Over the years, the postal industry has played a unique social role in providing for the carriage of private letters and parcels across the globe, thereby encouraging social integration and helping families and friends to remain in contact. But in the modern digital era in which there are multiple competing means of social interaction, the question which many people still ask is whether the post has any important role to play in the digital world. The postal sector is great enabler of inclusive society and an important component of socio-economic development. With many countries stepping up efforts to achieve the mandate of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the postal sector remains not only a critical component of the global economy but also reliable vehicle through which inclusive societies could be built.
Transformation of postal services globally began about 30 years ago, in the early the 1980s. The scope of the changes envisioned then required financial resources far more than what the postal administrations could afford. Therefore, outside financial support, including the World Bank and other multi-lateral development investors were seen as possible sources of funding for postal development projects. It is in this regard that the World Bank’s Private Sector Department (PSD) started promoting worldwide postal reform concepts, especially in developing countries.
In Nigeria, the desire of the federal government in the middle of the 1980s to disengage itself from direct control and management of the nation’s economy in order to play a more facilitator role led to its decision to hand over the running of some public utilities to private investors. Against this backdrop, government’s policies during this period were geared towards inviting local and foreign investors to participate in the ownership and management of the government agencies. The realization that an efficient communication system is the engine of economic growth, it was acknowledged that building a strong communication infrastructure was a means of laying a solid foundation for private investors’ participation.
It is in recognition of this reality that government started the reform of the communications sector and subsequently split the Post and Telecommunications Department into two separate entities, namely the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) and the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) in January 1985.
Despite the split, the federal government concentrated its attention on the telecommunications sector by funding its capital projects while the postal sector was left to operate as a quasi-department of the Federal Ministry of Communications with outdated postal equipment and collapsed national infrastructure such as roads and transport system. However, credit should be given to some of the past leaders of NIPOST for taking various initiatives to make the postal industry more vibrant and relevant in the face of fierce competition from the private courier services. These efforts succeeded in drawing government’s attention and consequently led to the granting of autonomy to the organization with the promulgation of Decree 41 of 1992, known as the Nigerian Postal Service Act. The law granted NIPOST the latitude to use its internally generated revenue to fund its operations and improve postal infrastructure in the country. Other measures included the introduction of the Nigerian Postcode system to mechanize and simplify mail processing and delivery system through postal facilities (Post Office Boxes and Private Mail Bags), introduction of the National Mail Route Network in partnership with private transporters to guarantee effective distribution of mail within the country and collaboration with communities and corporate bodies to increase the post office density within the country.
It is instructive that despite the efforts to ensure that users of postal services get value for their money, lack of proper or standard addressing system in Nigeria remained a major impediment to the delivery of quality services. In the single Postal Territory created by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the most efficient postal administrations depend on the service quality level of the weakest in the chain. This is why the UPU continues to support administrations in developing countries to take measures to improve their address infrastructure in order to take advantage of the opportunities information and communication technologies. Even though that Nigeria has taken giant strides towards developing a standard national addressing system since 2009, but the shift towards digital solutions entails that the authorities in NIPOST needed to be more proactive and incorporate digital solutions in its operations and be reckoned as a market focused organization capable of responding to its customers’ needs.
One of the enduring legacies which the present NIPOST management will leave is the innovations it has introduced into its operations, which, apart from creating opportunities for the staff to express their creative and managerial skills, has also broadened the scope of products and services offered to customers. It is indeed interesting to note that the appointment of Barrister Bisi Adegbuyi as the Postmaster General of the Federation and Chief Executive Officer of NIPOST in August 2016 opened a new vista for the organization. At a time when public officials use the phrase ‘lack of funds’ as an excuse for their lack of performance, here is a management that is innovating and incorporating various technological solutions into its operations to prove that money is not always the barrier to success when a corporate vision is imbibed and shared by all involved.
The importance of effective addressing system is very vital to NIPOST success. The establishment of a well-articulated addressing system for Nigeria is predicated on the importance and role it plays national development beyond the primary role of mail delivery. This includes such issues as poverty alleviation, provision of essential services, national security, improvement of quality of life and identification citizens. NIPOST’s introduction of the Digital Addressing System (DAS) and Address Verification System (AVS) is extremely important to the postal delivery network because apart from improving quality of service, increasing consistency and reduce costs, it will also boost NIPOST revenue. By incorporating digital solutions into postal operations, NIPOST has demonstrated that it is ready to take advantage of the enormous opportunities which the Internet is generating, especially in the e-commerce market. With both the digital and address verification systems, there is no doubt that NIPOST will become a strong partner to its customers including government agencies when it extends its services and solutions along the entire value chain, thereby enhancing new business areas outside its core business.
Ejiofor is a former staff of NIPOST