Oh my, I have waited to write this post for years! The title was ready 3 years ago.
For quite a long time, I and many others kept on lamenting about the dire state of Nigerian payments especially as it involved digital payments. It led me to write a blogpost where I lamented life as a second class citizen of the web saying
Don’t fucking worry about bridging the digital divide, just level the playing ground!
If you want the ONE question that disproves the theory about the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ ask 10 000 Lagos dwelling (and possibly all of Nigeria) Nigerians to enter their postcode in a website. An incredible majority would uniformly enter 2341. That could not be further from the truth. 234 1 is the international dialing code to call a Lagos telephone number.
Post Codes are an important ingredient in organizing the addressing system in a nation. Like with many thing in Nigeria, the Nigerian post code system is a huge mess and this has gone on to creating complexities in making deliveries, organizing people within areas etc. (It is a wonder how NIPOST has been allowed to steadily rot to practical non existence for the last decade. Not that it was any good before that).
Basically, postcodes could be made more ubiquitous.
But I digress.
In this post I’d like to proffer a quite simple solution to reactivating the postcode system especially as it concerns the eCommerce sector of the economy.
ALL Nigerian eCommerce companies and new age logistics providers especially the big players have to buy into a single solution. They are quite fond of doing things independently and secretly. This solution has to be independent aka open.
NIPOST and government would contribute by giving moral support and getting out of the way.
While initially thinking of this problem, I wanted us to recreate a new postcode or even addressing system for Nigeria. However, it may be easier to build the existing postcode system first.
I’ll suggest starting with Lagos than proceeding to other states. From the product end, I foresee the following steps in realizing the goal.
Create an easily searchable database/spreadsheet of all the street names, their corresponding post codes, areas, LGAs etc. and of course the corresponding location on a map
Clean up the street name spellings and formats. Is it Awolowo Way, Obafemi Awolowo Way or Chief Obafemi Awolowo Way? Clean up can be continuous, so step 3 is not dependent on the completion of step 2.
Create a simple address plugin that calls that database to for websites that require addresses. The plugin would be used to populate the address fields. The plug in would look like a simple form below
How it would work is, If you put in your postcode only, the street field would have a drop-down of all the streets covered by that postcode. If you do not know your post code, clicking the location button would bring up a map. Selecting your street from the map would pre-populate the fields by guessing their location from a map
A simple but specifically important detail is that while searching for a street name or area name, every part of the word would be searched. So you do not miss a street by typing Awolowo instead of starting with “Chief “
The big 5 eCommerce companies and top 3 logistics firms would agree to integrate this plugin and require ALL customers to input post codes. This is the most important aspect required for this to work. A system is only useful if it is adopted. Thankfully, this is something the private sector can push without requiring the government to interfere.
So How Do We get This Done?
Without consulting my developer buddies, I know the core of this can be implemented in 20 hours over a weekend. Give me Tim Akinbo, Ope Obembe and Kene Udeze (Along with a carton of STAR, peppered snail and Ribena for Kene) and we’ll do the magic. My job is to share the booze and take glory at the end of it all 🙂
All that we ask in return is the commitment of Konga, Jumia and 3 other big ecommerce companies to implement this and we are good to go.
Knowing my country people, I will not be surprised if someone is looking for how to send a proposal to those in government and get paid millions to do this.
Not every-time hammer from government. Sometimes help your country to help you 😉
BTW, either of the big lads can easily do this internally. However, the essence of this project is for it to be a collaboration or an independent effort. We have seen a lot of “my own my own” efforts but those do not get adopted because ulterior movies are usually suspected. Thereby making everyone lose out.
A mobile version of this can be implemented. One button to get the Postcode/Address of any Location you are in.
Nigeria needs to review and update it’s addressing system. Asides Abuja (thanks to El Rufai) navigating addresses is a huge maze. After this is piloted and succeeds, we can then push for the reorganization of our entire addressing system and of course NIPOST.
In another short post (make e be like say I be prolific blogger) , I’ll explain a few non logistics but important usecases for a proper postcode system.
With the full implementation of the TSA policy by the Buhari Administration, SystemSpecs a Nigerian technology company has been accused of swindling the country of billions of Naira using Remita, a product of the company.
The aim of this blog post is to explain Remita’s role in the implementation of the TSA and try to highlight where the issues have come from and ask some pertinent questions.
First, some background information.
TSA, which stands for Treasury Single Account is a policy that intends to consolidate all government revenues in a single account. The idea is, whether you are paying N100 for injection in UBTH (University of Benin Teaching Hospital) or buying crude oil with hundreds of millions of dollars from NNPC, or paying NTA for adverts, all the monies would be domiciled directly into a single account at CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria)
Why is this necessary? This is to avoid situations whereby, administrators of various agencies (UBTH, NNPC and NTA in our examples) from having direct control over the money collected by their agencies. If they need money, they will have to apply to get it from the CBN account. No more dipping hand into the government purse to do “thanks for coming”
Remita, The Chosen One.
