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NIGERIANS IN DIASPORA. Jelani Aliyu: Exceptionally Gifted Designer



With a very nonfunctioning automobile manufacturing industry in Nigeria, it is interesting to know that General Motors, one of the largest automobile companies in the world, has enjoyed and profited from the brilliance of Nigeria’s own Jelani Aliyu, the famous car designer who designed the renowned electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, for decades.

Aliyu, who today is known the world over as a car genius, returned to the country last year to fill the position of the director general of Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC). But before he took this step, he began from making a name for himself abroad and his story is as inspiring as his achievements.

Aliyu was born as the fifth child of seven children in 1966, in Kaduna State. He however grew up in Sokoto State which he says was an amazing place to grow. Being surrounded by the rich culture of the people in the state and enjoying excellent access to the latest and international information was an exciting experience for young Aliyu whose interest at an early age was drawing. This interest was inspired by characters from films which include ‘Planet Of The Apes’ as well as comic books such as Beano, Whizzer and Chips and Commando.

He was privileged to meet and make many good friends from all parts of the country and beyond during this time. He had tremendous encouragement and mentoring from his family and friends and his creative art developed. He drew a lot, designed his own cars, and even built scale models of them, complete with exteriors and interiors.

He was also interested in getting an education and was a brilliant pupil and student at various stages of his educational training. He had his primary education at Capital School, Sokoto, after which he was admitted into Federal Government College, Sokoto from where he graduated in 1983 with an award as best student in Tech

From Federal Government College, Sokoto, Aliyu went to the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for his A-levels. Probably because he was more of a practical person than the theory synonymous with universities, he left the university environment and decided instead, to enroll with a polytechnic, the Birnin Kebbi Polytechnic in Kebbi State. He went on to graduate with a degree in Architecture from the institution and was again, the best all-round student the year he graduated.

While at the polytechnic, Aliyu did in depth research into home designs and construction, experimenting with materials and structures that could best be functional for buildings in the hot northern climate without necessarily using air conditioning system.

After graduation, with a brain like that, there was no way the Sokoto State government was going to let Aliyu end his training after just a degree certificate and working in the state’s ministry of works. So in 1990, he went on to study at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, United States of America, on a Sokoto State government scholarship.

He graduated in 1994 with a degree in Automobile Design and was immediately employed by General Motors. He began his career as a design staff at the cooperation the same year he graduated, and spent the next two decades and three years at the giant car company.

While with General Motors, Aliyu invented the Chevrolet Volt, a battery-powered, extended range passenger vehicle which was once described as General Motors’ most electrifying advanced technologic vehicle. This invention in 2014, won the award of being the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the market, an award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Aliyu also helped to design General Motors’s Buick Rendezvous and was the lead exterior designer of the Pontiac G6.

Like most Nigerians who make it big outside the shores of Nigeria, Aliyu’s prodigious creative wizardry was first gestated and nurtured in Nigeria before it got the push that brought it to maturity in the United States of America. Where his case is different though is that, while it is not clear if other successful Nigerians would be interested in coming back to contribute to the growth and progress of our dear nation, Aliyu has been given an opportunity to contribute his quota to national development, and he has taken up the challenge.



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