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You have got no mail!

More than 20 years ago I remember getting a call in California, out of the blues from a man in Benin City, saying my mail was delivered to his house. The mail addressed to my mother in Benin contained our wedding pictures.

The Wired World: A graphic representation of the Internet
The Wired World: A graphic representation of the Internet

The sad conclusion of that episode with the Nigerian Postal Service, Nipost, was that cherished wedding photos never reached their destination, and the only reason I found out the mail was wrongly delivered was because the receiver of my mail was gracious enough to call my phone number listed in the mail.

Fast forward to the summer of last year when I requested a document from my former employer in California to be mailed to me in Lagos, which they sent by normal mail instead of DHL or Fedex Express. I know that the mail departed California because every piece of mail through the US Postal Service system is scanned. But eight months later your guess is as good mine where the employee verification letter ended up.

Mine is just one of many unpleasant customer service experiences with Nipost, which is the primary mail delivery organization in Nigeria.

Although Nipost has gone through several restructuring exercises in the last three decades it is now important to start asking collectively: When is this quasi-commercial entity going to be revamped enough to still be relevant in the 21st century?

In a rapidly changing world you either adjust with the times or you become a business dinosaur; a fact that even the US Postal Service is also contending with in the face of internet-driven competition and a mush-rooming courier service business.

The fact that Nigeria is now a haven for mail delivery services (more than 250 at the last count) makes it even more imperative for the federal government to place Nipost in the intensive care ward.

I recently stumbled upon a not-so flattering study of Nipost published in the European Journal of Business Management, and written by Dr. B.O.G Nwanolue and Victor Iwuoha, both of University of Nigeria Nsukka and Anambra State University.

The academicians, in their study titled: A Market Analysis of the Performance of The Nigerian Postal Service, 1985-2011; concluded that “the failure of the NIPOST management to comprehensively automate and strategize its operations in tune with the prevailing postal market indications is fundamental to the poor performance of the organization. As a result, NIPOST faces a diminishing and waning customer patronage. However, genuine efforts toward service upgrading and diversification of operations are relevant in setting the organization in the right pedestal.”

Nwanolue and Iwuoha, further informed in their study, that “NIPOST is generally not insulated from the usual inefficiency and malfunction, which pervades and undermines the relevance of public enterprises in Nigeria. Consequent upon this, however, and with the rising market challenge, informed by the opening up of the postal industry to well over 256 private courier operators, NIPOST faces a fundamental threat of retaining its market value and relevance.”

I am sure many Nigerians who have had one reason or the other to engage the services of Nipost would agree with this report.

The fact is that next to the Nigerian Police Force, Nipost is the most ubiquitous federal agency with more than 500 offices scattered across the country. This became obvious to me as I traveled recently by road through south eastern Nigeria. There is hardly any Nigerian town you traverse that you won’t find a post office or two. But most of these buildings are now shells of their past glory or simply look abandoned.

The revamping of Nipost must start with making Nigeria’s post offices more attractive for business patrons. In an age where mail delivery service is also migrating to the Internet, some of these post offices can also be turned into dual uses, making them internet hubs and business centers, especially in the rural areas. And this is where the Nigeria Postal Service Bill becomes important in helping to diversify the revenue-yielding potentials of Nipost, which now is solely based on various products and services like stamp duty, EMS, Bulkpost, Private Mail Bag renewals, Post Office Box renewals, sales of stamps, agency services, post cash and workshops.

I agree with the recent position of Mr. Ben Murray Bruce, the Chairman of Sliverbird Group, at a Lagos seminar titled: Emergent Issues in Nigerian Courier Industry’, advocating a take off grant of N35 billion for Nipost to finance its repositioning strategy, saying that if the money was well utilized and monitored, the agency can double its revenue-yielding potential within one year. The fact is many of the more than 250 courier companies with licenses in the country cannot pass the litmus test for a viable courier service.

Just like the US Post Office which has been repeatedly assisted by special laws passed by Congress to make it relevant and competitive in the 21st century, Nipost also needs a helping hand from the federal government because it’s an important institution which we simply cannot let die.

Having said that we should not shy away from pointing out the limitations of this agency, just like I also have some reservations about the efficiency of the US Postal Service, based on an experience in 2013 (before a trip to Nigeria) regarding a mail-prescription order which required an investigation by one Mr. Ian Goold in the USPS Oakland Office.

The complaint regarded prescription refills for anti-malaria medication from my medical provider Kaiser Permanente which never arrived at its destination in New York from Vacaville, California from where it was mailed. In his last e-mail before I lost contact with him Mr. Goold said: “We’re unable to comment regarding ongoing investigations. If an arrest is made and your mail or medication is found during the course of that arrest, you will be notified and your property returned.”

As I write this piece the fate of my mail from Kaiser is not determined, but the difference between the American and Nigerian mail system is that at least an investigation was initiated by the Office of the US Postmaster General in Washington, D.C. to trace what happened to my anti-malaria prescription from 2013.

 

 


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