My encounter with seven main personalities among many others during my national service year in 1991 in Imo/Abia State remains inspiring in my life. The seven personalities include: Dr Francis Akanu Ibiam of Unwana Kingdom in Afikpo North, and first Republic governor of the Eastern Region, Rev Dr Gary Maxey, West Africa Theological Seminary, Owerri; Rev Comas Ilechukwu of Charismatic Renewal Ministry, Owerri; Bro and Sis Sam Kputu, Capro missionaries, Owerri, Mr Peace Chilaka, Peace Printing Press, Nekede Road; Bro Ben, President of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, Owerri chapter, and Engr Ezekiel Izuogu, the Governor Imo/Abia State never had and the first Nigerian to manufacture a car called Z600. The death of Engr Izuogu, the unsung hero while he was alive raise the question again why do people appreciate a personality only when they are dead?
After my university education, Engr Izuogu was the first Nigerian Christian politician I had a very close encounter with. Engr Izuogu ‘who is from the same Ideato South with Governor Okorocha. He has been contesting for the governorship of the State since the time of Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) in the late eighties. Ran again under Social Democratic Party (SDP). Ran equally on the platform of All Peoples Party (APP). Ditto All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). And he has been contesting and has not been able to win any.’ On his political challenges and trials, Engr Izuogu said, “I have been in politics for over 40 years and I am a Christian. That is why I cannot become a minister because they know my Christian views. I love my Christianity more than any ministerial appointment.” Engr Izuogu did not sell his spiritual birthright or joined any cult organisation because of political office, but he kept pursuing his vision through Christ’s lens even till death.
I did my primary service as the Graphic Artist with the Peace Printing Press, Owerri while also serving as the Prayer Secretary, Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship, Imo/Abia State. The leadership of the Nigerian Christian Corpers’ Fellowship was introduced to Engr Izuogu by a senior brethren from the Scripture Union, Owerri. Engr Izuogu and his wife who eventually became our Fellowship’s patrons opened their house to us despite the fact that none of us from the East. I remember, at the end of one of our visits to Engr Izuogu, he asked for our Evangelism bus, known as Evangelist Paul. When we told him about the condition of the bus, he went back to the house and gave us a large sum of money for the total refurbishment of the bus. The death of Engr Izuogu of Akokwa clan in Ideato North local government of Imo state, is not just another great dream that ends in Nigerian cemetery. The death of Engr Izuogu on July 18, 2020, one of the true inventors in Nigeria, ‘a man ahead of his time’ reveals the hypocrisy of Nigerian leadership, ethnicity, and systemic evil of corruption that kills brilliance of the people. Indeed, Z600 dream is dead with him.
It is on record that ‘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 Izuogu Motors plant in Naze owerri, the prospects of an industrial revolution in Igbo land and Nigeria, was in the making.’
When Engr Izuogu made 90% of the car’s components locally, a former Nigerian Head of State, ‘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 organised 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, a dedicated and contended Nigerian ‘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. Izuogu’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.’ For this irreparable set back, for Engr Izuogu, “…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.
The frustration of Engr Izuogu and his shattered personal dream was also a national loss in form of a technological and intellectual property, ‘a national economic disaster,’ coupled with uncooperative Nigerian Press.
Engr. Izuogu, the man that produced first made in Africa car was the Deputy Chairman, Committee on Science and Technology until his death. Engr Izuogu again expressed his dissatisfaction on the development of science and technology in Nigeria. According to him, ‘there is no funding for science and technology in Nigeria. And I keep giving myself as an example that 17 years ago, I did the first car in Africa, the managing director of Peugeot and other executive directors chartered a plane to fly down to Port Harcourt and then to Owerri, just to come and see what we did and they made us wonderful promises that we should produce a type of Peugeot for them and they would pay us well but I said ‘no.’ I was not interested in doing anything for Peugeot. I want to do something that will benefit Nigeria, something that is done by Nigerians with things that were around Nigeria. They did everything to entice us but I said ‘no.’ “Thereafter, I now took it up to do the Nigerian car and we did not talk to anybody until we finished. We invited Abacha who sent his deputy to us in Owerri. A crowd of 50,000 including diplomats and five governors were there to see physically what we have done and the whole world was celebrating. Thereafter, there was no support. Nigeria government probed the car and found it worthy, they confirmed that everything was well done but till today no support I don’t have one Naira from the government instead people were making effort to blackmail us. They are saying this is Igbo-made. “So, the Nigeria public has no problem. Nigerians are good people, every Nigerian will want to use his or her hands to manufacture things but a few policy makers who are sitting up there are ready to sabotage everything to make sure that we don’t really have anything.’
Engr Izuogu’s sad experience revealed the problem of few policy makers and hatred in Nigeria today which according to him is worse than in 1966 that led to the civil war in 1967. Until his death, Engr Izuogu was involved in the design and development of the emagnetodynamics car engine or the “Izuogu Engine” by the World International Property Organisation.
On ethnicity in Nigeria, Engr Izuogu explained that, just as ‘jealousy is eating Nigeria green, Igbos are their own worst enemies.’ According to him on whether ‘the enemy of the Igbo is the Igbo,’ in an interview, he said, “That is very correct. I watched a programme on TV sometime where a man was saying that the best thing that can happen to Nigeria is to produce a Nigerian President of Igbo descent but that it is an Igbo man that will kill him. The man was making a statement and he is not Igbo. The truth is, the selfishness among the Igbo is too much. Now, for this emagnetodynamics machine, it was a Yoruba governor, Dr, Olusegun Mimiko who gave N65 million three years ago to support us. No Igbo governor has given us a farm. Alex Ekwueme gave me N12.5 million when he was alive and he was going to give me another N22 million before he died. But what about the other Igbo governors? They know about it but they won’t support it. So, the endemic selfishness among the Igbo should be tackled for Nigeria to move forward. It’s unfortunate.” Engr Izuogu’s dream was that Igboman should ‘be excited by the good thing God is doing through them. We should support ourselves, we should love ourselves first for the other Nigerians to love the ingenuity of the Igbo. Nigerians should love Nigerians. If anything good is coming to Nigeria whether, from Kaduna, Oyo, Kafanchan, Port Harcourt or Enugu, we should love it because we all are Nigerians.’ Engr Izuogu, based on his personal experience explained that it is not always the truth that ‘Yorubas don’t like Igbos and warned Nigerians to discourage ‘telling the different parts of Nigeria to prepare for war.’ His last appeal to President Buhari is ‘to protect the lives of Nigerians no matter their village, no matter their tongue, it is the responsibility of the President to protect the lives of Nigerians, whether they are Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Tiv, Ijaw or from wherever. He should not introduce any programme that will obstruct peace or endanger lives.’ On how to save Nigeria from insecurity and skirmishes, Engr Izuogu called on Nigerians to ‘go back to God. If you are a human being you will not do certain things. It is because people’s relationships with God have broken down, that is why they think of killing other people and the devil now controls their thinking. Some people’s mind is controlled by the devil because go and kill are not from God, it is from the devil. So, Nigerians should examine themselves.’
Please remember the family in prayers.