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Ezekiel Izuogu: Ogbonnaya Onu, Others, Bid Iconic Car Inventor Farewell

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ONE was relieved that none of those who spoke at the Abuja session of the Service of Songs for late Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu dwelt on his invention that they all ignored while he ebulliently sought the attention of anyone who could have facilitated the realisation of his dream of making the first car, fully indigenous to Africa.

Another service holds in Owerri Tuesday 24 November 2020. Hopefully, nobody would waste pretentious tears over the plight of Dr. Izuogu as he tried to sell the idea of a Nigerian made car decades ago. The stories remain too painful to add to the anguish that his family and friends face at the departure of the inventor.

Nigerian failed him 24 years ago. The agony of watching his dream destroyed, and receding to a memory of possibilities, was enough to have crushed the man earlier. Not Dr. Izuogu. He soldiered though the weight of that the ugly incident, that benefitted from government’s neglect of his invention, was with him till death.

The encomiums were about his commitment to his services to the Almighty, his Maker. Various church groups and associations that assembled at The Cathedral Church of The Advent, Gwarinpa, Life Camp, Abuja, spoke of the man’s humanity, his services to various groups that sought his assistance in their spiritual growth. He was said to have started from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where his brilliance shone, intellectually and spiritually.

His commitment to his religion, one speaker said, greatly accounted for his loss of the governorship of Imo State in 1991. “He would not do what other politicians do. He would rather please his God than man,” the speaker said in words that summarised the testimonies of his life during the service.

Minister of Science & Technology was at the Abuja event. He did not speak. He paid his condolences to the widow, Mrs. Ngozi Izuogu, and left.

Dr. Izuogu died in bits, starting from the early hours of Saturday 11 March 2006, when 12 armed men broke into his workshop in Naze, Owerri and carted away the designs, notes, parts, and equipment he was using in the production of his dream first Nigerian car, Z-600. He lived for this project that took years from design to the point he had something to show off. Everything was gone in that incident.

His departure on Saturday 18 July 2020 was the final remnant of him that bore the shock of his loss for 24 years. He died at 70 still dreaming about the Nigerian car.

The attackers at the factory of Izuogu Motors made away with moulds for the engine blocks and crank shaft, mud guards, the design history notebook of Z-600, the design file; Z-MASS (containing the design history for mass production of the Z-600 car) and other components. It was a telling setback flagged his enthusiasm. They killed him.

Any conversation about Z-600 after that raid was a journey through the pangs of misery.

Izuogu was about Z-600. He lived for it; he celebrated it.

According to him, “It seems that the target of this robbery is to stop the efforts we are making to mass-produce the first ever locally made car in Africa. Other items stolen included locally produced timing wheel, locally produced camshaft, locally produced crankshaft, locally produced engine tappets, all 20 pieces each.

“They also stole ten pieces of locally produced Z-600 engine blocks, ten pieces of locally produced pistons, four pieces of engine block mounds, four pieces of top engine block moulds, ten pieces of engine fly wheel and two pieces each of rear car and front mudguard moulds. To worsen the matter, our design notebook was also stolen.”

BBC’s Hilary Andersson described Z-600 as the all-African dream machine, made for the family market with a top speed of 140km (86m) per hour. Ninety per cent of its parts were sourced locally. It would have cost $2,000 to own one, which would have made it the cheapest car in the world. In 2006, South African authorities wanted Izuogu to build the car in their country. He was weighing the option when the raiders struck.

The National Automotive Council, NAC, whose mandate in Act 84 of 25 August 1993 was to ensure the survival, growth and development of Nigeria’s automotive industry using local human and material resources, showed no interest in Izuogu’s work. Nigerians still spends billions of Naira importing cars. NAC’s levies on imported vehicles were meant for research into the Nigerian car. Why did NAC ignore Dr. Izuogu?

General Sani Abacha’s 12-man panel of professionals ascertained that Z-600 was road-worthy and authentic. The committee’s major recommendation was that the car required smoother exteriors. It was a minor issue that could have been executed without any changes to the design. Lt-Gen Oladipo Diya represented Abacha at the 1997 unveiling of Z-600’s prototype. About 20 ambassadors attended. The Federal Government promised a grant of N235 million to Izuogu to conclude his work on the car. He never got a dime of the money.

Izuogu, from Akokwa in Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, where he would be buried on Thursday 26 November 2020, a cerebral scientist, taught Electrical/Electronic Engineering at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, designed and developed the Izuogu Z-600, the first African indigenous car with the prototype produced.

Apart from his inventions, Izuogu had time for politics. He ran for Governor of Imo State in 1991 under the Social Democratic Party, SPD, losing to Evan Enweremadu of the National Republican Convention, NRC, who became the Senate President in 1999. By 1999, he was in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and later in the All Progressives Congress, APC, where he was a member of the party’s Board of Trustee, BOT.

His departure hews off a major block in Nigeria’s technological development. Few are left and as they age and die off, Nigeria wallows in delusions of a generic greatness.

It would be no shock to see those who did nothing – when they could – to realise Z-600 penning the most stirring elegies about Izuogu. Some would suggest monuments in his name as if there would have been a better monument than the realisation of Z-600.

Farewell, Dr. Izuogu. You did your best in life’s race. May the Almighty grant you rest. 

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