Post Office should bounce back
Ascant two decades ago the Post Office was the hub of communication and many other commercial activities in every major Nigerian city and town. These days many people do not even know the road to the Post Office, which are mere shadows of their former selves. The most important factor that led to the fall of the Post Office was the phenomenal growth of information technology in the last three decades. The coming of mobile phones and the internet were particularly impactful; now most communication in Nigeria is done by mobile phone, text message, email and chat platforms.
Still, that should not have led to the total collapse of the postal service. There are many other things that NIPOST, the agency responsible for posts in Nigeria, can do if only it had adequately responded to the challenge of the information technology age and repositioned itself to provide those services. Such services, if properly packaged and efficiently managed, will greatly add value to the Nigerian economy and make NIPOST a very important factor in the economy and society.
We say all these because the Indian Postal Service, for example, has not collapsed like NIPOST even though India is far ahead of Nigeria in the evolution and penetration and communication technology. As opposed to NIPOST which employs 20,000 people, India Post employs over 400,000. Unlike NIPOST which is in its death throes, the Indian postal network has registered a six-fold growth since independence with the expansion focused primarily in rural areas. It is the most widely distributed postal system in the world.
It has managed to survive the challenge of information technology partly because of its intense rural focus. 89.78% of Indian Post Offices are located in rural areas. In addition, India Post is also involved in other services such as small scale banking and financial services. Luckily, it is not too late for NIPOST for bounce back. A ray of hope shined through recently when the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information Technology and Communication Dr Tunde Olaopa said NIPOST would be able to absorb a greater number of youths in its workforce if the current efforts to reposition the postal sector are sustained. Speaking at an event to mark World Post Day, Olaopa said NIPOST’s financial, electronic and physical assets can contribute significantly to socio-economic development, job creation and poverty reduction as contained in postal reform programs. He further said the National Postal Commission Bill, which has been approved by the Federal Executive Council, will be the guiding tool for operations in the sector.
Although there advent of mobile phones, text messages and e-mails has drastically reduced the amount of letters that people send through the Post Office, there will always be a need for the sending of parcels and hard copies of documents. Even before the advent of mobile phones and e-mails, NIPOST allowed private couriers service companies to take over this aspect of the mail business because they were much more efficient.
This is a challenge that NIPOST must face up to because it will no longer enjoy a monopoly in any sector that it dabbles in. The example of its former twin sister NITEL is enough to guide it in this matter. For, not only is the parcel service business still alive and kicking, but there is a new growth area in e-shopping. There are now several internet shopping firms in Nigeria which need to move around a lot of stuff. NIPOST can capture this potentially large and growing market, but only if it can outcompete private firms in terms of cost and efficiency.
Even in the olden days, the Post Office pioneered money transfers through the postal order and money order. It is a shame that it did not evolve this service when banks moved in with their efficient electronic transfers of today. Luckily for NIPOST, banks also tend to be concentrated in the cities so much like India Post, NIPOST can carve out a large and lucrative niche for itself with rural banking and financial services.
The key watchwords there are innovation and efficiency. Provided the Federal Government lends a helping hand and NIPOST’s leadership proves itself to be visionary and innovative, the Post Office could become a key national institution once again.