Twenty-nine-old Borno State indigene, Mustapha Gajibo, speaks to DOGARA BITRUS about his efforts at building electric vehicles.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Mustapha Abubakar Gajibo. I am the Managing Director of e-Transport, a company specialised in converting vehicles running on petroleum to solar energy-powered vehicles. I do that through the use of rechargeable batteries sourced from local materials. I am 29 years old. I am from Gajibo village in the Dikwa Local Government Area.
How did you come about the idea of converting these vehicles?
I have always been creative from young age. I loved creating things, solving problems, so I grew up with that. At some point I came across a company that encourages creativity and I joined the company. Their focus is mitigating the damage being done to the environment by vehicles running on fossil fuel. We decided to come up with this solution of converting such vehicles to those running on electricity or solar energy.
What is your educational background?
As a matter of fact I am a school dropout. I went to primary school in my village, Gajibo; I also finished secondary school but I dropped out at 400 Level in the University of Maiduguri where I was studying Mechanical Engineering. I dropped out deliberately, so I could concentrate on my dream.
I decided that continuing with my education would not give me the time I needed to concentrate on pursuing my dream. So, I decided to put my university education on hold so I can fulfil my dream of helping to solve some of the problems in our environment.
When did this journey of converting vehicles begin?
The idea of converting vehicles running on petrol to electrical vehicles started about three years ago when I noticed the influx of tricycles into the country from China and India. I imagined the job opportunities that were being lost as a result of the importation of these tricycles and the huge amount of foreign exchange that goes out from Nigeria. Then I decided to start manufacturing the tricycles locally to reduce the stress and help our economy. We have been on this journey for three years now. And using only locally-sourced materials, we have we succeeded in manufacturing tricycles of even better quality than the imported ones. Our tricycles run on electricity as opposed to the imported ones. When fully charged, our tricycle can travel a distance of 200 kilometres. As I speak now, we have produced 50 of these tricycles and they are on the roads being used for commercial purposes in Maiduguri.
You said you began with tricylces; at what point did you graduate to converting buses?
Moving forward, we also came up with the design on how to convert existing petrol buses to electrical ones and we have succeeded too. We have been able to develop a process of converting these fossil fuel-powered buses to full electric buses and thanks to God we were able to build the first prototype and tested it and the result is very good. Right now, we have produced about 15 units. Like the tricycles, all our buses are also plying the roads in Maiduguri at the moment.
Tell us about the kind of materials you use and where you source them?
In the beginning, most of the raw materials we used were imported. But along the line, we felt that as an indigenous company trying to create local content, we should source our raw materials locally. So, we started to fabricate the chassis using locally-sourced materials. Right now, 80 per cent of the materials used in building the buses are locally-sourced.
Can you speak about the parts of the buses and how exactly they function?
The main parts of the electric vehicle are the battery, motor controller and other gadgets. We use dry cells or batteries with latest facilities, they occupy little space. Again there are solar panels known as 12 Volt lines installed in the vehicles, which help in charging the vehicles. The vehicle is fitted with traffic indicator lights, radio and even an air condition system. These are being powered by the solar panel. The main battery driving the vehicle is charged by electricity. The battery is charged for 35 minutes using solar energy or electricity, and as I said, when fully charged, the vehicle will travel a distance of not less than 200 kilometres before the battery will need a recharge.
Part of the major benefits of these electric buses is that they do not emit carbon monoxide and they are noiseless. This is the direction in which the world is moving now and we are glad we are going in that direction. Also, these buses are cheaper to run compared to the vehicles running on fossil fuel. The effects of the emissions from petrol vehicles are quiet telling on the health of individuals and the environment is also adversely affected.
Have you started selling the vehicles and how much does one go for?
We have not started selling the vehicles but we have set up charging stations where we have people in charge of leasing the vehicles to drivers who bring back returns at the end of every day. In maiduguri, transport fare has increased from N50 to N100 per drop but we charge N50 and our services are in hot demand. Passengers wait at designated bus stops for our cars. Meanwhile, we also have people who have indicated interest in wanting to buy our vehicles while others want to partner us to use our vehicles but we are looking at the possibility of getting the people to buy the buses while our company, which is known as e-ride, will manage the vehicles for them.
We have got some applications for the vehicles and we are considering them. We are also engaging investors who will come in and boost our production from 10 vehicles a month to 50 or more monthly. We build 15 cars in a month but if we can get funding and equipment, we can build 500 in a month.
Going forward, we plan to convert all vehicles to run on solar energy since the resources are locally sourced.
Have you received any kind of support from government?
Everything about the building of the vehicles was purely financed by my company. The company has been engaged in renewable energy for about 10 years now across the country. Most of the fund for the building of these vehicles was from the proceeds of the renewable energy company.
Are you open to sponsorship or government’s support?
We have reached out to government establishments for possible partnership but we are yet to get any positive response from them. Being a first-of-its-kind project in this part of the country, it is very difficult to get people to believe in the project and even accept that it is feasible and join forces to make it a reality.
What were the major challenges that you have faced on this journey?
Funding is a major challenge. As you are aware, without funding one is handicapped but gradually individuals and groups are beginning to show interest and partnering us.
Access to foreign exchange is another challenge we encounter in procuring raw materials as we often resort to black marketers to access foreign currencies, which makes the cost of production higher than necessary. The importation of these materials is another major challenge on its own, for which government intervention is needed.
Furthermore, the government needs to put in place manufacturing policies that will encourage start-ups like us to be able to find our footing. The bureaucracies in the manufacturing sectors should be removed to enable speedy access to resources.
Also, tax waivers, tax holidays, single-digit interest loans should be introduced for manufacturers and entrepreneurs.
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