Investigation

NIPOST-EMS: A cesspool of corruption

‘Those not in EMS section bring customers and take their cuts’
In logistics business, we do experience hiccups, certain failures –GM, EMS/parcels
It’s a government agency; there are procedures, says Manager, FESTAC office

Over the years, like most public enterprises widely perceived as inefficient, Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) has faced a difficult challenge of satisfying the rising demands of qualitative and effective service delivery to the teeming Nigerian populace. It has, in the estimation of many, practically failed to put genuine smiles on the faces of its numerous customers. Add to this, are the sharp practices orchestrated at its FESTAC office in recent times, reports Isioma Madike

The Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), according to many, was an outstanding public organisation that enjoyed overwhelming and huge customer patronage. In those days, it enjoyed a monopolistic hegemony when people willingly and helplessly clustered in endless queues, just to assess its services.

However, the opening up of the postal industry in the ‘digital age’ ended this awkward trend, particularly, when well over 256 courier services were licensed to compete with it. To effectively compete in the new era requires an efficient and effective service delivery arrangement.

This must be so, to avert dashing such an ambitious target into a mere wishful thinking. Hence, the Commercial Business Unit –EMS/parcels was born. The EMS was named as the courier arm of the agency with the responsibility for effective and efficient collection conveyance and delivery of time sensitive correspondence, document or merchandise both locally and internationally.

However, as it seems, public expectations in this regard have never been matched with corresponding structures. Since the creation, service delivery has remained the same, if not worse with many pointing to institutional lapses as the main culprit.

Beyond that however, the overwhelming and envious monopolistic tendency, which the organisation enjoyed, more especially in 1960s to the early 90s, rather gave way for more administrative lapses and indifference. In most cases, customers now queue endlessly to grumble about a service already paid for but poorly rendered. More particularly, customers complain of their parcels not reaching the proposed destination when promised.

In such instances, oftentimes, valuable items are lost in the process. Just recently, a customer, identified simply as Akaeze, who regularly patronises NIPOST-EMS, recounted his wife’s unpalatable experience with the agency’s FESTAC office. According to Akaeze, he and his wife sent some packages containing clothes and foodstuffs such as crayfish, bathing soap and locally made creams to the United States of America through the NIPOST-EMS section, FESTAC office. “I went to the FESTAC NIPOST office with my wife and met with Chinenye Aaron whom my sister-inlaw residing in Virginia in the U.S. insisted we should do the freight through since they were school friends. At the EMS section, they billed us N214, 053 as the cost of the freight for 30kg parcels.

The front desk officer, who attended to us, promised they would deliver the items within 3-4 weeks. But five weeks later, the parcels were not delivered. “At that point, my sister-in-law started complaining due to the fact that the event, which the items were meant for, was fast approaching.

This necessitated our reporting back at the FESTAC office where we registered the parcels and they advised that we use the tracking number of the package. The U.S. postal office tracked the number and said that the items had not got to their border and that it may still be in Lagos. “We went back to FESTAC and they directed us to their head office at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja. We got to their head office and met a young man, who went through the system and told us that the packages were already at John Kennedy Airport and that we should just go and pick it from there. “We didn’t believe him.

So, we left his office to call Aaron and asked her to come and clear the mess.” Sensing trouble, the young man called Akaeze’s wife, and asked that they meet at the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) shed at the airport. At the appointed place, Akaeze’s wife narrated what happened and the man apologised, saying if Aaron had recognised that she is a close family friend, she wouldn’t have advised them to use EMS. The man said that EMS no longer delivers and that it would take a minimum of three to four months for those items to get to the U.S.

He also said the EMS officials would not like to release the items back to them because if they do, according to him, the customer might sue the agency to court. Akaeze added: “By then we were no longer interested in sending the parcels as we asked for retrieval to avoid spoiling some of the perishable items. The man went to their warehouse with the tracking number and saw the package there, still intact.

