A couple of random and almost superstitious events led to my conversation with Mr. Mustapha Gajibo, the young entrepreneur building Nigeria’s first set of electric vehicles.
I had spent a weekend filled with sleepless nights on a personal project researching the global impact of Elon Musk’s Tesla and how Nigeria can tap into the growth of electric vehicles through its untapped Lithium deposits. My candle-burning efforts ultimately led to a late but eventful Monday morning.
In my frantic bid to reach Lagos Island and make up for my lateness on a Monday morning, the commuter bus I entered popularly referred to as Danfo, broke down just minutes into our journey, and in a twist of irony, I immediately received a WhatsApp message from my co-editor that read “There is a man building Nigeria’s first set of electric vehicles that we need to talk to”.
Getting the interview with Mr. Gajibo just like my fateful Monday morning was quite a long journey, mainly due to conflicting schedules and his official and factory commitments.
Eventually, I would have an exclusive interview with Mr. Gajibo where we covered topics ranging from his electric vehicles, Vice President Osinbajo’s visit, inter-business cooperation, and the need for Nigeria’s Forbes.
What Is Phoenix Renewables
Off the bat, Mr. Gajibo lets us in on the identity and achievement of Phoenix Renewables, reiterating that his company is not all style without substance. He said “ Phoenix Renewables is an indigenous company that is primarily into manufacturing of electric vehicles. In our short time of existence, we have been able to save people over 1.1 Million Naira alone in transportation costs, it has also been calculated we saved the environment over 273,000 grams of carbon Monoxide, from our alternative to petrol vehicle cars”.
On the short-term goals for Phoenix Renewables, Mr. Gajibo confidently informs me on the near readiness of his first electric smart bus., “We are also 70% done in constructing a locally made 12-seater air- conditioned electric smart bus, equipped with the latest 2021/2022 automobile technology that is capable of covering 200 Kilometres in one charge”. Which caused him to be reminded of the first commercialized solar power charging station for electric vehicles, which was launched by his company, Phoenix Relations in Maiduguri Borno state, in early 2022.
Focus On Climate
The global focus on climate change has never been intense as it is today and one of the laudable feats of the Buhari led administration is its commitment through legislation to ensure Nigeria’s participation in climate efforts. This led me to ask Mr. Gajibo if Government has backed its climate commitments with action by collaborating or showing support to his pioneer efforts. To this he said “At the state government level, the Borno state Governor has reached out and we are in communication with the administration on areas on collaboration. At the national level we have met with the National Automotive Design and Development council (NDDC), which governs the automotive industry in Nigeria, we have recorded some success with them as they have nominated our company as part of the technical committee that will set up the national development plan for electric vehicles in Nigeria. Aside from that there has been no tangible commitment from government bodies.”
Reaching beyond the shores of Nigeria, the efforts of Phoenix Relations has caught the eyes of the globe, Mr. Gajibo informed me that multilateral agencies have reached out to the company for collaboration, he said “ Just yesterday, we had a meeting with the European Union and a lot of other international bodies and investors have reached out and we are in talks to upscale our operations. Because climate change is a global challenge, not limited to just Nigeria”.
Government and Local Support
Building on this point, I reminded Mr. Gajibo of the Vice President’s visit and inquired further if the visit has yielded any positive results for his company, to this he said “Yes VP Osinbajo visited us at the SME clinic held in Maiduguri last month, we have been in touch with his team but you know Nigeria and bureaucracy.”
Local innovation is an ideal, Mr. Gajibo holds dear to his heart, and he is not alone, over the past decade or two, we have seen indigenous vehicle manufacturers like Innoson Vehicles, Nord Automobiles, and the likes make a name for themselves as brand favorites for automobile owners in Nigeria. This led me to wonder if these indigenous brands have expressed interest in collaborating with Phoenix Relations. Mr. Gajibo explained in detail “Generally the Nigerian business landscape suffers from minimal business to business collaboration, we are trying to change that. For example, Innoson has the capacity to build bodies, we have the capacity to electrify these bodies, and we can collaborate like other automobile companies do, take Mercedes and BMW for example. Although I am an advocate for Business-to-Business collaboration, right now, there isn’t any collaboration with foreign or indigenous automobile manufacturers”.
