David OgulaThursday, December 28, 2017
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New York


s 2017 draws to a close, Chief Innocent Chukwuma, the Chairman of Innoson Group and founder of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) has emerged as one of the most recognizable entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Chief Chukwuma was arrested December 19, 2017, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and subsequently released on bail. He was arrested not for illegal activities committed by his company, but for alleged acts of fraud. Chief Chukwuma and press reports present conflicting accounts of his alleged transgressions. The purpose of this piece is not to argue the merits of the charges against the entrepreneur Chief or side with one party or the other. It's out of concern that the case might have a negative impact on the promise of leap-frogging technology that I have decided to lend my voice.

I have followed the evolution of the auto industry in Nigeria. I recall the 1980s when Nigeria assembled Volkswagen vehicles in Lagos and Peugeot in Kaduna. I also recall attending auto shows at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos where crude contraptions were displayed as indigenously manufactured cars. We had the famed Okpuzu of Abiriba, Chief Onwuka Kalu's attempt to advance machine tool manufacturing as well as an attempt by another Nigerian entrepreneur from the east to produce Nigerian made vehicles under the brand name "Eddy Bongos" and the Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company (ANAMMCO); not to disregard the ingenuity of the lorry and "molue" builders. These were the promises of a fledgling auto industry that one hoped will evolve into a modern Nigerian auto industry - but they all floundered.

Then IVM emerged - I have seen the array of vehicles credited to this company and I must say they are impressive. Chief Innocent Chukwuma has managed to stamp "made in Nigeria" into busses, SUVs, sedans, pick-up and garbage hauling trucks. These vehicles are remarkably stylish and visually appealing. The genius of Chief Chukwuma is his successful adoption of contemporary supply, sourcing, and manufacturing strategies engendered by globalization in his business model. Globalization has given rise to production and supply strategies that have changed the traditional notion of manufacturing centered on fixed geographic locations. Thus, it's common practice for manufacturers to choose suppliers from different parts of the world. Boeing, AirBus, the world's major automobile companies - General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, Hyundai and desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone manufacturers, all source materials from different countries.

I believe in the leap frogging model of development for Africa. Leapfrogging old technologies and business models means adopting not reinventing the wheel, which in turn stimulate other technological leaps. This is precisely the model Chief Chukwuma has successfully adopted in IVM. Allowing myself to again commit the eternal sin of hope, I would say it holds great promise for Nigeria.

To rephrase a quote by former US President Bill Clinton, "there is nothing wrong with Nigeria that cannot be fixed with what is right about Nigeria." Chief Innocent Chukwuma reflects the "good, the bad and the ugly" in Nigeria. As someone who advocates solving Nigeria's problems with what is good about Nigeria, the tangible results of Chief Chukwuma's entrepreneurship - IVM's impressive array of vehicles and 7,000 employed Nigerians represent the "good." The alleged claims of manipulation of bank and shipping documents represent the ugly and the bad. I believe those who commit crimes should bear the consequences of their crimes; Chief Innocent Chukwuma should not be treated differently from others who violate the law. But the punishment should fit the crime. The challenge for the President, the Attorney-General, the Federal Judges, EFCC, and Nigerians who are crying "impale him" is how to address the "bad" and the "ugly" without destroying the "good." This case offers an opportunity for prosecutorial innovation. I hope law enforcement personnel will find ways to douse water on the fire to prevent the flames from burning high, but make a furnace of the embers to forge other tools.