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Chisom Mefor: What happened to the UNN electric car (Lion Ozumba 551)

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By Chisom Mefor

On June 8th 2019, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) unveiled the Lion Ozumba 551, the first electronic car in Nigeria developed from scratch by a 27-member team of the Institution’s Mechatronics Department. The five-seater vehicle runs on four wheels through electric power, can be fully charged and driven for at least 60-minutes until next charge.

It’s been a few years, but what then became of the Ozumba 551? What did the sweat and labor by the best innovators and researchers in UNN’s engineering faculty materialize to? How did a dream that big fade so quick?

Well, it’s no shock the Ozumba 551 ended in the pipeline. If one observes closely, the lifecycle of most Nigerian innovations is archetypal. It as usual starts with the initial euphoria of newspaper editorials, social media acceptance, and of course a sprinkle of goodwill messages by the Government or Senator of the constituency of the said project innovator.

There were hearsays at a point that a Chinese based company professed interest in the sponsorship of the Lion Ozumba 551, Professor Val Ekechukwu, dean of the faculty of engineering later confirmed this in his interview with TheCable’s correspondent, Chinedu Asadu. One is curious to ask- Why a Chinese company though? Nigerians continue to break grounds in science, tech, medicine, agriculture etc. Why isn’t Nigeria tapping into the broad economic potential of Nigerians?

Sometimes I think of the Ozumba 551 as a young, intelligent and promising girl from a poor background, in circumstances like this, odds are she will unlikely be able to live up to her authentic potential. It is one thing to be a smart kid, but smartness and ideas for revolutionary innovation is never enough. The real game lies in garnering the required support that can guarantee the future you desire.

Beyond the electric car, there are a gazillion projects that have been slept on for ages and counting.

Recall in CNN’s 2017 article, Kehinde Durojaiye showed the world a jet car he invented that could float on water, fly in air and drive on land, until today, no one knows what became of the resilient young man and his invention. My guess is, it turned out to be a broken hope and dreams deferred like Ozumba 551.

Rwanda has evolved to become one of the most innovative countries in Africa and also one of the fastest growing economies on the continent, by expanding the country’s effort on innovation. According to techcabal.com, Rwanda is fast turning into a preferred location for innovation and technology. What can African nations like Nigeria learn from Rwanda’s growth as an Innovation Hub?

First of all, the government should implement integrated policies and plans to support innovations and start-ups. Research shows that innovation is the main driver of a country’s long-term economic growth. The second and most important step is scaling up like Rwanda did, by strengthening innovation, productivity and intellectual property reform. Nigerians are incredibly gifted and talented, FG should help innovators identify and network with partners outside their space who can mentor and push them into the bigger market.  

One may wonder why there’s a spike in young people cutting corners, but this is the expected result when you actively punish legitimate businesses and write off innovations that could have created job opportunities for thousands of Nigerians. Recently, we have witnessed the stifling of fintech companies. Why are Nigerians constantly reminded every day that their inventions/ideas do not matter here? Shouldn’t the knowledge acquired be made readily available to solve society’s problems for the benefit of every one? I believe it births the axiom- School na scam, meaning that school and the knowledge it gives is a complete waste, a situation in which something is not used in an appropriate or effective way.

There are several innovation hubs across Nigeria, however experts and tech stakeholders like have continued to hint that funding and enabling a business-friendly environment is vital for facilitating innovation, creativity and growth for ideas. The economic realities show that unemployment is worsening, yet ideas for innovations like the Ozumba 551 that could create opportunities for growth would rarely be sponsored.

The major constraint to innovations in Nigeria is the inability to scale up, and the reiteration of abandoning projects further breaks the spirit of other aspiring inventors and demotivates them.

This piece is just a tribute dedicated to the Lion Ozumba 551, the first indigenous electric car in Nigeria, continue to rest in peace at the Engineering faculty garage. 

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Chisom Mefor is a student at the University of Nigeria Nsukka and also a Contributor at NewsWireNGR.

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