With the emerging challenges facing postal services as a result of digital era technological developments, the plan by the Federal Government to upgrade the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) into a “mega-conglomerate” is worthwhile. That, indeed, may be the only way to ensure the survival of the organisation.
Conventional postal service, today, is confronted by many new competition and threats from technological as well as lifestyle developments. With the growth in e-commerce that has made shopping online more convenient, even packages and parcels hitherto conveyed by post have become the forte of sundry courier services. Also digital services of mails, and other e-messaging channels on mobile phones or other devices have drastically reduced the number of letters sent through the post. So, the old style post office in Nigeria, as in any other country, faces a bleak future. The implication is that only a postal service willing to adjust to the emerging reality can remain in business.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Minister of Communications Adebayo Shittu, disclosed recently, while receiving Acting Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), a plan by NIPOST to expand its services into e-commerce, e-learning/library services and issuance of Nigerian passport and driver’s licence, among other security documents.
But the pertinent questions are: how does his ministry intend to do this and what would be the role or the impact of the plan on some of the agencies already responsible for these services?
The minister said that to achieve the objective, government will constitute a technical committee to proffer solutions to the issues militating against the Nigerian Postal Service and enunciate a policy direction to harness the economic potentials of the organisation. The hope is that the committee will be thorough in its assessment and recommendations.
While it must be acknowledged that there are yet untapped potentials in NIPOST, that even though the agency is in a near comatose state, it has sufficient assets to generate viable economic and commercial services. For instance, according to the minister, the new NIPOST would be equipped to deliver financial services to remote areas currently excluded by financial institutions. This is commendable, given the agency’s antecedents and age-long reach.
While the plan to reposition NIPOST is absolutely in order, however, it is not clear how it intends to re-invent itself under the proposed new “mega” structure? Truth is that most of the services within the proposed framework of the new NIPOST are privately driven and owned. This would be a challenge to such framework as is being envisaged for NIPOST, as the services hardly lend themselves to the lethargy or bottlenecks of the civil service.
What NIPOST wants to do requires a different infrastructure with different skills and patterns of employment for employees. Certainly, a large chunk of NIPOST’s existing staff may not be versed in the kind of technology that is crucial in e-commerce. The organisation would, therefore, have to enhance staff capability through training; otherwise, a new crop of employees may be required entirely for effective transition. The challenge is not only in coping with new developments in service delivery but also in the quality of those services. Now, NIPOST needs to function properly in its current state before even contemplating a transition to more sophisticated operations
NIPOST is still largely an anachronistic organisation whose operations now are far from satisfactory. This must first change before thinking of a leap into digital, highly sophisticated areas of commerce, documentation and others. Certainly this can be achieved if properly planned and executed. But first things first. The agency should make plans as appropriate and should also consider going into the proposed new areas as business. Civil servants cannot provide the efficient services required in the new regime.
No doubt, NIPOST served useful purposes in the past, with its very wide network. NIPOST used to provide post office savings account for its customers. And of course, the use of Money or Postal Order as a means of payment was well-known then. It can leverage on this network to create a niche for itself. But it should not raise hope except it is ready to effectively retune itself. This re-invention should start from the law establishing NIPOST. Afterwards, it has to develop a business mindset, institutionalise it and get removed from the civil service mode to make the ventures profitable. Then, the appropriate investments should be made on infrastructure and human capital before NIPOST can make the most of the new age business it seeks to venture into.