Jola Naibi

Writer and amateur photog. I seek to inspire and inform with the words I write and share and the photos I take. I have written a book of short stories: Terra Cotta Beauty, and I am working on a lot more. Reading and writing fuel my energy. In reading, I explore this vast and diverse world, in writing, I employ my over-active imagination and address the 'what-if' questions that life often throws at us.


Of NIPOST and Mail

By on February 22, 2007

That should actually read international mail. This is a mini-vent from me on how frustrating it is to send regular mail to Nigeria.

I remember when I lived in Lagos and I had to fill out forms which requested your address, when it came to the part where they asked for a postal code or a zip code, I usually left it blank…I can speak for the various residences that I occupied in Lagos and not for the rest of the country…there was no actual postal code. For all the time I lived in Lagos, I never received a single letter from the regular mail. We had a post office box in Falomo, Ikoyi and this is where the letters came to. This includes letters from friends or family in Nigeria. I remember my cousins in the North used to write the most interesting and illustrative letters which I would read multiple times because although they lived in Nigeria, it was often like they were in another world entirely. I also and I had a pen pal who lived in Jamaica and who had so much in common with me that I sometimes thought I had another life and I was actually living in Jamaica and writing to myself in Nigeria. I don’t remember us ever getting our mail delivered to the front door…it was usually picked up at the post office box once a month (at best) which meant that sometimes when you received a letter or a card it would the news or greetings would sometimes be outdated. Perhaps this was different for other people and it is possible that it was not the reality for everyone living in Lagos, but this what I remember growing up

These days this bleak reality of the nature of the postal service is beginning to set in as I live far away from home and most of my family are still back in Lagos and even more so now that I have a family of my own and you want to share photos with my family back home. Too often, I have had to rely on the kindness of people who are traveling back home and who have space in their luggage and are gracious enough to hand-deliver letters, cards and photos.

For a long time, I found it hard to believe that Nigeria has a postal service…but we do…we have NIPOST. A few months ago, a friend of mine told me that she had actually sent a letter and photos to her parents in Lagos via the regular US mail and they had received it in record time (less than 2 weeks)…I was curious enough to try it out for myself, so I got some photos and popped them in an envelope and went off to the post office.

I think what surprised me most was how affordable it was to send regular mail to Nigeria. Hence this little bit of back and forth between me and the postal office employee

Me – I would like to send this to Lagos, Nigeria, please
Lady takes the envelope places it on the digital scale
Lady – That would be $1.97
Me (stunned) – It is going to Lagos, Nigeria as in Africa (Please don’t blame me, I had come prepared to spend at least a tenner and besides there is another Lagos in Portugal and she might not have heard me when I said Lagos, Nigeria)
Lady (not amused) – Yes, I know where Lagos is I know where Nigeria is
Me – I am sorry, I don’t mean to sound rude…I am just surprised at the low cost
Lady (no expression on her face, she probably comes across people like me everyday) – We go by weight ma’am…the less it weighs, the less you pay

In my mind, I am like duuuhhh!!!

I thank her and hand over the money to her smiling gleefully and wishing I could go back home and put more photos in the envelope. The un-amused postal employee hands over my change and receipt to me and I walk out of the post office still stunned that it has taken me just $1.97 to send a batch of family photos to Nigeria.

A voice in my head was also asking me – Are you sure it will actually get there? Someone telling me that this was tried and tested was not enough to convince me that it would actually work. I called the folks back home and asked them to be on the watch out for a package which was mailed to the home address. We all collectively held our breath on both sides of the Atlantic

Now I know anyone reading this who is computer savvy and all Picasaed and Shutterflyed with their photos would be wondering what the big deal is after all, there is internet access in Nigeria why not send them the photos online and have them download it.

These are my parents we are talking about here…although a number of people of their generation jumped on the internet bus when it came to town, I think they arrived at the bus stop a tad late…so the bus left them behind. I remember my brother telling me how he was trying to teach my mom how to use the internet – it was an exercise in frustration at best. Why can’t you space your sentences…double u double u double u fullstop space capital letter. My brother shook his head in frustration as she asked him why the double u double double u was in small letters anyway

Anyway, the package arrived in Naija in one piece in less than two weeks and I was thrilled to bits to imagine that this actually worked, so thrilled in fact that when my niece was turning one the following month, we had cards mailed to the same address.

