He neither exhibits the traits of an engineer nor possesses the paper qualifications to operate as one. But, with a searing zeal and unbridled focus and determination to leave a mark as an inventor, Azibaola Emmanuel Robert is comfortably at the threshold of making history as the pioneer Nigerian lawyer to manufacture electric cars, heavy duty trucks and allied machines that the country currently imports from other countries.
Buoyed by his vision to invent basic and avant-garde brands of vehicles for Nigeria, Robert remains firm and resolute in his resolve to carve a niche in the car manufacturing sector and revolutionise the system for the good of country and people. And, for this reason, Robert, who was called to the Nigerian bar in 1995, goes about the process of perfecting the car production line in Abuja as if his entire life depends on the project that has the potential to thrust him with a global emblem as the first lawyer to produce cars in Nigeria and put his name on the sands of time.
Born in Otakeme community of Bayelsa State on 13th February, 1969, Azibaola Emmanuel Robert has always shown a burning desire for designing, craftsmanship and creativity even though he ended up reading law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology and practised briefly before pitching his tent in human rights defence and promotion.
Although Robert is small in size, his head is loaded with brilliant and big ideas that can move mountains and create monuments. His obsession with creating things in order to add value to society must have been fired by his radical thinking right from his university days when he served as the vice president of the National Association of Nigeria Student, NANS, in 1993 and later plunged himself into human rights defence and promotion using the platform of the Niger Delta Human and Environmental Recue Organisation (ND-HERO) to push for development, peace and environmental justice in the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta.
From the small beginning as the leader of ND-HERO, Robert went on to establish many high-tech engineering firms such as Mangrovetech, Kakatar Engineering, Oneplus Holdings Limited, firms that handle sophisticated designs and engineering projects worth billions of across Nigeria, among them the Maitama Extension District Infrastructure project at the cost of N23 billion, Kyami District Infrastructure at the cost of N60.8 billion, the dredging and sand-filling of the Bayelsa International Airport at cost of 10.4 billion and the Shore Erosion Control Works of Akepelai, Ayakoro and Otuoke communities at N7.6 billion.
To satisfy his desire of designing and producing cars, heavy duty trucks and machines that can move human beings, goods and services and improve the quality of lives, Robert has been busy assembling a large number of precision engineering machines and tools and installing them in the FCT Industrial District in Idu, Abuja and the place is now a cynosure of some sort, attracting hordes of visitors on a daily basis.
Robert is aiming to produce the first set of cars, trucks and heavy duty machines under the brand name of Zeetin Engineering, which is vast becoming a tourism centre in the Abuja Industrial Zone in Abuja given the number and calibre of sophisticated equipment already assembled and the kinds of clients, who besiege the premises daily.
Although he is just venturing into the machine-manufacturing arena, Robert is not an accidental inventor but a diehard planner, explorer and creator who thinks through every process he needs to surmount in order to achieve his set goal. That may explain why he chooses fabrication, cutting and joining of parts to make furniture, tools and machines over his law practice.
Robert is so good in welding and fabrication using high-tech machines that he finds it very easy to produce any part needed for virtually any sector in Nigeria including aviation, oil and gas, marine and household. When Robert is welding or fabricating in the huge factory, not many would ever suspect that he is a lawyer who merely shows raw interest in using machine to produce sophisticated equipment. He is a wizard in handling precision engineering tools and a delight to watch when in operation. Robert routinely operates all the complex machines and is able to explain to all what each does and how it works to produce whatever type of machine or tool is required.
As at today, not many firms in Africa can boast of what Robert has assembled in Nigeria under Zeetin Engineering in his bid to roll out electric cars, heavy duty trucks and machines. A visit to the place, which looks like a huge tank farm, is always engaging because of the presence of jaw-breaking and tongue-twisting names of machines.
Among the equipment already installed and working at Zeetin Engineering in Abuja, which can aid in the manufacturing of any type of machine, are: hydraulic angle rolling machine, hydraulic press brake, hydraulic steel worker machine, hydraulic swing beam shears machine, tank dish flanging machine, plate rolling/bending machine, 5-axis waterjet cutting machine, plasma cutting machine, UMC 1600 machine and Accuway Lathe machine.
All of these put together can produce any component or part needed to churn out a car, truck or any other machine simply because they are essentially used in forging rings, flanges, bearings, gears, wheels and sleeve rings for use by the automobile, aerospace, oil and gas industry.
All the equipment have been carefully installed in a factory that is nearing completion in terms of adding finishing touches and aesthetics although the power needed to carry all the machines may pose a challenge and cause some delay to its takeoff.
But there is rising hope for the engineering firm to get its products out soon given the gamut of support that the company is getting from within and outside Nigeria. Apparently due to the concrete work done by Robert and his company, the Bank of Industry has visited and seen things for itself with a promise to support the production with serious financial outlay. A few months after the visit by top officials of the BoI to see the wonderful engineering work being done there, the representatives of Nigerian Export and Import Bank, NEXIM, also visited Zeetin factory and were impressed with what they saw and also promised to look into ways of working with the firm to realise its goal of producing cars for Nigeria. In the same vein, the leadership of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, NSE, which regulates engineering practice in Nigeria, has also paid a working visit to Zeeting during which Robert and his team of engineers conducted the experts round the project and explained the functions of the complex machines in the factory to them.
“I just want to use my brain and resources to invent something that can add value to Nigeria and Nigerians even though I am a trained lawyer,” Robert said when asked about the motivation for veering into engineering design and fabrication.
“In history, there are people who create things and leave behind their marks on the sands of time and I want to create a niche behind so that in the near future when I am no more, the invention will continue to speak for me. What I am pioneering now is not about just making money but leaving a worthy legacy that others can benefit from. That is all my desire and ambition,” the man fondly referred to as Jonathan’s cousin, said.
In spite of all that Robert has achieved and what he is working on, he chooses to embellish himself in unadulterated humility while actively pressing the success button to reach his destinations. As close as he is to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who he calls ‘My Brother’, Robert never flew the presidential jet or rode in the same car with the man throughout his presidency but chose to work in the background to get things done.
Robert is a gifted and talented personality especially in areas of creative thinking with vast knowledge in computers and computing and is a wizard in the use of software applications for designs, graphics and programming applications.
Robert also has hands-on experience in craftsmanship and carpentry, appreciable knowledge of workings of engines and other mechanical devices including fluids and fluid mechanics as well as power and power systems, which have assisted him immensely in dealing with the huge ambition of churning out cars and trucks at a time of national economic challenge.
But nevertheless, it now appears that as each day passes, Robert’s dream of producing Nigeria’s first electric car, truck and machine, which he saw when he was born in 1969, is gradually becoming a concrete reality and bringing him closer to the threshold of becoming a history-maker, a game-changer and a revolutionary.