Mr Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of the Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Limited (IVM), recently hosted top media executives to a parley in his hometown of Nnewi, Anambra State.
While giving a tour of his magnificent vehicle manufacturing factory, Mr Chukwuma disclosed the idea behind the auto brand as well as the support his business has enjoyed from the former governor, Peter Obi and outgoing governor, Willie Obiano.
In the interview session which Nairametrics was a part of, he also touched on his legal issues with the management of Guaranty Trust Bank and how he plans to take over the bank someday. Excerpts.
What has been the experience since the business kicked off?
When we started, nobody believed in us, but the then-governor, Peter Obi helped us a lot by patronising us massively. What Peter Obi did, made the factory grow. Obi paid us in advance to manufacture 500 buses to give to schools across the state. When he received the vehicles, he was satisfied and happy with our work. He came back to me and asked if we can build pickup trucks. I told him we can and he paid me for 500 pickup trucks to be distributed to security outfits in the state. He called again later telling me he wants to give traditional rulers SUVs and asked if I can build them. I sent him a design of the SUVs, he liked it and we manufactured and supplied him. I must say that the support Obi gave to me is very key to our success.
Despite the many challenges, how were you able to push through to be where you are today?
There’s nothing you will do in this world that you will not have some type of challenges. Even the people overseas have their own challenges. A challenge is not something that should deter you from continuing whatever endeavour you are pursuing. When a challenge comes up, you look at it and try to solve it. If you allow fear to deter you from your goal, you will never succeed. The important thing is that challenges will come, but you have to set your mind on defeating them.
Have you had to contend with issues with car importers?
They are motor dealers to other brands, and my competition is not them. I’m a car manufacturer, I’m not a car dealer or assembler. You will need to come to my factory to understand the difference between manufacturers and assemblers. We source most of our components locally. And that is the edge we have over others. They are selling foreign brands, I am selling a local brand. Some people need foreign brands, some people need local brands. It’s a matter of choice.
In a country as divided as Nigeria, how are you able to make Innoson stand out as a brand that Nigerians across divides have accepted as our own?
We have been able to do so because it is the only made in Nigeria vehicle in Nigeria, and in Africa even. We are manufacturers, not assemblers. It is only normal for us as Nigerians to be proud of our own things.
What are your thoughts as regards the world slowly cutting down on fossil fuel and do you plan to venture into electric cars in the future?
Electric vehicles are good for the world. I don’t manufacture any at the moment, but if electric vehicle becomes accepted in Nigeria, I will manufacture them. The same thing with gas vehicles. Any of them that the market needs, I can manufacture. As of now, I am building a city bus that uses gas. I built it in such a way that if there is a scarcity of gas, you can switch to diesel. I can even produce an electric variant as an alternative.
Bringing innovation to alternatives such as gas and electric is good. I wanted to start producing electric cars but Nigeria is not yet ready. Immediately Nigeria is ready, I will produce it. When Nigeria is ready for gas and electric, I’m in a position to do it. I have made some study and trained some people on it. So, before we do that, we will have to make sure that we have as much charging stations as there are fuel stations because people will need to charge the vehicles.
How have you managed to keep up production amid the issues of poor electricity and infrastructure currently bedevilling the country?
When we started the factory, the roads were very poor in Anambra State. Electricity was also very poor. When Peter Obi came in as governor, he built roads to the factory and many other roads just to encourage industrialisation. For electricity, when Governor Willie Obiano came, he made sure that factories have special electricity which he paid for. Obiano paid for special electricity for all industries. Anywhere there are industries he sends that special electricity to. That’s why Anambra has had something close to steady electricity for years.
How much investment has gone down to make this factory a reality?
The investment is not likely the issue but the idea. What costs me more is the idea.
For some years now, you have been having a running issue with Guaranty Trust Bank. What is the current situation right now?
You know I’m one of their best customers in the entire Southeast, especially when the former MD, Olutayo Aderinokun was alive. Because of me, they opened a branch in Nnewi. But after the demise of Aderinokun, the new MD took over. I do not know him, but only met him for the first time last year. I’m not sure exactly why he is fighting me but I think it has to do with tribe.
But finally, I have proved him wrong in everything he is doing. I have defeated him in all the courts he went to. It remains for him to pay me what he owes me because he can’t just go to my account and take money anyhow, which I discovered, took him to court over and won. Up till this moment, he has not paid and we had gone up to the Supreme Court. Maybe he wants Nigeria to change their law because of him.
But the beauty of it all is that the money has been attracting interest of 22% for 11 years now. I’m waiting for the interest to grow beyond their capacity, and then I would takeover the bank. I’m not disturbing them anymore, but I’m assuring all the customers of the bank that if I take over, I will still run it well. Let them not have any fear. I haven’t done any business that has failed. I will run it better than them. If the interest on my money is above the capacity of the bank, I’d have no choice but to take over the management.
Those with formal education will wonder how you are able to navigate your way to success despite not having a formal education. Will you describe this as a blessing in disguise?
I don’t believe that. Education is very important for everybody. No matter who you are, if you have an education, it’s an added advantage to you. Not going to school has no advantage to anybody.
The issue of forex has been a major challenge for manufacturers in Nigeria. How have you been able to source forex for your operations?
We are sourcing forex the same way other Nigerians are sourcing forex. I hope to do more exports because if I do more exports, I will get the forex direct. So, I’m planning to do more exports.
What is the staff strength of Innoson Motors?
My total staff strength is 7,300.
What is the number of vehicles produced so far?
We produce according to demand, but I can show you the records.
In what way can government support industries like yours to grow and compete well with your foreign counterparts?
The industry is not craving the support of the government or government alone, but that of all Nigerians, for them to adopt Innoson because it is made in Nigeria. We should all see it as our own thing so that anywhere in the world you see Innoson vehicles you will know this is from your country.
What’s your plan for the next five years?
My plan for the next five years is to see Innoson vehicles in every part of Africa.