Bisi Adegbuyi, businessman, lawyer, politician, is the first Nigerian to be appointed from the private sector to head Nigeria’s almost forgotten postal service, NIPOST. It’s a huge task to bring back to life an almost dead institution overtaken by technology. Nigerians have left NIPOST behind but Adegbuyi wants to bring it to catch up with the emailing, face booking, instalgramming generation of Nigerians.
In this interview with the BSS Show in London, he explains how he is going about breathing life back to the organization. It was monitored by Taiwo Alabi, (@iam_taiwoalabi) who gives this excerpts below:
Question: What really happened to Nigerian Postal Services?
Answer: Well, talking generally, NIPOST is a microcosm of Nigeria. It mirrors the society. But talking universally, the story of post services is replete with destructive technologies of internet, mails declined but again several opportunity were created so not peculiar to NIPOST. Now, the story of NIPOST is such that for many years; because of the black oil, that money spinner, we literally abandoned all other areas of revenue generating capacities.
Question: The citizens did not abandon it?
Answer: The truth of the matter is that previous government did not pay necessary attention to such a very vital national institution. But because President Muhammadu Buhari came with the CHANGE agenda and the need to diversify the productive base on the economy and revive various other national institutions including but not limited to NIPOST; that was what informed the decision first and foremost important to put things in proper perspective. The very first time that somebody from the private sector will be appointed. Poster Master General and CEO to do one thing, go there and run NIPOST as a commercial entity that would combine the need for NIPOST to make money and at the same time, render what we call universal service obligation. As you know, post remain social responsibility, it’s a social service. But for NIPOST to be able to render that social service, it must remain a going concern that is it must not die, therefore, there is need to transform, innovate, integrate and procedure on a process of inclusion. The three “I”s that the Universal Postal Union, the umbrella organization, consisting of 92 countries all over the world. So, revolution is underway. It is not correct really to say people don’t post letters anymore and NIPOST isn’t effective. There are challenges no doubt, but the truth of the matter is that they have been winking in the dark. Largely because my predecessors in office rose through the ranks, they were civil servants and naturally, nemo dat quod non habit that is the latin phrase for saying you cannot give what you don’t have. They tried their best but the bigger picture is to look at the business sides in posting services to diversify. In other jurisdictions, they make more money from non call mail business, financial services, e-commerce and logistics, property, insurance, shipping; name it. So, for post offices not to die, they must embark on a process of innovation, develop new product because by virtue of NIPOST Act of 2004, the Post Master General has a power to go into other businesses that can be commercially undertaken and then make money and that what we are set to do.
Question: To get your letter, the wait is always too long, what causes is the long wait and now that there is going to be a revolution, what are the plans you have in place to change The Nigeria Postal Services?
Answer: First and foremost, we should be talking about change management to engender operational efficiency. Hitherto, NIPOST consists of 38 territories. One territory per state, two in Lagos and one in Abuja. For a business to run profitably, that structure is unwieldy and some consultants were hired, Nigerian government, World Bank paid them huge amount of money and they wrote a report called NIPOST Consultant Report, that the 38 territories can never engender operational efficiency, innovation and profitability and therefore, they recommended 3 zones. They did that 8 years ago. But when I came, I have since by virtue of the power conferred on the Master General collapsed the 38 territories into seven zones. We have also created commercial business unit, in line with prevailing circumstances and merging opportunities in the market, which are mail operations, counter operations, EMS, E-commerce and logistics, financial services, property and workshops. As you know, apart from Police, I do not think and I know rarely that no other national institution has the spread of NIPOST. We are all over the place. We are scattered in the nooks and canny of Nigeria and what did I do when I first became the PMG, I proceeded on a visit to all the territories. Nigeria is massive as you know, massive places, different culture, a lot it.
Question: When you travel, what are the loopholes you find in the different states?