Before the TSA implementation, each of the government agencies decided where to open accounts to keep these government revenues and HOW to collect the monies. So the CMD (Chief Medical Director) of UBTH could decide to open 10 bank accounts for UBTH in 5 different banks after a lot of lobbying had been done by branch managers etc, NNPC could have another 20, NTA another 15. This is also where allegations of “fixing money” for interest used to come from.
The implementation of the TSA policy (enshrined in the constitution) was piloted by the Jonathan government. Only a few MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) like the FIRS were chosen to pilot this system.
For the pilot, SystemsSpecs built a product called Remita that could be used to collect and collate money through multiple channels and was chosen to be the software to be used for this collection.
That is the first issue
Sunk Costs and Competition.
There are 2 ways people usually pay for things in Nigeria either with cash deposits at the bank or cashier points, or using a credit/debit card at a POS or online.
BEFORE the TSA implementation, each MDA set up individual systems for collections. Companies like Interswitch, ETranzact, SocketWorks, etc (which primarily do online/digital collection) already spent LOADS of money trying to get the contract to give them the right to collect money on behalf of these agencies. In some cases, they had to build infrastructure in these MDAs (computers, Internet, Generator etc) to make their work easier.
SocketWorks for instance collects money on behalf of Immigration, Interswitch on behalf of many Hospitals and Schools etc, Same with ETranzact. And we are not including “other costs” of doing business in Nigeria. SystemSpecs also had a few customers.
The Buhari then put a deadline for the TSA implementation.
The CBN rationally decided to use the provider and product that had run the pilot system and that was SystemsSpecs’ Remita.
All of a sudden from sharing the spoils of various MDAs, all the other providers lost all those customers and commissions to “one Remita of a somebody”
All their hustle, down the drain.
That is the second issue.
Commissions and Payments
When a person or an entity collects money for you, it is the norm for the person to be paid part of the proceeds to collect and reconcile that money. For online payments, there are many players who share the ~2% fee that is charged the merchant. For cash payments, it is less standardized but it can be up to say 5% of each transaction.
So of the 1000 naira you pay to UBTH via Interswitch’s WebPay or PayDirect, they take ₦20. By the same calculation, if you pay ₦1 Million, they are entitled to ₦20 000. However, there is usually a cap on the amount of commission on each transaction.
Thought Remita transaction charges are capped even on their website, it seems the deal with the federal government is 1% uncapped.
That is the third issue
BEFORE the full implementation of TSA, monies had already been collected. So let us assume UBTH had ₦1 Billion in a Unity Bank account somewhere, they were given a deadline to transfer that money to the TSA domiciled with CBN.
Note that money in Unity Bank was ALREADY less the commissions paid to collectors like Interswitch.
In summary, here are the questions arising that are causing problems.
How was SystemsSpecs/Remita chosen to be the sole collector for the Federal Government? Was the Procurement Act followed?
What happened to the existing systems that were put in place especially the ones that had long term arrangements and high setup cost?
How monies are ALREADY in the system (bank accounts) be transferred to the CBN account?
As for the collection, what is the commission taken my SystemsSpecs? Is it (un)capped?
Those are the main issues from what I understand from all parties. Of course aw with politics, there people are mixing up issues to sell their agenda.
That Remita stands for Remi Tinubu Ahmed as much as Jega stands for Jonathan Ebele Goodluck Azikiwe.
For once, it is a good thing that an indigenous company is being used for such a project.
It is understandable if the Federal Government decides to use a single provider/system for the collection of taxes and revenue. However, it could be a big risk to have one single entity doing everything from Customs to Schools to FIRS.
There should be a transparent procurement process for the service provision and more than one provider chosen.
People are usually crying that Interswitch is the bully. It is interesting to see Interswitch crying foul.
Remita actually uses Interswitch’s WebPay for the online collections part of the as a middleman for the online payments aspect. As at yesterday when I checked, it was no longer working.
As with any blog post on race, I have to include a prelude.
This post is neither meant to be combative nor to apportion any blame. It is merely to add to a continuous conversation about diversity in technology. This post is MY OWN observation made on behalf of MYSELF. If any statement here can be interpreted in more than one way, assume the less combative way and / or ask me for clarification.
I actually wanted to write this over a year ago. However, I had been advised about the risk of branding myself as a diversity activist rather than being primarily known as a technology person. And most importantly, to avoid the risk of pissing off the people who control the tech media. But there is only so long you can postpone a question that pops up in your brain daily. As for the risk, we are in the business of risk taking. 😉
Here is the issue
There are almost zero black faces speaking at the major tech startup conferences held in the US and Europe. And in the rare times they do pop up, e dey get k-leg (basically, it isn’t so straightforward).
Let’s check out the numbers of the most recent major/popular tech events (you can google for previous years).
