THE POST IN NIGERIA'S HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The beauty inherent in any phenomenon is also in its area of historical antecedents. In the case of Nigeria and its postal service, there is always a difficulty in determining whether it is "the egg before the hen " or vice versa in the relationship between the Post and the Nigeria nation as we know it today.
Whatever be the case, history cannot obliterate the fact that before the advent of Europeans’ mode of communication through the letter post, the ancient Oyo kingdom had perfected a rudimentary postal system through the confidential messages that the Ilaris (King’s messengers) were known to carry for the Alafin and others of the royal court.
The dongaris in Hausa land and message carriers in other ethnic groups in Nigeria of old, were also instrumental to carrying confidential messages from place to place.
However, the Post, described by Stanley Philips as: " That means of communication by which messages of joy or otherwise pass from one end of the world to the other utilising every known means of transport, often in circumstances of adventurous difficulty", arose in centuries past from the art of writing, growth of trade and the rise of cities and empires.
Postal services were introduced to Lagos in 1852 by the British Government initially as part of the measures to enhance the efficiency of the anti-slavery squadron and facilitate the establishment of the legitimate trade. In that year, an agreement was signed between Her Majesty’s government and Macgregor Laird of African Merchants for the conveyance of Her Majesty’s mails from the United Kingdom to the West Coast of Africa.
The mails were to pass through Lagos, Badagry, Bonny, Calabar and Cameroon on outward and homeward voyages. For the first decade, postal services under the admiralty was less a concern than the suppression of slave trade.
However, in 1861, the post office began its career as a department of the British or the United Kingdom and in that year, Lord Colchester directed that the Consul of Lagos be appointed as a collection agent for the post office of the United Kingdom in Lagos.
In the same token, proper postal business emerged when the colonial office ceded it to the British Post Office and Charles Forsyth a liberated African from Sierra Leone was appointed the postmaster. Further achievements made were that in 1862, the post office became a full fledge department, an office rented in 1865 and in 1867, the use of money order was introduced.
While this was going on in Lagos and environ, the growth of postal service later culminated in the building of a General Post Office in 1886 by the British Government and Sir Tubman Goldie of the Royal Niger Company built another post office at Calabar to serve the Oil Rivers, Niger Coast and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria.
In this wise, postal service in Nigeria emerged from exigency of colonial administrative mechanism and private initiatives of companies.
The history of the post in Nigeria of old cannot be complete without one mentioning the introduction of parcel post business between Lagos and Gold coast (Ghana) in 1888 and the conveyance of such by Elder Dumpster Shipping and African Steamship Companies.
By 1888 to 1899, post offices were introduced at Akassa, Burutu, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Epe, Ikorodu, Ijebu Ode and Lokoja in 1899. Between 1899 and 1907, 21 post offices had been built in Northern Nigeria.
It is equally important to mention the symbiosis of colonial administration with the growth of postal service in Nigeria. In 1906, the post office of Lagos Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria which had the Western, Central and Eastern Divisions in its administration were amalgamated. At that period, the Southern Nigeria had 17 post offices and 15 Money Order offices. It was in 1908 that Postal Order business was introduced to Northern Nigeria.
With the amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914, the Posts and Telegraph Department of both Southern and Northern Nigeria came under one umbrella and supervision of one Postmaster General.
The advent of Motor Mail Service on fortnight basis in 1923, the re- entry of Nigeria into the Universal Postal Union in 1929 against the previous entry of Lagos in 1879, and the introduction of Air Mail Services in 1936 were some of historical landmarks of the Nigerian Post that cannot be overlooked.
As the Nigerian nation marks its 50years of its sovereignty, one major fulcrum that makes the post rotate and oscillate back and front is the use and history of postage stamp. History has it that the first likelihood of postage stamp in Nigeria was the Hand Struck Stamp with inscription "Paid in Lagos" which was introduced in 1859. By May 1874 arrangement had been perfected to have real postage stamp in form of adhesive label and on June 10, 1874, the first set of postage stamps came on board.
Since that historic date till today, over 250 sets of postage stamps have been released by the Nigerian post from colonial period to post independence Nigeria. The Nigerian postage stamps have been commemorative of important events, personalities of note, anniversaries while both the commemorative and definitive have reflected the nation’s geographical, socio-cultural and other monumental features.
The beauty of postage stamp is that it is not only an epitome but also epitomises and serves as archival material which can bring back to memory what the brain seems to have lost touch with. Our stamps have and still retain the chequered history of glorious past, subjects and topical issues of contemporary time.
The salt of the post is the human element that pulsates the blood and energises every aspect of postal service. The Postman, the most visible and most identifiable of the innumerable workforce of postal industry plays plethora of roles at ensuring the success in the chain of postal activities from points of collection, sorting, despatch, transportation and final delivery of mails.
Herodotus a Greek historian once captured the herculean task of the postman in a lucid definition; " Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers
from the swift completion of their appointed rounds".
The post in history and the postman have variously touched the life of individual Nigerians in myriad of ways. For many who cherish African tradition and norms of our people, a reflection on how letter writing to relations and friends had helped to knit family fabrics, letters of admission, promotion, greeting cards, photographs, registered mails and parcels of all sorts had endeared us to all and sundry through the post.
The post in Nigeria plays great roles in the educational advancement of Nigerians both old and young using its postage stamps to disseminate messages in pictorial form, taking the world to note and know the totality of what Nigeria is as a nation through its postage stamps and using the post office outlets for public education through the display of many educational materials on topical issues. Pupils and students’ excursion visits to the post office have been educationally enlightening and enriching.
The nation’s administrative requirements cannot nor ever be met without documents and letters passing through the post. Its economy could possibly not have been fostered without the use of financial instruments such as postal and money order and now the recently introduced financial transaction through electronic transfer.
In area of international connectivity, the post remains undaunting like the rock of Gibraltar at ensuring that Nigeria is actively represented as a vibrant nation amongst nations of the world that make up the Universal Postal Union, UPU, the Pan African Postal Union, PAPU, and other conglomerates that unite the global postal family. The Nigerian Post’s involvement in many of these bodies has brought recognition, credibility and honour which no other institution can boast of has having been able to play for Nigeria as a nation.
Tides and seasons do take debilitating tolls in the life of man and institutions, such cannot be denied of the post in its history and historical and statutory roles in Nigeria. In the post’s history, evidences abound of failed aspirations and mission unaccomplished in certain areas of service delivery to Nigerians home and abroad. Such is life and same for history in the cycle of life. Is it then not a truism the statement of late General Agbazika Inih, former military governor of Kwara State who once said that; " A man with big head can as well have nice legs, if you concentrate on the big head, you overlook the nice legs."
The story of history could easily be said to be history of stories and that of the Post in Nigeria could be likened to what Goldsmith’s opinion says old things are all about. He said, " I love everything that is old, old friends, old tunes, old manners, old books, old wine", and me concludes, the Post and Nigeria’s history.
Taiye Olaniyi can be reached on [email protected]