“He came back and told us that the package was still there and had not been sent. His interactions with us did not go down well with his senior officers, who reprimanded him for divulging an official secret. They were furious for letting us know that those items were still there. “The next time we went to their head office, the EMS NAHCO GM, who introduced himself simply as Ogundele, tried to convince us that the goods were either at the US border or going through checks. He was not specific on what might have happened.

“He also tried to pacify us by saying we shouldn’t worry that he would get in touch with the EMS director in the U.S. so that they can allow the items to go in, provided the items are harmless, and not contraband. But, I insisted that the items were in their warehouse. “They were going to use the package for a party on a Saturday and we went there on a Thursday and the man assured us that it would get there. That same day, about an hour later, my sisterin- law called me that DHL, no longer EMS, had sent her a notice that in the next four days she would receive her package.

“So, when she received the package on a Tuesday (Tuesday midnight in Nigeria) should be Monday afternoon there- she called and said that she had received the items. She received the package on February 1, but there was no crayfish, eight packets of soap missing, no locally made body cream.

“We called the GM at midnight to complain. He said that it was because he didn’t have our phone number and those items could not go because they were not declared on the invoice given to us. The man asked us to come and pick it the next day; we went there and picked it with my wife. “They said we should go to FESTAC where the business was transacted. We were there on Wednesday. They were still intact.

The returned items weighed 7.5 kg, which is part of the N214,053 they billed us for the 30kg. “They sent 22.5kg and they were to balance us the money paid for the worth of 7.5kg so that we can send the remaining items. Since then they have been telling stories. They told us that the man at their head office in NAHCO said that he had an agreement with us but there was no agreement other than we need these items sent or they will give them back to us.” Incidentally, Akaeze and his wife are not the only ones who have suffered from this inefficiency.

A customer, who gave her name only as Sola, recounted her experiences, saying she had encountered the agency’s inefficiency and sharp practices a number of times. Though she admitted receiving items from her relatives in the UK sent in sealed cartons via the EMS in the past, she noted that had long changed. She said: “I have lost a number of parcels in recent times, due mainly to the systemic inefficacy of the agency.

I wasn’t alone on this. The last time I came complaining, I met another customer, who also complained of his damaged parcels. And even when this thing happens, which of course has become more frequent now, the officials would just toss you around as if they do not care. “They do this believing they are above the law, and of course nobody has ever been penalised to serve as a deterrent to others. You see those not in the EMS section bringing people and taking their cuts of the dirty deals going on there. The FESTAC office has now been turned to a business centre of some sort. One can only send parcels through that office at his or her peril.

The place is stinking and needs honest sanitisation.” Another customer, who craved anonymity, said: “I made a purchase, which I sent through EMS, Lagos office, and patiently waited for it to arrive at my destination in Akwa Ibom State. Do you know the anxiety that comes when you order something and for a long time you can’t receive it? “When I was registering the parcel, the officer who handled the transaction told me it would get to my state within three days and I believed her. But as it turned out, three days became three weeks, and three weeks became three months. “Eventually, the delay got hold of me.

I tracked the package and it showed ‘receive item at delivery office’. I went to their office to check for my package, apart from the poor reception by the woman, who was at the front desk, she rudely directed me to an office inside. “I went inside and met a man and told him why I was there, and he replied, ‘We have been attending to other customers since morning; we are busy with other things now’.

“I stared at him and hesitated to go. He looked at me and in an attempt to give me false hope asked me my name, to which I answered him. He told me he hasn’t seen any parcel with that name and told me to come back in two days’ time. This was after two weeks. I humbly left for my place. “Unfortunately, the waiting game did not end until after about three months. Even at that I received an incomplete parcel and no one has been able to account for the lost ones till date.

Even the one I received was through DHL, I guess they arranged that themselves. I regretted not going through DHL in the first instance,” she lamented. The above are but just a handful of customers who had one complaint or the other concerning what they perceived to be inefficacy or outright sharp practices going on in various Ni- Post-EMS offices across the federation. When contacted, the EMS manager, FESTAC office, Khadjidat Adejumo, wasn’t forthcoming at first. She had rudely told this reporter that she was tired of queries for what was not her fault. She had wondered why this reporter did not go to the head office of NIPOST-EMS at the NAHCO section of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport.