Answer: The story is the same all over. Low staff moral, decrepit infrastructure, low internet penetration, very low deployment of technology and technology is the way to go. It is either you join the global best practice or you will be left behind. I have got six states to cover anyway. I have got Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and Kwara mostly on roads. I have donated my life to Nigeria in the process and I am very certain that in another two three to four years, now we will be looking at NIPOST with pride because we are going to unleash revolution in addressing system, logistics. All our properties scattered all over Nigeria will be leveled up but there are fundamentals that we need to do first. Chief among them is what we called legal reform, the Nigeria Postal Service Bill has been before National Assembly in the last eight years. By the special grace of God I used to be a politician, I’m one of the people that people in the National Assembly will not accept and because there is an urgent need for us to take Nigeria out of recession and Post can contribute huge amounts of money to the National coffers that will be distribute among the tasks of government and most importantly, Post can render what we call financial inclusion service, that’s getting the people in rural areas, farmers, artisans who don’t have access to normal bank services because Post offices are scattered all over the rural places. We would go into what we call agency Banking with big banks and then we will take such financial services to those people. But if we don’t have proper addressing system, that would be difficult. Then, the internet, technology took away or reduced mail volume, industry created opportunity in exponential group of parcels and packages. We shop online? You need to get a company to do your delivery for you. It would interest you that when I was in Ekiti, people were sending stuffs all over the world.
Q: Through NIPOST?
Answer: The truth of the matter is that our EMS is our cash cow and it’s making a lot of money but people don’t know. However, there is a major problem. The problem is that people talk about that they their confronted with which they are always critical of, is the ability to track their parcels and packages. By the special grace of god we are migrating from VS, the analog mode of 5.11, to the latest digital mode of VS 2015 supervised by Dog Post, the technology arm of Universal Poster Union and in another three months, you will sit in the comfort of your room, your office and track and trace your parcels and packages. A lot of people are usually agitating when they don’t actually know the where about of their mails. Something is not about all you are suppose to deliver in two, three days and you delivering in four days but when they know that they can track and trace they will be comfortable. The migration is underway and wait for this, I don’t weather I should just spill the tea. The revolution in the addressing system, there are two approaches, by the way we have post code in Nigeria but the post code is limited in Nigeria because we were doing it in faces, I met it on ground, I’m just seven months old in office.
Question: What is the tenure like?
I have got five years. For an organization that suffered, neglects in about twenty to thirty years, you need a lot of time. I’m laying foundation for possible building blocks to be placed on things and there are low hanging fruits, quick ways that we can do and that is what I want to talk about regarding the addressing system. About 65%, if my statistics is right, of the world, is buffeted by addressing challenges, it is not limited to Nigeria, especially in those heavy populated, blighted areas, how do you post or deliver a mail to somebody in Badiya, local areas, streets that are not publicly numbered? What are you going to do? I’m meeting with the founder of What3Words address in technology, Chris Shedrick. The whole world has been divided into 57 trillion grids of three meters by three meters, wherein addresses would be configured either by code and a Post man through a GPS-enabled App that would be put on his android phone would be directed to go and deliver packages anywhere under the sun.
Question: The problem we have in Nigeria was the fact that, the GPS is not everywhere.
Answer: No, it’s moving on, it’s covering rapidly. But because we are getting the App from the expert here, we would unleash what we called MEHI (Mail for Every House Initiative). We will take mail boxes to each houses, it will be coded mail box, such that with the GPS-enabled -App on the Post man phone, he will deliver the mail anywhere.
Question: How are we going to be able to use it?
Answer: For as long as the coded mail boxes are anywhere, the App GPS-enabled, will direct the post man there. It has happened in Mongolia, it has been proven. Times of London described it as cleverest solution for the addresses system ever found.
Q: I like that you have mentioned the solution, I would like to focus on solution, what solution do you have for the deprived areas?
Ans: It is the same solution because even if you have the coded mail boxes in that kind of areas, where six people occupying a six blocks of flats. And it is important to note this, since we have migrant workers in UK, US, it will be nice to discuss remittances, international transfer because on yearly basis, from the UK alone, $3.7billion is sent home, $5.7billion in US. When people send money home and their relations are in far places rural areas. How often do they get the beneficiary to receive the money? I mentioned earlier as a commercial business unit, under the umbrella of you have remittances, mobile money, and financial inclusion. Now, it’s not going to happen overnight, we are already consulting with international remittances agencies who are experts, we are deploying technology gradually, we soon deploy ATMs in selected Nipost locations. Naturally, because Nigeria is just massive country, you can’t do it at once, which is, it will take some times but the basic bank, open of account, deposit, payment of utilities…
Question: How about foreign exchange?
