In 1997, a brilliant Igbo Electrical Engineer and Lecturer at the Federal polytechnic Nekede, Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu designed and developed the Izuogu Z-600, the first African indigenous manufactured car.
The car was described by the BBC as ‘ the African dream machine as 90% of its parts were sourced locally. At a projected sales cost of 2000 dollars, it would have taken the world by storm and become the cheapest and most affordable car on earth. With mass production planned under Izogu Motors plant in Naze owerri, the prospects of an industrial revolution in Igbo land and Nigeria, was in the making.
The car was equipped with a self made 1.8L four cylinder engine that got 18mpg and allowed the car to achieve a top speed of 140 km/h. Front Wheel Drive (FWD) was chosen over Rear Wheel Drive (RWD) because a transmission tunnel, which RWD would require, would be more expensive to fabricate.
So 90% of the car’s components were made locally. General Sani Abacha set up a 12 man panel of inquiry made up of professionals to ascertain the road worthiness and authenticity of the car and after several days of probing, the committee gave Dr. Izuogu’s car a clean bill of health, recommending that some of the bumps on the body of the car be smoothened. It is worthy to note that this was five years before India built their first car known as the Indi.
At a well organized unveiling ceremony which had General Abacha represented by Oladipo Diya, over 20 foreign ambassadors and thousands of people in attendance, the federal government promised a grant of 235 million naira to Dr. Izuogu.
An excited Dr. Izuogu is still waiting for that grant till today. No dime was released to him. In 2006, the government of South Africa invited Dr. Izuogu to do a presentation about the car in the presence of several world class engineers. Being impressed with his presentation, they invited him to come and set up a plant in South Africa and begin the production of the car.
Dr. Izuogu reluctantly agreed, though he wasn’t happy that the benefits of employment generation will be lost on the locals of Naze and the Nigerian human resources environment. On Saturday, the 11th of March 2006, at about 2.00 a.m, a total of about 12 heavily armed men broke into Dr. Izogu’s factory in Naze and carted away various machines and tools including the design history notebook of Z-600, the design file Z-MASS, containing the design history for mass production of Z-600 car, and the moulds for various parts of the car.
“It seems that the target of this robbery is to stop the efforts we are making to mass-produce the first ever locally made car in Africa. Other items stolen included locally produced timing wheel, locally produced camshaft, locally produced crankshaft, locally produced engine tappets, all 20 pieces each.
Also stolen were ten pieces of locally produced Z-600 engine blocks, ten pieces of locally produced pistons, four pieces of engine block mounds, four pieces of top engine block moulds, ten pieces of engine fly wheel and two pieces each of rear car and front mudguard moulds.”The inventor regretted that not only did they lose over one N1 billion in monetary terms, but also time (about 10 years) and the energy it took to design and produce the moulds. “To worsen the matter, our design notebook was also stolen,” he stated.
He regarded the incident as a national economic disaster because the nation had lost a technological and intellectual property. This Press was quiet about this story. The set back and governments attitude frustrated Izuogu and his dream died.