What you will notice is that in the rare times the black (wo)man is on stage, it somehow manages not to be those who are primarily in the tech field but say, in entertainment or sports. When it’s a tech person, s/he is mostly talking about diversity.
Here is the thing. This past year, I have personally emailed a few of these organizers to highlight the anomaly (no, I will not mention them). I have also recommended speakers. The responses (if they come) have not been positive.
Why are Black Speakers Important?
The Pattern Matching Loop.
When you make a decision based on historical data, you are bound to be biased by the data and produce a similar output. That becomes part of the data set and it continues…in a loop.
When tech black founders aren’t seen on stage (aka recognized as leaders in their field), fewer black kids would believe they have a future to excel in that field. The less black kids go into tech, the lower the chance the situation can change. Of course, that bias does not only influence the future black kids, it affects those looking for a co-founder, those looking for whom to fund etc.
I never blame those that pattern match; it is simply human nature.
While it can be argued that food, music and some sports are cultural and therefore could have an inherent racial bias, tech isn’t.
5 years ago, I asked forthe renowned black founders. While, there has been a lot of progress in that field since then, it has been against the odds.
The about pages and the speaker list of the tech conferences would have more influence on getting more diverse people into the technology field than any other thing I can think of. I know from first hand experience.
Here are some Black Founders and Technologists that should not be overlooked.
First, I have to apologize for putting their names here. Because there is this taint that comes from being used as an example. When they get justifiable noticed, it becomes, “oh, they are there to fill in a quota”. But that could not be further from the truth. These folks deserve to be on the largest stages and are needed to correct the flawed data that say none of the best happen not to be black.
Sim Shagaya(Harvard MBA, first Google Rep for Africa) is building a Nigerian e-commerce giant. Has arguably tamed the German Moving Train known as Rocket Internet’s Jumia with Konga. Raised $78 Million
Iyin Aboyeji(University of Waterloo). At 24 he has finally got his stride in his 3rd tech startup and has co-founded Andela, the mill to churn out the next 100k technologists in Africa. Recently raised $10 million.
Bilikiss Adebiyi (MIT). Using technology to help take away waste while making wealth and helping Lagos go green. Oh! She happens to be Black, Nigerian and Muslim.
Obi Nwosuis co-founder and CTO at a top UK based BitCoin Exchange in the UK called CoinFloor. Doesn’t get more tech than that.
There are many more. However, let me not be accused of being biased towards Nigerians home and abroad. But Charity begins at home 🙂
Aston Motes was the first employee at Dropbox outside the founders. I do not recollect him being on any stage. He cannot be seen as a quota at any conference. And no, he is not a diversity expert.
Juliana Rotich of theBRCK team should be on every stage possible. BRCK is globally genius and should get much more love than it does.
Tony Gaudaa TC Disrupt Finalist build Bitcasa, a Dropbox alternative. He is very qualified to be on any stage talking tech. And so isAnthony Skinner who was the CTO of Moz for many years, especially during their major technology transition.Louise, Kalam andCourtland are some of the black YC alums that are doing stuff as good as those speaking on any stage. So the question of affirmative action does not arise.
BTW, it took me 3 years to know that2 Nigerian brothersfounded a YC coy as far back as 2012. They just never happened to be on any major stage
Like I said above, I actually emailed a tech publication about their speaker lineup after one of their writeups criticizing the tech companies who had released their diversity reports. I didn’t get a response.
I am certain that there isn’t any conspiracy to deny black people in tech stage presence but it is quite easy to take certain things for granted if you are not checking yourself. One example I use to show there is no deliberate plan by white people is one of the quietly best podcasts on tech around,DRT. Only two black people out of the 104 guests so far and the first was number 99. Well, the host is a black british designer 😉
So how do we solve this?
To Affirm or Not to Affirm?
The biggest criticism of affirmative action is that it gives the impression that those who get in are not there based on their competence. Anyone who knows they are worthy on a level playing ground hates it. It is why I apologise to those people I named above. It would seem that they ordinarily would not qualify. That could not be further from the truth based on pedigree and results.
To me, I have started trying to see affirmative action as being more thorough and conscious. Instead of doing a quick Googling to see who to invite to the next conference, spend more time, go more further to find different types of people that QUALIFY to be on your stage. It is that simple!
I also think having a more diverse staff/speaker selectors at the disposal of those organizing tech events would help. People are quick to go for what and whom they know.
Though I fully respect and understand the need for minority focused events, I do not think it alone can help. We belong in the mainstream.
What finally triggered publishing this post (I wrote most of it a month ago) was the latest speaker announced for TC Disrupt London. When I finalized the draft for this post, they had 0 black people and I noted that there was still a chance to rectify it.
Then they chose Henry of Arsenal.
PS: I hope because of this, I’m not punished covertly or overtly by the conference organizers I appear to criticize. This is to keep an important conversation going with good intention.