The national addressing system in Nigeria has been fraught with challenges, leading to difficulties in accessing infrastructure and accurate data for economic development. Emma Okonji writes on the latest effort by the Ministry of Communications Technology and the Nigerian Postal Service at tackling the problems through a proposed policy
Accurate infrastructure and street addressing are supposed to generate vital data on the habitable geography of a country. It also boosts national planning and economic development. But this is the case in Nigeria, where the absence of a national addressing policy has hampered planning and development.
The data, when updated regularly, is accurate and accessible, and becomes vital information for planning investment, maintaining facilities and infrastructure and for effective mobilisation of local resources. But Nigeria has over the years, paid lip service to the importance of an addressing policy, a situation that has left the country with a plethora of unplanned urban sprawls.
In most cities of the country, infrastructures and street numbering are clumsy, making it extremely difficult for the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), to effectively deliver mails to the right addresses, leading to loss of vital mails. Apart from mails, the National Population Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, among other government agencies, find it almost a mission impossible to get accurate data of people living in certain geographical location.
The trend has been ongoing for years, making it difficult for Nigeria to have accurate data on its citizens nationwide. Worried by the development, the Federal Ministry of Communication Technology, in collaboration with NIPOST has taken, what many described as bold step, to address the situation.
In the Beginning
Former Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili had in 2009, constituted a national steering committee on National Addressing System, during a workshop in Lagos, which had participants drawn from major stakeholders in Nigeria, including representatives of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the Pan African Postal Union (PAPU).
At that workshop, a team of 32 members were selected from stakeholders in the public and private sectors, including representatives of the academia, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Registrars of the Capital Market, Chartered Institute of Bankers and Non-Governmental Organisations NGOs. The team was given the task of drafting an Addressing Policy for the country.
In 2011, the project team came up with a draft policy, and in May 2012, it was submitted to the Minister of Communication Technology, where an in-house technical committee was set up to review the draft National Addressing Policy. Having concluded with the review by the technical committee, the ministry, last week, organised a stakeholders' forum in Lagos, where NIPOST officially presented the draft National Addressing Policy to stakeholders for their perusal and inputs.
The forum provided ample of opportunities for stakeholders to make their contributions to the draft, before the final copy would be collated and sent to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval. Submission of inputs from stakeholders still opens till this month, before the final collation is rounded up in February. It is expected that Nigeria would join the rest of the world in having a National Addressing Policy before the end of this year, all things being equal.
Stakeholders drawn from different walks of life made divergent contributions. A consensus was reached for an expanded committee that would represent the interest of key stakeholders. The Registrar, Surveyor Council of Nigeria called for the inclusion of its council members as part of the committee driving the National Addressing Policy, giving instance of how agricultural produce were being wasted in rural communities because there are no access routes to such communities. The council was of the opinion that its presence at the committee level, would help for proper identification of access roads to some areas of the country.
Director, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at INEC, Mr. Chidi Nwafor, narrated the ordeal of INEC in getting the correct addresses of Nigerians, during election registration and insisted that INEC should be part of the committee. Also, the Director of Transport, Ogun State, Mr. Tokunbo Salami, called for full incorporation of logistics and transportation in the draft policy.
"If the addressing system is rightly done, without a proper transportation system to access the addressing system, then challenges are likely to emanate anytime," Salami said.
Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, who was represented by a senior government official from the state, expressed concern that Nigeria does not have a current database on the location of people and called on the Ministry of Communication Technology and NIPOST to expedite action over the planned National Addressing Policy.
A professor of Geographic Information, University of Lagos, Demola Oladokun, raised security concerns and called for quick intervention on security matters that are associated with addressing system.
Members of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) raised fears on the success of the planned addressing policy and its implementation. According to them, it was the duty of local government and not the federal government to handle addressing system in the country. The association queried why the ministry and NIPOST, which are federal government agencies, should suddenly take over the duties of local governments as it relates to proper addressing system.
Passionate about service delivery, the Minister of Communications Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson, who was part of the stakeholders' forum, spoke on why the ministry and NIPOST had taken up the issue of National Addressing Policy, which she admitted, was the prerogative of local governments.
According to her, "Although the onus of implementing an efficient system of property identification, constitutionally rest on the local government, multi-dimensional nature of addressing and its wider effects on Nigeria's development, makes the intervention of the federal government inevitable."
She said it was on record that attempts had been made by various administrations to tackle the lack of proper addressing system in the country, but without good results, adding that the efforts of NIPOST in galvanising public interest in establishing a standard addressing system for efficient delivery of postal services was highly commendable.
The main thrust of the National Addressing Policy, the minister said, should be the provision of uniform way of naming streets, numbering houses and building address databases. The policy shall be applicable to all structures and land tracts within the local jurisdiction across the country with the objective of harnessing physical development in local governments. It will also provide a framework for standardising the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of various socio-economic data needed to sustain and enhance national development, the minister said.
Opening on the salient issues of the policy the Post Master General of the Federation, Ibrahim Mori-Baba said the planned policy was targeted at formulating a policy framework to address critical national infrastructure that would be used for national development, as well as to design uniform street naming, house numbering and address data patterns for Nigeria, which would be used for planning and other multi-sectoral purposes.
"The rationale of the policy is that a standard addressing will assist the growth of commerce and industry, increase efficiency among security operatives, ease mail distribution and delivery and enhance quality of life," Mori-Baba said.
According to Mori-Baba, the planned policy would be adopted and implemented through the National Postal Code System, National Address System, National Address Standard and Funding Policy. For the National Post Code, Mori-Baba said the existing six-digit National Postcode shall be adopted as the foundational infrastructure for the development of postcode element of the National Addressing System, and that the six-digit postcode may be extended by additional digits to allow for further breakdown of postcode areas into smaller units for street levels and lower levels facilities identification to enhance effective uniform adoption and usage of all other interests.
While the National Addressing System would be established as a critical infrastructure for national development, the National Addressing Standard as approved by the National Addressing System (NAS) Council and published by NIPOST, shall be adopted as a national framework document for the implementation of the National Addressing System, Mori-Baba said.
According to the released draft National Addressing Policy, stakeholders shall actively promote funding for all activities and work out further mechanisms of obtaining funds for the national addressing system. Government shall also establish a National Addressing System Fund to be domiciled in the Ministry of Communication Technology, through appropriation or federal government subvention, and government shall support each strategic stakeholder as identified in the policy document with adequate annual budgetary provision.
The committee that will drive the policy shall promote its activities and workout mechanism for obtaining other funds from national and international sources. National sources include but not limited to levies, tariff and grants, while the international sources include but not limited to United Nation Development Project, United Nation Habitat, and it is expected that the level of funding and the respective sources shall be reviewed every three years.
Policies and Treaties
The draft National Addressing Policy made some clarifications on related national policies and international treaties, stating that the Council on National Addressing System shall promote synergy among policies and legislation and that where policy conflict arises, the council shall ensure amicable resolution in the national interest.
The council shall represent Nigeria on the implementation of International Convention Treaties as they relate to national addressing. The committee shall also ensure active participation in the development of regional and global initiatives and take advantage of global best practices.