The Elon Musk Tesla Example
At this point of our conversation, fate, divinity, or the universe, whichever you believe in steered our conversation back to the topic of my research, Elon Musk, Lithium deposits and the cost-effectiveness of local production. After explaining Nigeria’s preference for second-hand vehicles, due to their purchasing power, Gajibo uses Elon Musk’s Tesla as a case study for local production. He said “ When Tesla started exporting its Model 3 Model Y vehicles to China, they were selling at 40 -50 thousand dollars, which was unaffordable for most Chinese citizens, then comes in Wuling Motors, an indigenous Chinese company, came up with a design that fit the demand and purchasing power of Chinese citizens. Within a year they sold over 300,000 vehicles, outselling Tesla in China. We can achieve same in Nigeria especially now when we are leaving fossil fueled vehicles for electric vehicle.“
On Nigeria’s lithium and other mineral deposits, Mr. Gajibo pleads for government efforts and cooperation to upscale local production. Mr. Gajibo goes on to further educate me on lithium deposits and extraction in Nigeria. “Let me tell you what you might not know, we have unofficial statistics from a Chinese company that carried out some exploration on lithium deposits in the middle belt of the country. The research states that if our deposits can be converted to batteries, it can power the world for the next 50 years”.
Addressing the Concerns of Nigerians
Answering concerns on Nigeria’s epileptic power supply, and the practicality of operating electric vehicles in the country where grid collapses are now the norm rather than exceptions, Gajibo responded “That’s why I set up in Maiduguri, to prove this concept. Maiduguri has been off the grid for over a year now, in spite of that we built a charging station using solar and wind energy that charges our vehicles in 30 mins. If we can achieve that in cities without electricity in a year, other cities will be easier to operate in”.
“In the near future, we will see wind and solar-powered stations replacing filling stations”.
The average Nigerian will be concerned to know how much a single charge will cost and the distance a charge will cover the vehicle, Mr. Gajibo answered that a single charge would averagely cost 500 Naira per charge and can cover a vehicle for 250km. He further stated that mechanical faults are minimal with electric vehicles in comparison to petrol-fueled vehicles and that these vehicles are carefully designed safe and shockproof even under the rain or on marshy terrains.
“Just like your mobile phone you can see your car and battery health, this will enable you to detect any car problem, and our smart features can also enable a customer to interact with us while we advise on your car health”. Gajibo insisted.
On affordability, Mr. Gajibo assures that he is working tooth and nail to make his vehicle accessible to the purchasing power of Nigerians. In the course of our discussion, he details his efforts in partnering with financing companies that will enable Nigerians to pay for or lease his vehicles in installments, stating that the culture of buying things at once places a heavy financial burden on Nigerians.
The Nigerian Youth
Mr. Gajibo understands more than most, that the present-day youth and young Nigerians will grow to be the major market customers for electric vehicles, that is why he ensures that the technology he employs for his vehicles, achieve two major things, affordability and education on the environment saving impact of electric vehicles. ‘I am a young man myself; I am just 30” he lets me know with a giggle.
In conclusion, Mr. Gajibo lets me in on the proposed mega factory, a first of its kind in Africa, aiming to produce over 5000 electric vehicles per annum. “It is going to be the first factory in Africa powered by using renewable energy resources to manufacture vehicles”.
Mr. Gajibo is a man interested in the Nigerian youth changing the narrative of the country. He insists that previous generations of Nigerians have failed the country and it is the mandate of young Nigerians to right their wrongs. In his parting words, he implores the young media to mirror the prestigious Forbes by having an avenue to highlight the success stories of Nigeria.