We mailed the cards in September 2006 and we are still waiting for them to arrive in Nigeria!!!

Two other people have told me that their letters mailed to Nigeria via regular mail (on my recommendation – thinking I was doing a good thing I had spread the good news) have not yet arrived

It seems when it comes to guaranteeing that your regular mail is actually delivered in Nigeria it is a question of hit or miss…or perhaps it is also a question of whose shift it is. My overactive imagination takes me to the scene in the postal depot in Naija when the letters arrive from overseas and the postal workers play inni minni manni mo with your letters and the ones that lose get tossed in the cemetery where dead letters are laid to rest.

I was curious enough to understand how universal this trend is – it seems a simple thing like getting your letter delivered to your home is not so simple after all. Curiosity took me to the website of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) which is located in Switzerland and which I believe is the governing body for all the postal systems in the world. Sort of like the UN agency for postal services.

According to the UPU’s statistics – 82% of the world population benefits from home mail deliveries, 3% lacks postal services while mail deliveries to post office boxes are mainly made in African and Arab countries. So, if my calculations are correct – Nigeria makes up a part of the 15% of countries that do have postal services but do not benefit from home deliveries. What a shame!

I know that political campaigns are being carried out all over the country…and I was asking myself when I read these statistics – how many local government officials, governors, senators or even presidential aspirants have woven the following words into their campaign banter – And when elected, I promise to improve the Nigerian Postal Service…letters from home and abroad are guaranteed to be received and delivered to your homes.

I know it sounds frivolous but it has to start somewhere…it just takes a committed official to decide to take a good look at the postal service and demand accountability from the postal workers et puis voilà…so it begins.

And thus ends the rantings of a Nigerian living outside her country, praying that one day, she would send a letter home and it would delivered to the hands of those whom she addressed them to

  1. Reply


    February 25, 2007

    I know people who can swear by Nipost’s efficacy. I had my doubts as to the placement of their confidence and you’ve shown there’s till reason to fear.

    We used to have letters delivered at home though. No post Office box. But things were better then.

    When I hear “Post Master General”, I always picture some old man in a faded uniform shuffling along the dusty roads of Surulere.

  2. Reply

    Oro Gojigo

    February 28, 2007

    Things are definitely different and better now.

    The previous Post Master General (PMG), Alhaji Abubakar Musa Argungu and his Deputy, Mr. Victor Madojutola did a lot to improve NIPOST to the extent that you can look up postcodes online etc. I still won’t post my passport but my letters do arrive. All documents that was sent before I embarked on study came via the post to my home address. Once the post officer asked to be rewarded thinking it was a 419 package when I insisted I’ll come and pick it at the office, he apologised and handed it over.

    I tried looking up postcodes after the death of these noble citizens and I just wonder if the website still exist. Its so unfortunate that parastatals have to depend on individuals to survive.

  3. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    March 1, 2007

    @laspapi – For those who think that NIPOST is da best – I guess it is a question of one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
    I think having your letters delivered (back when I lived in Lagos) depended on where you lived…if you were on the island or the mainland – Yaba or Surulere, it could happen…we were always on the outskirts of Lagos so it never happened. I don’t remember ever seeing a postman in Lagos, only the folks at the Falomo post office and they did not seem to have any known function that I could put my finger on.

    @oro gogigo
    I would not post my passport anywhere in the world not just in Lagos. That’s just me.

    Infact, although the postal systems in the developed world are much more efficient than back home, it still does not prevent some of the employees from doing jibiti and I have had people living in Europe and the US say how they received packages with valuable contents missing.

    Does NIPOST have a website? I tried looking for it while I was writing the article but google did not pick up anything remotely near it. I’d really like to know what it is, if you happen to know it.

  4. Reply


    March 15, 2007

    just my little bit: yes NIPOST now uses the postcode stuff, infact i’ve got a hefty NIPOST book at home with all the details. but thanks to the internet i don’t really do postal mail anymore :(. could be you didn’t get the postal codes right that’s why your mail didn’t fly.

  5. Reply

    Jola Naibi

    March 16, 2007

    Thanks for the info TRAE…I had never heard about the post code…I will ask the folks back home hopefully, it will make things easier