Reminded that most of the transactions that had issues were done at the FESTAC office, she reluctantly said: “This is not a private organisation but a government agency, there are procedures. If they are requesting a refund, they can put it in writing. I can write a quasi-memo to send it to the appropriate place that will process the refund.

It will not cost me anything. “Actually, I don’t know if it is the husband or the wife that sent the package, in the first case you mentioned. The day that they came to send the parcel, I was already going home. There are laws from other countries that we transact with, which say that we should not be mixing edible substances with non-edibles items. “When I saw it, the counter officer was packaging the parcel and even from the weight, I told them to separate the edible ones from the non-edibles so that it can be in two parcels. He agreed and I left. “Unfortunately, we had little problems because the government does not have any airplanes.

So, we have to use commercial flights. Most times they disturb and we couldn’t meet up with the time for delivering the parcels. We discovered that they mixed soap with food items and it was separated and we delivered the clothing. “They invited them to our headquarters at NAHCO without my knowledge. If I had known, I would have guided them on what to say. It was when they sent the remaining packages that I knew that it was not even separated as I had instructed. The man came and collected the package and I collected the remaining package.

“One of the managers called me that these people were coming to collect their stuff and I asked the person if they would be refunded and he said that they had already sorted that out with them. “According to him, they had a conversation that lasted for over two hours, and I believe that the refund is part of what was supposed to have been discussed. He said that he cannot ask them because he transacted the business with FESTAC and he would return to collect the refund. “I asked him why he didn’t tell them that he didn’t have any business with them when he went there to discuss with them without my consent.

He left and said that I will hear from him but I haven’t since then.” She added: “We had logistics problems because we are using private airlines. We handed them the items at the right time but they disappointed us because we do not have our own airlines. I don’t know what our head office used.

But I’m sure that once I receive parcels here I forward them to the airport immediately and I don’t know which ones they use or don’t use. “Like I said, I was not the one that processed the package. When I started my interaction with you, I said I instructed the person that received the package to separate it into two cartons, which he failed to do on his part. People were there when I told him but they didn’t want to pay extra money, they persuaded him to use one carton and that’s the cause. If they separated it, they would have issued two receipts.

“The bill we gave to them was the normal charges and it is done according to the weight. Let him write and we will refund it. This is a government organisation. So, publishing it will not bring his money back.” Asked to comment on the other customers, Adejumo simply said: “I’m not aware of those.”

The same answer was given when asked to react to the fact that her agency is using DHL instead of the EMS they made their customers to believe they were using. She also said nobody has the right to ask her about the airline her agency uses to deliver parcels. After the telephone conversation, she sent an SMS to this reporter, which reads: “Please ensure to do your investigation up to EMS headquarters. Have a good day.” Earlier, the GM had acknowledged that the right place to correct any anomaly is his office.

“Any information you are getting from there (FESTAC office) is not effective because we have the platform that we track and give information. Even those people when they track items, they will call this office from all over the world to get information,” he had told Akaeze and his wife, who visited him in his office.

He added: “We appreciate your patronage. I have to say that we are sorry and it wasn’t intentional at all. In the logistics business, along the line, we do experience hiccups and certain failures. The reason is that when we received the items from you, it was my officer at the counter that received it from you and I don’t know which office you sent it from.

“The officer has orders on how to deal with such items and he or she did what was expected. Your item was sent down here for processing. In the cause of processing your items, there are a lot of stakeholders. The item is going to the U.S. and that is the U.S. postal service and we are Nigeria Postal Service.

