Imperatives of courier regulatory commission- Austine Uche-Ejeke

The just concluded third courier summit with the theme : Emergent Issues in Nigerian courier Industry, held in Sheraton hotel ikeja on 28th October 2013 opened up a lot unresolved issues in the ever boisterous courier industry. Being an assemblage of who is who and stakeholders in the courier industry, the expectations were so high that the outcome will resolve most of the pressing needs of the business. History of such courier summit shows that it - started in 2001 in which the extant courier Regulatory Department of NIPOST was birthed. In 2004 the theme centred on production of postal Regulatory commission and draft postal bill.

Like any other Nigerian thing the participation and representation from government which is supposed to be major stakeholder was not all that encouraging. From the highlight of the programme, the minister of communication Mrs Omobola Johnson was supposed to be present physically, so also was the senate president, David Mark. Apart from the minister who sent in a representative, nothing was heard of the where about of the senate president. To add insult to injury, most of the government representations left the occasion almost immediately after presentation of their various papers.

The guest speaker, Ben Murray Bruce, chairman of silver bird group made a radical dissection of the communication sector particularly as it concerns the old Post and Telecommunication ( P & T) to present day NIPOST that eventually carved out courier Regulatory Department. He spoke on the legislation and Courier Entrepreneurship in Nigeria. He tried to make a cursory incursion of the relevance of courier as a very important and strategic venture that must not be under played. A comparative analysis of the place of courier in advance climes like America, Britain , Germany etc showed that much importance is given to the sector since it handles a very strategic aspect of the economy. 

There are security issues that must be taken care of in the monitoring and administration of courier business. Why the government is not paying adequate attention to this very important sector bewilders the erudite public commentator of Ben Bruce status. Just like he has been advocating since 2007, he ended on a humorous note by advising  the president to establish a Ministry of Common Sense!
And how   will some of the pressing issues of courier business be handled. From all indications a setting up of Courier Regulatory Commission just like we have Nigerian communication Commission for the telecommunication sector. 

The enabling law that will make this to happen is a properly passed legislation in the house. From hindsight this very draft law has suffered a lot of set-back. The draft bill did not see the light of the day as it was not passed until the expiration of that session. The whole process has just started all over again. It is in the light of this that former house of Representative , Ambassador Jerry  Sonny Ugokwe solicited for a fire brigade approach to actualize the swift passage of the bill. To achieve speedily , he called for setting up of a committee of himself, Ben Bruce and others to pursue through lobbying and whatever mechanism to ensure that the bill will come out before the termination of the life span of the current Assembly.

Apart from the enabling law  to establish a courier Regulatory commission are other knotty issues that must be addressed for the smooth running of the courier business. Prominent among this is the issue on ban of certain category of motor bikes by operators of courier business.

 In as much as majority of the people subscribe to the ban of motor cycles otherwise known as okada  because of the risk and hazards they cause on our roads. But common sense as advocated by Ben Bruce should have made the various state government particularly Lagos to exempt courier operators from the ban. The reason for this is very simple, almost all courier motor bikes come with a box at the back. This will distinguish them from others. Also the government can make courier operators to register their bikes .A sticker or emblem to distinguish them can be done. To restrict operators to usage of 200 cc brand of motor cycle is callous as price of this particular brand is outrageous .

 It’s almost the cost of getting a van delivery. A particular big time player in the industry told me of a bitter experience his company had when after purchasing about 300 low capacity motor cycle only for the government ban to affect them. They had to discard the bikes. You can imagine the monumental loss that the company must have incurred! This could lead to staff rationlaisation and declaration of loss at the end of the financial year. And if we actually practice true federalism , there is no rationality for an operator to obtain a license from federal government only for a state government to ban or specify the brand of motor bikes for them to use. 

When you juxtapose this act with what happens in other advanced countries , you just wonder what is wrong with us. In a country like Australia bicycles are still used to deliver mails. It has therefore become imperative that the national assembly and various state houses of assembly and even the president should wade into this issue and see that the law banning usage of lower categories of motor bikes in pursuit of courier business is rescinded immediately!

Another crucial issue that attracted several reactions from stakeholders is the issue of cost of obtaining a courier license and the annual renewal fee from operators. For the licensing fee, the rate ranges from N1 million , N2 million, N5 million etc. The interesting thing about this is that in year or quarter applications are invited by several budding operators. For instance a total of 100 applications may be received in a year for license.

 But courier Regulatory Department of NIPOST may just have approval to give for just 10 slots. On payment of application fee by all the applicants, standard are set for inspection. Meanwhile the applicants will be expected to pay the various licensing fee. Assuming the 100 applications are for the N2 million category and only 10 is selected at the end of the day, it means that the other 90 that paid have almost lost the deposit! Although a second chance may be given to those that failed at the first instance to retry but the point must be noted that government has already earmarked the number to be given license at a particular point in time.

As that is not enough operators are expected to renew their license with the sum of N500,000 every year for the popular category. If one is to multiply that by an average of about 291 courier companies in the country, that is a whooping sum of money! This particular practice attracted lots of opprobrium from operators and stakeholders as they questioned the rationale of making annual renewal of such magnitude in an inclement business environment that courier business operates. They cited the telecommunication sector where operators only pay once for the license and thereafter  are not subjected to annual renewal fees. Even when some agreed on payment of such renewal , they were of the opinion that it should be once in three or five years. 

Their argument for this is predicated on the fact that the capital intensive nature of doing courier business in Nigeria makes it almost impossible for new entrants to break even and not to talk of paying a renewal fee as much as N500,000!
On a good note the post master General Ibrahim Mori Baba acceded to the protestation of the operators but advised them to complain formally through writing. This I hope the umbrella body of courier operator, Association of Nigeria courier operators ( ANCO) and NICA will speedily do to ensure that huge concession is extracted from the courier Regulatory Department .

To add to all these troubles besetting the courier industry is issue of multiple taxation. A motor bike or vehicle that is registered in one local government or state is subjected to harassment and in fact outright seizure by a local government next door for payment of the same category of rate or fee. This has made the smooth courier operation almost herculean if not impossible. It was a general agreement that dues and levies subjected to courier business should be harmonized in such a manner that operators don’t suffer double jeopardy as all this has a way of crippling most courier companies out of business.

There is also the issue of high cost diseal and fuel which is the core ingredient of mobility of vehicles and motor bikes in the course of making their pick-ups and deliveries. A situation where a huge chunk of the operator’s capital is deployed in the purchase of fuel leaves them with next to nothing at the end of the day to meet other exigencies of operations. The situation becomes very pathetic during fuel scarcity as most operators resort to the black market to source for fuel to effect their contractual agreement with their customers who on their own may not add extra value for the exhorbitant cost of fuel.

These and many other issues were highlighted at the third courier summit but the big question is the efficacy of the resolution and communiqué that was reached. Will the summit be another colossal waste of both private and public fund, time , resources and energy. Will the summit be relegated to the background as one of those jamborees that must be organised to show ‘work in progress’. What is the essence of a summit of such magnitude if resolution arrived are not implemented. 

And like every other Nigerian case will organizers and stakeholders wait for another three or five years to put up another genre of talk shop. But if we go by the words of the post master General who promised to take the resolutions personally to the honourable minister of communications. Let’s believe and hope that he will live up to his billings and even go beyond that. If it means by- passing protocols and going straight to the president Jonathan and table most of the issues raised that will be a welcome development that will position the courier business in a better pedestal.

Austine Uche-Ejeke, a public Affairs Analyst wrote vide       
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