A New NIPOST Would Have Been this Government’s Brightest Tech Initiative, but for Politics
Just about two years ago, the Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST) began to enjoy a significant media presence for a number of good reasons.
First, all from a place of almost obscurity, the agency’s Address Verification System (NIPOST AVS) in March 2018 was selected as a finalist for the seventh annual WSIS Prizes 2018 contest.
The WSIS Prize is an international contest developed by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to evaluate and recognize outstanding success in implementing development-oriented strategies that leverage the power of ICTs as an enabler of the development. Individuals, governments, civil societies, local, regional and international agencies, research institutions and private-sector companies are eligible for selection.
NIPOST was named winner a week after. This was somewhat a testament to the prospects of the agency’s new initiatives as it were then.
How it all started
Earlier in 2018, a few months to the general elections preliminaries, the former Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu presided over a session where the new NIPOST leadership of Bisi Adegbuyi unveiled a roadmap for the agency.
Pivotal to the roadmap is the plan to restructure the Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST and establish 5 new companies from it.
The business units to be established include NIPOST banking and insurance company, NIPOST property and development company, NIPOST transport and logistics services company, NIPOST E-government services company, and NIPOST E-commerce services company.
The announcement was applauded because it created a framework that ensured that there is a good use of the company’s enormous infrastructure to meet up with the modern trends, unlike its old order of inactivity.
Just so you know, NIPOST is the single government entity with significant nationwide coverage in Nigeria. It has a workforce of over 5,000 and over 1000 offices across the country.
The #NewNIPOST We Saw…
The new NIPOST (so named to capture the agency’s new drive) brought on board a group of new young professionals who were able to drive new narratives and engage the new, young audience base. This brought about a significant boost in social media conversations.
True to its promise, the company launched a number of innovative solutions that would have significantly changed the way we do things. Let’s refresh about a few:
The platform creates a centralised and up-to-date database of physical addresses and the details of their occupants using its agents and technology. The platform was made available to ecommerce and logistics companies.
Accompanying the AVS was the NIPOST Digital Verification System (DAS), an interesting solution to the popular problem of identity verification in Nigeria.
Identity management and verification is one of the biggest issues Nigeria faces in the 21st century. Although different government agencies have developed different identity management platforms, they have failed to inter-operate these platforms for efficiency.
The system is a sort of database, cataloguing verified addresses all across the country. For each verified address, the system generates a unique digital code to identify it. It uses a network of field agents who are largely unemployed youths, to verify houses across the country.
When the AVS field agents verify an address and its occupants, the system immediately validates that address and assigns a unique code for that house.
In the same vein, NIPOST launched the “NIPOST Easy Life Account”, an Agency Banking service launched in collaboration with Wema Bank to aid financial inclusion and bank the unbanked across its vast network of outlets in Nigeria.
The solution was designed to allow regular Nigerians enjoy banking services from postal outlets across the country. And just like its name implies (Easylife), it makes accessing banking services very easy.
All users need to provide are their names, Phone numbers, Addresses, Dates of Birth and a minimum of N1500 deposit.
Within the same period, NIPOST significantly improved its courier service and engaged more users across diverse platforms. For instance, NIPOST unveiled a Customer Contact Centre (07000NIPOST- 07000647678) to respond to complaints in the major Nigerian languages – English, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.
The Begining of the End
The fortunes of NIPOST took a visible turn just as the preparations for the 2019 general elections was in top gear. Like other government agencies, it went under the cloud of political uncertainty.
The truth is that the certainty of the innovations staying beyond 2019 may be dependent on who wins the elections.
Prior to this time, inside sources told us that the agency had been receiving petitions on a myriad of issues including intellectual property theft, sidelining some interests in awarding projects and staff employment. These are the usual suspects when groups want to stifle the progress of any government agency in Nigeria by the way.
A few months after his appointment, the incumbent minister of communications, Dr Isa Pantanmi ordered the Nigerian Postal Service to stop all cash transactions in its offices across the country.
His reasons? It was discovered that the introduction of cash payments in NIPOST offices was aiding corrupt practices. His words:
“In line with the anti-corruption agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the mandate of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, the minister hereby directs the Post Master General, to, with immediate effect, suspend all existing cash payment plans within its establishments nationwide.”– The statement, issued by Pantami’s spokesperson, Uwa Suleiman..
A month after the directive, the beleaguered Post Master General (PMG) and Chief Executive Officer of NIPOST, Mr Bisi Adegbuyi was replaced by Dr Ismail Adewusi without completing his tenure.
According to the Punch newspapers, Sources at NIPOST revealed that Adegbuyi did not expect his removal from office.
As we speak, NIPOST does not have a functional Twitter handle. Inside sources say that some members of the team recruited for some of the new initiatives have left the agency in frustration.
The big question today is what becomes of the initiatives of the past PMG?
If the PMG has been made a casualty of the politics of the Nigerian civil service known to oppose tectonic changes, are we going to transfer the same opposition to the initiatives he has introduced?
I sent an email to the PMG’s email address to get updates on the status of the solutions introduced by NIPOST and I am yet to get a response. I strongly feel the solutions created by the NIPOST team in the past two years will create a solid foundation for other high-tech innovations like eCommerce and microloan disbursements.
I hope the story of NIPOST and its sacked PMG does not go down as one of the lost chances to move the needle forward, even if it is a little.
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