“There is EMS in Nigeria and there is EMS in the U.S. too. When we collect your item, we don’t go to the U.S. to deliver it. We will send it to them and they will do all the processing and deliver it appropriately. “When we collect it, we can’t just drop it in the plane immediately. Other agencies of the government have to check if it contains contraband and if it can go. After that is done then we can put it on a plane and send it to the US. When it gets to the border post of the US, there are lots of processing that it will have to go through too. A time came when the way we send items to other European countries was different from how we sent to the U.S. “They even requested advanced electronic data about the things to be sent. They explained it to us when we attended a universal postal meeting when questions were raised about why parcels were not going.

The delay that we are having in the delivery of items may not be unconnected with all these explanations I have given. “When you gave us your item, we finished treating it here, custom, NDLEA, quarantine- then we put it in the bag and arranged it to get to the border post of USPS. The USPS will not enter that they have received it until the custom has released it after checking. We even have items that have not been released since 2020. Eventually they will send us a message that the item has been destroyed and they will pay compensation to the owner.

“Those are the things that we experience, especially during this COVID-19 period. The agreement we have with them is that if an item that is sent from Nigeria is destroyed or lost in the U.S., we will pay compensation to the customer and vice versa. But an international parcel has never got lost in Nigeria before. I’m sorry about your item not being delivered but it is not lost. Until it is cleared it will keep showing in the tracking that it is just packed in Nigeria.” When this reporter asked him to ascertain the status of the items, Ogundele said: “I like to guess it’s with the custom border post of the delivery country. USPS will be informed that it has been detained and there is nothing that they can do.

The clothes will not have issues but the others might have. During manual checking they just do random selection and it may be detained. We can use Universal Postal Union (UPU) but it is not advisable so that it won’t portray the postal service wrongly.

“We hold meetings twice in a year to get to know each other like in cases like this. In Nigeria I can go to customs and tell them that the item is needed and after all the laws are read, I can use the human angle and check the content and use his influence. But that option is not used often so that it won’t be abused.” Incidentally, what Ogundele had explained turned out not to be entirely true. For instance, Saturday Telegraph discovered much later that the parcels had not been sent as at the time the GM was speaking.

This paper also discovered that EMS does not send parcels on its own because of what the paper discovered to be paucity of funds but uses a private delivery channel, the DHL. Equally of contention was the fact that the items sent by the first customer quoted here were not properly registered or intentionally skipped some of the items being registered.

This much was confirmed by Akaeze when he told this reporter that of the 30kg parcels paid for at the FESTAC office, about 7.5kg was not registered hence the head office could not send all the items paid for. That has now become a bone of contention as the NIPOST-EMS officials have been employing various tactics to evade refund of money paid on that.

A former chief head post master, who pleaded not to be mentioned, said in his time certain officials misappropriated about N45 million, which was supposed to be used to pay airlines airlifting the NIPOST parcels. That fraud, he said, plunged the agency into chaos that it’s been struggling with since then. The old man said: “In December 2020, I sent ordinary mail that contained an invoice and it took NIPOST over three months for that mail to get to the U.S. No airline is accepting their luggage because they owe airlines millions of money. The only thing they can do perfectly is to deliver within the town.

A letter going from Lagos to Abuja may take more than three weeks if you are sending it through EMS. Even their staffers would not advise you to use them. “What they now do is to gather large parcels and send the ones they can through DHL. God blesses you if yours are among those not sent; they either get damaged or stolen. Not too long ago, I sent a parcel to Abuja and a staff there took the letter to DHL at N4,500 but EMS would have cost N2,500. It is that bad, and something definitely is not right.” A visit to the agency’s warehouse revealed much more.

This reporter discovered so many items meant for delivery that were not sent. The place stinks and there were flies and rats all over the warehouse. The entire system has become archaic. A staff member of the agency also revealed that those who are not working at the EMS section are encouraged to bring “business”, which they eventually benefit from. Another source at the NAHCO office confirmed that the N214,053 charged by one of the customers would have been much less. “That was why they did not register all the items so that they can share the balance money. It is a booming business, especially at the FESTAC office. Our Ogas know about it but everyone feels helpless to act,” the source further alleged.

 

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