Mustapha Gajibo and the dream of building the Nigerian electric vehicle, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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Mustapha Gajibo and the dream of building the Nigerian electric vehicle, By Jibrin Ibrahim
Mustapha-Gajibo
Mustapha Gajibo. Picture credit: MIT Technology Review.

We can only wish the best for Mustapha Gajibo and his Phoenix Renewable Energy Group. His passion for solving problems is exactly what is needed in Nigeria today. His vision of the use of environmentally cutting-edge technologies to address the problem of urban mass transit is what we need for our future. His can-do attitude is inspirational. Keep it up dear Mustapha.

After some discussions on the encouraging story of a young entrepreneur on our Barewa Old Boys WhatsApp group, a couple of classmates and I decided to visit Mustapha Gajibo to better understand his engagement in renewable energy and project of the design and production of Nigerian electric vehicles. We were all impressed with his vision, drive, ambition and, above all, commitment to seeking modern workable solutions to Nigeria’s challenges. From his base in Maiduguri, he has been producing electric cars since 2017. We should recall that in 2017, there was no electricity in Maiduguri because the supply line had been blown up by Boko Haram. Hence, wasn’t it quite audacious to think of producing electric cars in a city that did not even have electricity at the time, I asked. His response was that it was precisely for that reason that solutions needed to be sought, importantly; and if the city had no electricity, it had a lot of sunshine, which could be harnessed to charge the vehicles.

The restless Gajibo had opted out of his University of Maiduguri Mechanical Engineering course at 300 level, because he considered the curriculum to be outdated and did not adequately cover his passion and interests in modern technology, and renewable energy in particular. At that time, he already had successful businesses he was running. He had, for example, designed solar powered phone charging stations, where he was beating the competition by charging phones at N30 each, while his competitors, who were running generators for the same service, could not go below N50 per phone.

While in secondary school, Mustapha Gajibo had discovered the intricacies of solar power, because his father had bought solar charging lamps to provide light in the house. He started studying how it worked and decided that in addition to the light produced, he would use the solar system to power an electric fan. He studied how fans operate, designed and produced one, which he linked to the solar panel to provide him some relief from the Maiduguri heat. All his life, he has been studying how things work and designing and producing them out of interest. Increasingly, also, his interest in entrepreneurship grew and his vision, from his teenage years, has been how to invent and produce original products for industry.

He started by building the prototype of a 16-seater vehicle that can go for as long as 200 kilometres on one charge. He also converted the keke napep into an electric vehicle by fitting it with solar panels, to add to the charge from the vehicle’s rechargeable battery. The problem, he explained, is that the Keke Napep was not designed as an electric vehicle and it is too heavy to run with the battery and solar panel.

His vision was focused on what meets the eye in Maiduguri and other cities – the omni-presence of tricycles or keke napep as the dominant form of urban mass transit. He considered the keke very deficient, as it is unstable, leading to many accidents in the city, with hospitals establishing special wards to care for the numerous accident victims brought in daily. His first decision was that he was going to ensure that these vehicles are eliminated from Nigerian roads to be replaced by an electric four-wheel version that he would design and produce. Secondly, he was very conscious of the high level of pollution the tricycles produced and decided that by transiting to electric vehicles, city residents would be able to breath fresher air. The third issue he considered was the design of the tricycle, to make it the preferred form of urban transit. It is cheap and its basic design of an open vehicle without doors, which people can easily jump into and out, fits the pocket of the teaming poor in our cities. As such, the vehicle he decided to design would be as cheap and simple, so that there is a huge market to tap into. The electric vehicle he decided to invent that fits the political economy of our urban centres, does not exist anywhere in the world. He hoped to make a lot of money in the process.

He started by building the prototype of a 16-seater vehicle that can go for as long as 200 kilometres on one charge. He also converted the keke napep into an electric vehicle by fitting it with solar panels, to add to the charge from the vehicle’s rechargeable battery. The problem, he explained, is that the Keke Napep was not designed as an electric vehicle and it is too heavy to run with the battery and solar panel. Having been working on so many prototypes since 2017, he has finally settled on the electric vehicle that will be designed for mass production. It is a seven-seater vehicle that has a high clearance, open doors and a good suspension. This is the upcoming replacement for thr Keke Napep. He would have loved to produce it in Nigeria but unfortunately the country has no iron and steel base, and no cheap electricity to produce the components, so he has patented it in China and found a partner there that would produce it. The vehicle will be called Kaandi, “Ours” in Kanuri, and the first seven hundred are currently being produced, with the production being anticipated to rise to 5,000 annually. They would come in as completely knocked down parts (CKD) and then assembled in Nigeria. He complained that there is no financing for start-ups in Nigeria and he has had to finance his passion for the electric car by running other businesses.


FIRS

This 31-year old entrepreneur is full of brilliant ideas and has over 30 prototypes in his kitty. I love his engagement on numerous fronts… Although he never graduated from the university, the irony is that many Nigerian universities are currently seeking his partnership in the automotive and renewable energy fields.

The major economic activity he is currently engaged in is converting petrol vehicles into the use Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). He is scaling up the business and establishing a factory that can convert 100 petrol to CNG vehicles daily. A 15 kilogramme tank of CNG costs only N4,500 and can run for 300 kilometres, making it much cheaper than petrol, in this era of no fuel subsidy. As he continues to pursue his ambition to drive out petrol vehicles from Nigeria, CNG is the transition mechanism. He is currently building two CNG filling stations in Abuja.   

This 31-year old entrepreneur is full of brilliant ideas and has over 30 prototypes in his kitty. I love his engagement on numerous fronts. He said he has been in business virtually all his life and from the age of seven, he was already running a Hausa sweets business with his mum, while till in primary school in Bauchi. Although he never graduated from the university, the irony is that many Nigerian universities are currently seeking his partnership in the automotive and renewable energy fields. Having walked out of the university as a student, one of his goals is to build the type of new technology cutting edge university he wanted to attend but did not find in Nigeria. We can only wish the best for Mustapha Gajibo and his Phoenix Renewable Energy Group. His passion for solving problems is exactly what is needed in Nigeria today. His vision of the use of environmentally cutting-edge technologies to address the problem of urban mass transit is what we need for our future. His can-do attitude is inspirational. Keep it up dear Mustapha.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.

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