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It’s still Merry Christmas

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Alabi Williams

Alabi Williams

Despite the economy, and its parlous state, Nigerians are grateful to God that it’s Christmas and that they are are having good times. Many have travelled and others will be travelling because it’s holiday season; and some will not forgo visiting their country homes simply because the economy is bad. They have all the odds and by God’s grace and the dutiful activities of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), they are safely in their respective homes, savouring the season.

Talking about the road safety reminds of how costly it is to travel, especially those who drive their own vehicles. For sometime now, road safety people have been on the lookout for motorists whose tyres have expired. The lifespan of the average tyre is four years, after which it is no longer safe for use. Even if it was never fitted and had not touched the ground, the owner’s manual says, ‘discard it’. So, if you bought your tyres in 2012, they are no longer fit for the roads. That is the fact. But then, there is the other fact of cost. What you bought in 2012 no longer sells for that amount in 2016. In fact, going near a new premium tyre in 2016 is scary because the cost has tripled, no thanks to falling value of the Naira, and very scarce forex. Importers and their dealers will get a calculator and ask you to do the costing; they want you to say whether they are asking for too much. They are not.

So, what do we do? Do we manage a Grade One Tokunboh tyre certified by your vendor at Ladipo Market, Lagos? Road safety says NO! Why? Why can’t I use a Grade One Tokunboh Tyre to go along with my Tokunboh car? If you allow me drive a Tokunboh vehicle with the tyres that came with it, don’t you think I can get used tyres that are yet to expire and can still run for one more year?

Safety experts do not agree that Tokunboh tyres of any grade are good and safe to ferry human lives from place to place. They argue with facts, that their original owners, for one defect or the other, had abandoned some of the tyres being imported by greedy traders into the country. Besides, every tyre that is produced is specified for a particular weather and climate. In the tropics like ours, tyres are made to relate with the environment, such that the temperature of he operating environment is factored into its workings. As a matter of fact, vehicles produced specifically for the Nigerian market are tropicalized, meaning that, the tyres, battery and engine system are programmed for the Nigerian environment. They are made to specification and standards. But in the case of Tokunboh vehicles and tyres, anything goes. What you see is what you buy.

And that has been the problem of Nigeria. We have lost the capacity to plan. Once upon a time, this country had development plans that were predictable and deliverable. One was that which brought in technical partners from France and Germany to assemble vehicles locally and in doing that transfer automobile technology. Peugeot and Volkswagen began serious work in Kaduna and Lagos, and their products were the delight of the emerging middle class of that era. All that remained for that exercise to endure was discipline on the part of government; to insist that only made in Nigeria vehicle were to be used in government and in the private sector. Alas, the same government that brought in technical partners used its hands to frustrate them out through policy flip-flops, unreasonable tariffs and duties.

At that time, China had no thriving automobile industry. India was just struggling, while Korea (South) was still learning the ropes. In the downstream, parts producers for Peugeot and Volkswagen were doing so well. Apart from the engine and body, most other vehicle parts were produced in Nigeria. Given the tempo of that time, if successive governments had shown faithfulness and discipline, Nigeria would have become a major automobile producing country, not consumer.

Need we remind ourselves, that we once had a successful tryre industry, when we produced what we consumed? Dunlop was a household name, with a sprawling manufacturing and corporate office along Oba Akran, Ikeja, Lagos. Dunlop had rubber plantations in two locations in South-south, with distributors across the country. The tyre won many international certifications and was as good as any good tyre from Europe. With N4, 000 then you could get an elite tyre for a passenger vehicle. The company took loans to go into truck tyre business and its fortunes dimmed. Michelin was also producing a little and importing more. Both companies have closed their Nigerian production lines. Whatever tyre from the Dunlop stable that you see now is from South Africa, while Michelin goes to Europe to bring in tyres for sale. The major reason both Dunlop and Michelin closed shop was because they could no longer compete with cheap tyres imported from China. Government refused to protect the local manufacturers.

The loss in terms of revenue, jobs and excitement in the motoring industry is incalculable. Need we also remind ourselves that we once had a thriving automotive battery industry, with thousands of jobs for Nigerians? There was Exide at Ibadan. Lagos had two or three. There was one in Ota. In the Southeast, we had at least two battery manufacturers. We have lost all of them. In their places, batteries are coming from all manner of places, a drain on scarce forex. How did we get here? Through bad policies of government, aided by rampant activities of greedy merchants.

All that is to explain that the road to this Christmas is full of anxieties. For those who have not been travelling far, and had been avoiding members of the FRSC in their corner corner hideouts in our major cities, now you have to surrender to them along the expressways. If you are in the category of those who drive Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs), which many ignorantly refer to as ‘Jeeps’, I can testify that fixing new tyres before travelling for Christmas is not an easy choice in the regular scale of preference. A premium 225/16/70 tyre, which sold less than N30, 000 four years ago has climbed to around N56, 000. If you have to buy four, plus an extra, you would need something in the region of N250, 00 plus.

That is not all. The fuel that you bought for N87 or thereabout last December has climbed up to N145. Premium engine oils and other accessories for periodic service have more than doubled. For many travelers this season, this could very well be their story. Therefore, if it is not very convenient, don’t drive. Go for one of the elite transport companies and with less than N10, 000, you can get to anywhere in Nigeria and still save some money for 2017.

We must also salute the Nigerian spirit. In other climes, a little jerk in prices of bread and other household products will cause riots. Price of bread has gone up significantly and most Nigerians have not lost their steam. Congratulations!

Even states that were thought to have gone bankrupt have kept the Christmas fire burning. From Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, to Imo, street carnivals and Christmas carols have wowed the people out of recession. The atmosphere has been very encouraging. Meaning that it is not over.

Another remarkable achievement is the availability of locally produced rice in the menu of many this season. The ban on importation of rice is doing some magic. Lagos has partnered Kebbi State to produce Lake Rice. Ebonyi is doing great with rice. Anambra, Nasarawa and others are doing equally well with rice. Let this not be a fluke. Governments need to consolidate this little gain. Let it grow and become a source of inspiration for those who have lost faith. Let us say a final goodbye to imported rice through faithful implementation of Budget 2017.

The story of 2016, beginning from January is like the story of Nigeria, full of ups and downs. But if we determine not to be put down by our circumstances, we shall celebrate as a country. No matter our circumstances, I say Merry Christmas, but Drive Safe!



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