Answer: That’s also part of the deal we call remittances, international and local. You need to master your game, build confidence, let people have confidence in NIPOST, create awareness that there is a new NIPOST that is operationally efficient, that’s interested in rendering social services first and foremost. But at what cost do our migrant workers send money home, $12 per $100 as cost; that’s is high, because they are limited on remittances platform, Western Union, MoneyGram and those are even concentrated in the cities; they are not in rural and semi-urban areas. Only micro has locations. As I have said, you need internet penetration, upgrade of services, make Post offices look good, train your staff, all these cost money and NIPOST does not receive subvention from the federal government of Nigeria. However, the federal government pays the salaries and wages of the workers to the tune of N8billion every year.
Q: So, NIPOST has to generate its own funds?
Answer: Yes, and that’s a challenge. I mean in other jurisdiction, you know what they call seed money. If you see that your vital institution is positioned to run in commercially viable way and they can make money, then you need to invest in it. Again, it may also interest you that we are going to deploy ATMs, POS from all the banks linked to NIPOST Net platform and we will be a super agent to the banks.
Question: We know about transportation programmes in Nigeria, how do you intend to go about delivering parcels and packages to remote areas like rural areas, villages?
Answer: Logistics is a huge money making industry now, but because we don’t have the capacity to buy the technology and the money, the way to go is to do public private partnership or joint ventures. We have sent a memorandum of understanding with the company called GMC Logistics which is subsidiary of DPD. DPD is bringing to the table technology, money, vans, vehicles, motorcycles. What are we bringing to the table? Our warehouses and properties scattered all over Nigeria and we’ll go into the public sharing arrangements allowed by the law depending on the material value for a manner of speaking of what the investor or the partner is bringing. Juxtapose it with what you are bringing to the table and then agree on mutually agreed terms. For the fact that I’m a public servant, my interest will be to protect the interest of Nigeria because NIPOST belongs to them.
Question: So, you are working with the banks now, how about Customs and Immigration, what are your plans for them?
Answer: The addressing solution we want to unleash is not about mere how parcels and packages are delivered, it is also about reducing crimes, terrorism because NIPOST will begin to entertain verification of addresses. When people buy phones, they leave fake addresses. When they open bank accounts, all of that would change because we work with Nigeria Identity Management Commission, Road Safety Commission, DSS, Nigerian Police Force. Once people know that the addresses will be verified, they can no longer operate under the cover of anonymity, they will think twice before committing crimes and that’s what NIPOST is bringing to the table- prevention, reduction of crime.
Question: I like the part of the private public partnership, which seems right across Africa. How are you going to negotiate to ensure there is a balance where the government is also benefiting?
Answer: It’s about negotiating power. The law is not going to state what percentage will constitute to private investors as opposed what you are going to give to the government agencies. But now, naturally in commercial transactions, you consider what you are bringing to the table. If NIPOST is giving you access to all its identified assets and you want to do them up. You are going to spend money in doing that because NIPOST has money to do that, you are bringing your technology, your experts, then we should be able to negotiate and the truth of the matter is if a private sector is dissatisfied with what you are offering him, he has the choice to go elsewhere. So, it’s a function of circumstances, are you negotiating from a position of strength? If you have money that you can spend on all these projects, you’re not going to seek partnership with anybody anyway, but if you don’t have the resources, that’s not to say that you are going to allow the private sector people to take undue advantage of government institutions because they belong to you and I. Therefore, we have a responsibility as responsible Nigerians, somebody who has never until I became the Post Master General taken salary all my life. I have been a private oriented person. I have practised Law for 30 years and I’m not going to put my hard earned integrity and name to jeopardy. We have gone beyond that and that’s the challenge of the Nigeria state.
