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[THISDAY LIVE] -As Nigerians Show Promise in Auto Engineering


17 Jun 2014

Royal Dutch Shell Plc logo

Abimbola Akosile examines the unfolding scenario as Nigerian students showed promise in building fuel-efficient cars of the future at a recent Eco-Marathon organised by Royal Dutch Shell Plc in The Netherlands

Nigeria’s international image recently received a timely boost, as students from the Universities of Lagos and Benin showed great potential and abilities to innovate given the right environment and exposure.

Thus the positive side of the national spirit was showcased when the two sets of Nigerian youths competed with students from 25 other countries for Shell Eco-Marathon honours in far-away Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The celebrated event sparked debate about the future of mobility and inspired young engineers to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency.

Marathon of progress
The 2014 edition of the Shell Eco-Marathon, which ended recently, again challenged student teams from around the world to design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles.

The winners are the teams that go the furthest using the least amount of energy. Before taking to the track, all participating cars are expected to pass a strict technical inspection to check that they are fit for purpose and safe.

Beating the odds
Against all odds, Nigerian students showed that given the right opportunity and exposure, they can excel in technology and innovation as the two cars that were presented by the Nigerian universities passed the required safety and technical evaluation. Many cars built by students from more advanced countries failed to pass this very critical phase.

Tuke-Tuke, a car produced by students of the University of Benin, passed all the required technical evaluations, thereby qualifying it to race with cars produced from 25 other countries at the Shell Eco-Marathon 2014.

Another car produced by engineering students of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) was also certified and qualified to participate in the race.

The Nigerian cars battled for ultra energy efficiency on the race track. The technical inspection qualified cars to perform the actual race, where over 200 teams competed to produce the car of the future that could race for thousands of kilometres on one litre of fuel.

The competition challenges students to think about what few thought was possible: to drive thousands of kilometres on one litre of fuel.

Making of history
Nigeria’s participation is the first time a sub-Saharan African country will be joining the race. Students of UNIBEN, according to officials, built their car within seven months in their campus in Nigeria. Specifically, UNIBEN participated in the Urban Concept category.

The team from UNILAG on its part, produced a car called Autonov II and participated in the prototype category. The car is in the category of solar battery-electric.

Apart from making history as the first two teams to participate from sub-Saharan Africa at the marathon, both teams also joined an elitist group of ten teams out of the 200 teams at the event that participated at an opening ceremony commemorating the official take off of the programmes.

It was excitement and celebration at the assessment centre, as the international team of Assessors qualified ‘Tuke-Tuke’ and Autonov II to race.

Although the competition was eventually won by countries that had attended the competition before, Nigeria’s feat of passing the technical and safety evaluation was the tonic that the students needed to propel them to apply the skills they had gathered to greater innovation.

Votes of confidence
Chief Executive Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Ben Van Beurden, who visited the two Nigeria teams during the competition, was particularly thrilled that the eco-marathon sparked the needed passion for engineering in the Nigerian team. He praised the Nigerian teams for their resilience, despite the challenges with technology in Africa.

His words: “We have been doing this for over 30 years. It started in France and has gone all around the world. It is fantastic to see the scale that we have now, and the fact that we have a Nigerian team here participating is an incredibly milestone. In my mind, Africa is the continent of the future. It is wonderful to have the Nigerian team here.”

Vice-President, Communication, Shell Upstream International, Nebahat Albayrak, a Dutch citizen of Turkish descent, took more than an official interest in Nigeria and insisted at one of her leadership team meetings that Nigerian students should compete at the Shell eco-marathon event.

Working with closely with her Shell Group and Nigerian colleagues, she ensured that the students from Ahmadu Belo University, Zaria, University of Benin and University of Lagos travelled to Rotterdam in 2013 to observe Shell eco-marathon Europe for that year, which opened the eyes of the students and lecturers to the demands of the motor show.

Speaking as she met Team Nigeria during Shell Eco-marathon 2014, Albayrak said: “We’re very happy that you are in Rotterdam. What is more you are here as competitors, not as observers. I will like to personally congratulate you on this achievement.”

Managing Director SPDC & Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mutiu Sunmonu, said: “Our sponsorship of the teams to the competition is within the context of SPDC JV’s long history of promoting education and science in Nigeria.

“Every year, we award scholarships to thousands of Nigerian students and promote science and information communication technology in many Nigerian institutions. It is our hope that Shell Eco-marathon will spark debate about mobility and the future of energy as well as inspire the young Nigerian engineers to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency.”

Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mrs. Nimota Nihinlola Akanbi, said the students passed all the technical stages to compete with other teams from around the world to design, build and test energy efficient cars, which was a clear testimony of Nigeria’s path to technological advancement.

She said: “Nigeria is blessed with excellent and intelligent people in all areas of human endeavours. At our current stage of development, Nigeria is particularly yearning for innovative ideas from people like you. The only difference between us and the industrialised nations is nothing but the technological gap. All we need to do is to think right, organise and dedicate ourselves to excellence.”

Mrs. Kolapo Jolayemi of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), an arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which co-sponsored the participation of the students, said the corporation was proud to have co-sponsored the students, seeing the level of innovation that they had exhibited.

She urged other corporate bodies to job hands with the Nigerian government to improve innovation and technology skills acquisition in Nigerian schools.

Media Relations Manager at Shell, Precious Okolobo, said the sponsorship of the teams to compete in the marathon was within the context of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) joint venture.

Team Supervisor of the UNIBEN group, Prof. Akii Ibhadode, expressed surprise that the students’ car pulled through against all odds. He said: “It is wonderful.  We are hoping to do much better for the 2015 competition. It took the students only 7 months to produce the car. We had intended that this one would be our first version. We were initially preparing for Qatar in November 2014.”

Moments of pride
Team leader of the UNIBEN students, and a 500/Level student of Production Engineering, Adekoya Adeyemi, stressed how Nigerian students could excel if give the right environment.

His words: “Even when we thought all hope was gone, we kept on checking and cross-checking and reworking the car, based on the observations of the assessors. We were able to sort out all the technicalities identified. God has been wonderful. Certain things happen that are beyond human wisdom.

“The key thing in the marathon is the environment, apart from innovation. We used fibre material in building the body. We also used steel, because getting aluminum was a bit challenging. We sourced other materials locally also. Our brake pads, for instance, were produced from palm kernel. Our interior fabric is our normal adire material sourced in Nigeria.”

Manager for Team UNILAG and 500/Level student of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Abraham Imohiosen, described the process that led to the Team UNILAG car.

Also, Shade Agbaje, a 400/Level Student of Mechanical Engineering, University of Lagos was the main driver for AutoNov II and also a member of the Mechanical Sub Team of Team UNILAG.

Team Supervisor for the UNILAG Team and Professor of Electromagnetic Engineering, specialising in antennas and propagation, Ike Mowete, said the competition had motivated the students into moving from laboratories to real-life scenarios.

For Nigerians and other Africans living in The Netherlands, it was something that showed that Africa was the continent of the future.

President of the Nigerian National Association Netherlands, Oliver Nwankwor, said: “The best thing that is happening to Nigeria especially at the moment is the participation of our youths in an innovative competition and their successes in the event.

“Most of the causes of insecurity as cited by some of our Nigerian leaders are illiteracy, poverty and unemployment. But Nigerian achievements at this year’s eco-marathon are showing the whole world that our youths can innovate given the right enablement and environment.”

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