Jelani Aliyu is the Director-General of the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC). He is a Nigerian automotive designer who had worked as a senior creative designer for the American car company General Motors. In this interview with Victor Uzoho, he gives insight into Nigeria’s journey towards the adoption of zero-emission vehicles. Excerpts:
Why the need to promote electric vehicles in Nigeria at this moment in time?
We all know that back in 2016, Nigeria was one of the 196 signatory countries to the Paris Accord. This is an agreement that all member countries are committed to reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and all dangerous emissions from vehicles and factories. Nigeria being a signatory has to work on policies and initiatives to achieve those targets, and we all know that vehicles, small, medium and large sized are the major causes of pollution in the atmosphere. To meet those targets we have to redefine the type of vehicles that we use and the easiest way to reduce emissions is to go electric and that is absolutely zero emission. For us to meet that international agreement, we have to go with renewable energy and electric vehicles are the best option for that.
The second reason is that all the major automotive manufacturers in Europe, America and Asia, most especially in China and Japan are all transitioning the production of vehicles away from fossil fuel that is away from diesel and fuel to electric. So whether we are ready or not, these companies that we have that are producing vehicles in Nigeria or that we are trying to bring in to come and produce, sooner or later would have nothing but electric vehicles. Once we prepare for electric vehicles, we understand them, we adopt them. We develop them and we get the entire necessary infrastructure ready. It’s either that or we just decide to go back to horses and donkeys or leg walk.
Thirdly, we have millions of very talented Nigerians, especially in the ICT sector. These young Nigerians, if you sit them behind a computer, can do anything their peers can do in New York or Rome, because you know that ICT provides a level playing field and when you look at vehicle electrification, it has a lot of ICT embedded in them. We believe it would give our youth an edge and an advantage; if we are left behind in the old race in terms of combustion, this is an opportunity for us to run the fastest in the world.
The fourth reason is that electric vehicles have far fewer moving parts. They have no pistons, no rings, no crankshafts, filters, oil change, plugs, none of that. For Nigeria where we have a low maintenance culture, these vehicles would allow you to keep on using them and there would be no need for all that maintenance, no servicing and no oil change; so it’s better for us in Africa.
These reasons make it viable and necessary that we adopt vehicle electrification that we would develop to suit our needs, and then promote its production and usage.
Is Nigeria ready for these vehicles even with their prospects?
We have problems with power but it’s because we really haven’t applied our initiatives and our intellect to solve that problem. When you look at the potential in renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy, there is a huge potential that could be tapped to really provide sufficient power for Nigeria.
You all know how much Nigerians love cars; we have a passion for vehicles similar to what Americans and Germans do, they spend a high percentage of their income on acquiring vehicles. When the nation wakes up one day to know that without electricity, these things that they love and spend so much on would all but come to a halt, I’m sure something will be done to solve the problem, which will spill over into the rest of our lives. I think it’s actually a catalyst for us to get up and find solutions to the power problems.
Are you saying inadequate power is the main reason we are not ready?
It depends on the way you look at it. The typical electric vehicle that was assembled here by a minister earlier this year can be charged at home. Anybody that has an air conditioner or a refrigerator can power these vehicles. It seemed like a technology that we can’t handle, but then if you have enough electricity to power a television, you have enough power to charge your electric vehicle.
There are different types of chargers. The embedded charger that comes with every electric vehicle plugs into the normal outlet of any home or office. Then there is a super-fast charger and for that, you need a dedicated power supply, it charges very quickly but that’s for those who need a dedicated charging station, where they can pay and get the service. But even without that, as we speak, anyone that has enough power to use an air conditioner or a refrigerator has enough power to charge an electric car.
Given its economic benefits, don’t you think Lagos needs to adopt electric vehicles in its commercial transportation system, given the level of air pollution in the state from emissions and congestion?
I think Lagos has gone a long way. I recently went to an event where a couple of vehicles were assembled in Nigeria and unveiled. There are several good buses on the roads in Lagos. Those vehicles are powered by diesel. I believe that the next set of vehicles should be electric vehicles or gas-powered vehicles. They’d be more efficient. They can run longer kilometres with the same amount if not less energy. We had a meeting with the Federal Ministry of Power about two weeks ago and in our discussions, we realized that they are very interested in vehicle electrification plans and they are really looking at how they can dedicate power supply to electric vehicle charging stations and outposts. When that comes online, there would be collaborations between us as we promote the production of electric buses with the government and municipalities like Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, these big cities, and then with the Federal Ministry of Power, and the states counterparts. I think an ecosystem can be created where there is sufficient electricity to power these zero-emission vehicles.
With electric vehicles, no matter the number of vehicles, unless you are concerned about traffic and very slow movement, if you have a million of them on the road it does not matter because they are zero emission. The bigger the city, the more advantageous it is for that city to go electric. The government, especially for us at the Automotive Design and Development Council, with the support of our parent Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment are ever ready to partner, collaborate and support any stakeholder or manufacturer that is committed to going into electric vehicles. We are also willing to work with municipalities as I mentioned earlier to create that complete ecosystem. You need electric vehicles, you need the power to energise them, and you need to work on the municipalities to set policies and other support programmes that make it advantageous for commuters to use electric vehicles.
For the medium electric vehicle, whether it’s a big bus or a very micro type of vehicle, it sort of gives you more flexibility. It allows you to make all the driving experience ICT based. For example, with compact electric vehicles, you can easily work with apps.
The biggest challenge that we are discussing is around not having enough power, but I believe that if the Federal Ministry of Power has realised the reason for this type of vision, and they are at avenues to do that, I think we can begin to solve those issues. But this requires teamwork. The Federal Government has to come in to provide the necessary manufacturing environment and the private sector needs to acknowledge the need to start developing and producing these types of vehicles. The journey has begun and it’s not easy. It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to be hard, but I believe that Nigerians are up to the task.
What actions have you taken to boost the adoption of electric cars in Nigeria?
We have started working towards the National Electric Vehicle Programme. It has many elements and the first is the Electric Vehicle Policy, which we have started to develop and this would be followed by initiatives and programmes to support the production and usage of electric vehicles in Nigeria. We are also doing direct research and design of an electric vehicle that we are developing. We are basically doing the engineering and the product design development of the vehicle. We can’t exactly show the public what it is until we are done with it, which should be very soon. It’s going to be a low-cost electric vehicle that is in tune with the culture, climate, terrain and economic structure of Nigeria.
We are also looking at infrastructure and that is why we have developed solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations. We have commissioned the first one at the Usman Danfodio University in Sokoto, and we are about to commission the second one at the University of Lagos, and we have the third one coming at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. These are 100% solar-powered charging stations for electric vehicles and we have situated them in the universities so that we can collaborate with the academia, support the technology and then get these young Nigerians directly exposed to these technologies and hopefully have them come up with even better solutions and applications for Nigeria and Africa. We are also looking at other applications of solar-powered equipment for agriculture and other utilitarian applications. We are doing several things in just giving electrification because we believe that’s what needs to be done.
When should Nigerians expect the launch of the electric vehicle under development?
We will launch it towards the end of this year, and thereafter we will engage the private sector to mass-produce it because you know they say the government is not in the business of doing business. We are designing this vehicle, developing it to be the most applicable for Nigeria and Africa, and then we would collaborate, license and help some committed stakeholders in the country to produce it for Nigeria and Africa.