Question: I was a bit worried when you mentioned the structure of ownership of NIPOST, the way things happen in Nigeria. So government should make private enterprise, period.
Answer: Not, it can’t be period sir; I have a different perspective to it. There are three modules of ownership of public institutions, the extreme end, only government owned institution, the hybrid are mixture of government and private people, the extreme end, the outright privatization and you sell government patrimony to private sector people who are in need of money, you can do it in other institutions not the Post because it remains a social obligation.
Look at what happened to the power sector, I will not advise NIPOST to go that route without any attempt of criticizing anybody, you cannot move from one extreme to the other extreme particularly because of the circumstances of the Nigeria today. Universal service obligation may well be jeopardized. For instance, even in America, there are places where poster matters and services are not commercially viable but you make money from where you can make money and subsidize other people, that’s the concept of universal service obligation.
Question: But you found out that government will always draw back the way things should move, you made a good example of DHL being able to make decision within 24 hours.
Answer: Ultimately, privatization maybe the way to go, I’m talking about strategic timing not now.
Question: You travelled to see for yourself the challenges that poster services are facing, in terms of infrastructure, what do you think needs improvement?
Answer: I have answered the question; I have told you that NIPOST is microcosm of Nigeria, which means NIPOST is a mini-Nigeria. Let’s encapsulate these questions in one expression, the revolution to turn Post offices into one huge super market where you can do a lot of things. That’s in a nutshell, you can post your passport, your ID, pay your utilities, buy phones. Let me tell you what is happening in Nigeria, before I came. They would let NIPOST premises to tenants that would do businesses they are suppose to do themselves. The tenants will make the money and pay for house rent. You can’t blame them, but coming from Bisi Adegbuyi, a business lawyer, I won’t do that, I know how to make money and I’m going to make money for NIPOST and for Nigeria.
Question: We were talking about your collaborations with the Customs and Immigration?
Answer: We are still going to collaborate with customs. There is no way you are going to send your parcels and packages without Customs clearance by the way. There is a synergy. There is collaboration. It may interest you to know that Oracle just organized a workshop for all these critical stakeholders including Customs, Immigration, National Health Insurance Scheme, Private Sectors, Police in order for us to share what they called Cloud Services. When you have what we call economic upscale, you collaborate, you are going to reduce costs. Now, the inter agency collaboration between Customs and NIPOST is crucial because of cross-border online trade. When you send parcels and packages from the UK and it weighs a particular kg and don’t forget smart guys, criminals, we have them very minority, they try to use the Post to perpetrate crime. We just had a problem in Qatar when some of these guys used the Post to send narcotic contents to Qatar. You know you can’t beat these guys because they are always ahead of the security agencies.
Few months back we just did a symbolic presentation of Elephant toxic, those contraband outlaws, the way those guys tried to beat security agencies. But what we need to do is to deploy technology and I must commend the effort of UK Department of Crime, they have just donated another scanning machine to us. The government has a responsibility, we need to equip our security agencies, we need to equip NIPOST and all of that. The way to go is technology because if you do things manually, these guys would beat you. However, those who are into crime should know that no matter how long, the law will catch up with you.
Question: How is being from the private sector to public sector which you have done very well from how you articulated issues?
Answer: Let me quote Chief Obafemi Awolowo here, it is the interplay of the dialects forces of antithesis. In private sector, you want to take decision in a jiffy but in public sector, slow, steady bureaucracy, you will find equilibrium, I’m always in a hurry.
Question: What’s your final message to Nigerians in the Diaspora?
Answer: Very important segment of the discussion, robust youth engagement strategy. 70 million Nigerian youths don’t patronize a Post, it will take a creative, brilliant, a PMG who can think outside of the box to come up with programmes mechanism that would drive huge population to the post, bigger than South Africa, Zambia. What do they like? Music, Fashion, Entrepreneur. We are going to unleash a revolution. Where we bring Tecno, Lil Keshi, Olamide and so on. When we organize a concert, you are not going to pay money to enter we are going to have their faces embodied with stamps. We are working on it.
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