From Everest Ezihe, Owerri
Respected scientist and inventor, Engr. Ezekiel Izuogu from Dikenafai in Ideato North LGA of Imo State has passed on last Saturday according to the family sources.
It’s pertinent to recall that Izuogu was the designer and inventor of Africa’s first indigenous car in early 90s and was described then by the BBC as the “African Dream Machine” because 90 per cent of its parts were sourced locally.
The car as at that time, would have taken the world by storm. It would have been cheap and affordable because its projected cost was put at 2000 Dollars that is 4,000 Naira as one Dollar was then exchanged for 2 Naira.
With its production done at Izuogu Motor Plant at Naze in Owerri North LGA of Imo State, the prospects of an industrial revolution in South East Nigeria and in Igboland were in the offing.
Components of the car were locally made. It was equipped with locally made 1.8L four-cylinder engine that got 18mpg, which made it to have a top speed of 140km/h. Front wheel drive was chosen over Rear Wheel Drive (RWD). The choice of a Front Wheel Drive (FWD) was because a transmission tunnel, which RWD would require, would be more expensive to fabricate.
Other components of the car were also locally sourced.
After the production of the prototype, the then Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha (now late) constituted a 12-man panel of Inquiry, made up of professionals to ascertain the road worthiness and authenticity of the car.
The Committee after concluding its assignment gave Izuogu’s Z-600 a clean bill of health and went ahead to recommend that some of the bumps on the body of the car be made smooth.
Historical fact has that the Z 600 was built five years before India built its first known car, the Indi.
Z 600 was eventually unveiled at a ceremony which had in attendance then Chief of General Staff, General Oladipo Diya, more than 20 foreign ambassadors and thousands of jubilant people. At the event, the Nigerian government promised a grant of N235 million naira to Dr. Izuogu
The grant never came till date and in 2006, the South African government took interest in the project and invited Engr.Izuogu.
He was told to make a presentation of the car at an event witnessed by renowned world class engineers. After his presentation, he was invited to set up a plant in South Africa and commence production of the car.
Mr. Izuogu was reported to have reluctantly agreed to the offer, because the benefits of the production of the car being sited in Naze, Imo State would deny job opportunities to hundreds of Nigerian youths.
However, on March 11, 2006, at about 2:00am, report has it that some heavily armed men broke into the factory at Naze where Z600 was manufactured and carted away machines, tools and the notebook of Z600, the design file of the vehicle which contained the design history for the mass production of the vehicle.
The inventor of the vehicle, Mr. Izuogu reportedly described the incident as an economic disaster.
According to him “It seems that the target of the robbery is to stop the efforts of mass producing the first ever locally made car in Africa, other items stolen include locally produced timing wheel, locally produced camshaft, locally produced crankshaft, locally produced engine tappets all 20 pieces each. To worsen the matter, our design notebook was stolen,” he said
He added that over N1 billion Naira was lost including time and energy spent in designing and producing the moulds.