History was made in Lagos this week, as the first auto assembly plant to be established in a university in Africa was inaugurated in the University of Lagos.

Beside assembling new automobiles and giving relevant students hands-on or practical skills, the facility built by Nord Automobiles, will also make drones for commercial purpose.

Outgoing Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, disclosed this at the unveiling ceremony of the auto complex on Thursday.

He said, “We are going to be manufacturing drones in this same place. They already have an agreement with the Nigerian Air Force.

“And I want us to know that our students will learn something new in this area of drones and other things that will come from this particular arrangement.”

He expressed optimism that the venture would soon gain international recognition being “the first time that any university in Africa will be having an automobile assembling company in such a way that it will train students, expose staff to practical skills and also make staff to get new cars at affordable prices.”

Ogundipe said the university decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Nord Automobiles having found out that it is one of the reputable auto assembling companies in Nigeria and the benefits of having such practical skill-oriented venture within UNILAG.

“I know that the Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu, and the Tetfund head have been talking about R&D (Research and Development) for the university. We felt this project is an opportunity for us to have our R&D in the university.

“With that, we entered into an MoU with Nord so that our students can get their training through this platform; the academic staff too can get their exposure through this platform. It is not only the staff in the Faculty of Engineering that will benefit from this, even those in the departments of architecture, finance, marketing and every other department that has relevance to this project.

“This is in line with what the President (Muhammadu Buhari) has been talking about – that there is a need to expose our engineering students to the industry so that they will be able to do well in their areas of interest.”

Speaking on the drone project, Chief Executive Officer of Nord, Mr Oluwatobi Ajayi, said it would offer unique experience and expand the body of knowledge and exposure in a new area in high demand.

“We also have Nord aerospace here. We designed the drones ourselves; nobody can shut us down; no country can shut us down because the software was designed here in Nigeria by young Nigerians,” he said.

The automobile complex at UNILAG, according to him, comprises a research and development centre, a magnificent showroom, a vehicle making/assembling point and an after-sale centre, adding that this will offer massive opportunities that other institutions can copy.

He stressed the need for Nigerians to start making what they use and depend less on imported materials especially vehicles, in order to give a boost to industrialisation efforts and the national economy through jobs creation and improved gross domestic product.

He said, “As a country with our size and GDP, we cannot continue to import what we use. That was the beginning of a new era, where Nigeria gets the value of what they buy.

“Vehicles are more expensive in Nigeria because we don’t make them here. We need to have a nationalistic view about things by being industrialised. Europe, United States and China have become powerful today because of their industrial powers.

“And the auto industry is the mother of all industries. It is the industry other industries thrive on – You have to make other components, tyres, metal sheet, semi-conductors, which need other supporting smaller industries, which create jobs, make life better for people. And this increases our GDP.”

Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, commended Nord and UNILAG for the initiative, noting that the drone making was particularly exciting because it would be needed in the areas of security.

He urged others to take a cue from the partnership, adding that his ministry would partner with the team to ensure the sustainability of the project.

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, represented by Lola Akande, Commissioner for Commerce, Industry and Cooperatives, said the in-campus automobile complex had provided “a hallmark of hope” in Lagos for students and businesses to thrive.