its prestigious title of Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, FNSE and praised him for creating a pathway to Nigeria’s engineering progress and development despite being a lawyer.
From where he started and where he is today, it now appears that as each day passes, Robert’s dream of producing Nigeria’s first electric car, trucks and heavy-duty machines, which he dreamt of when he was born in 1969, is gradually becoming a concrete reality and bringing him closer to the threshold of becoming a history-maker, a game-changer and a revolutionary.