…we cannot continue to hold off the digitisation of work platforms here simply because they could lead to the loss of employment at certain levels. Inefficiency of the sort that I have been exposed to looking for these books carries a far greater threat to the long-term health of our system.


Such is the full extent of the rot that is Nigeria that nearly every experience of living in the country is a metaphor for dysfunction. For lovers of books, one problem stands out. It is not the impossible conditions faced by would-be authors, book publishers, bookstores, and libraries. No! Addressing any of these would take several tomes. This is simpler. Unless your online credentials are “Tokunbo” (not in the “fairly used” acceptance. But in terms of its inherited rights), you cannot access Amazon’s “Kindle” app on both the “Nigerian” iOS “App Store”, and android “Play Store”. I have been asked why this should matter? Even if one could discount the liminal ethical considerations around intellectual property worries, I think the case against marginalisation of any kind in the production and consumption of cultural values is a very strong one.

Thankfully, the folks at Amazon are not entirely dead to this. So, of the vast digital shelf space that the world’s number one online retailer boasts of, books are the only items that freely ship into Nigeria. No digital items. Not even shirts. The more curmudgeonly of my cohort argue that even this is but the reflection of an old Caucasian conceit: the black man is not naturally drawn to books, so there is no point keeping it away from him. Yet, concerns with intellectual property rights mean that the black man cannot be sold digital stuff: s/he is likelier, in this reading of the problem (especially if Nigerian) to make and sell knock-off copies of these. It doesn’t matter that the same companies give freely to a China that’s ripping them off far more than the entire African continent could possibly do currently — if concerns voiced on the back of America’s new protectionist instincts are to be believed.

All of this is to cavil, though. There is an aspect to Nigeria, that reinforces prejudices. A book off amazon.co.uk can get here in any of three ways. Addressed to friends in the U.K. who then bring it back when on holidays. Or, who hold it poste restante until a friend travels there and back. This process could take anything from a week to an eternity. Packages order via “Standard delivery” by Amazon take four days short of an eternity to get here. It is also cheaper than delivery using “AmazonGlobal Priority”. Packaging and post costs for the latter option are invariably slightly more than the book will ever set you back by. But DHL not only delivers packages through this option to whatever address is on the purchase, they offer you tracking facilities that literally has you following the package through the different ports it goes through. And it’s in, in under three days.

I am told that from the U.K., the packages reach the National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) before they get to the post office. In between these places, it would be interesting to understand the processes that take place. My contacts at the General Post Office either did not know or were not forthcoming.


Given the expense in pound sterling, it is no surprise that I often opt for the delivery option without bells and whistles — no tracking number. Nothing. Worse, the rubric “Delivery By DP” or “Delivery By ROYAL_MAIL” that amazon.co.uk appends to the order details are nearly always meaningless. Because, in my case, having waited days past the expected “delivery date”, I had to go to the General Post Office, Marina, Lagos. That, alas, is where packages via the “standard delivery” option come through.

An amazing place. Courteous staff. But a cross between death and the Sisyphean promise of a full life, it speaks to how we are poorly put together. I am told that from the U.K., the packages reach the National Aviation Handling Company (NAHCO) before they get to the post office. In between these places, it would be interesting to understand the processes that take place. My contacts at the General Post Office either did not know or were not forthcoming. What I saw (intriguing as it was off-putting) was a staff who having asked the nature of the package I was expecting (“from Amazon and addressed to me”. I had to write my name on a piece of paper, torn off a larger ledger-type tome) began rummaging through a pile of letters and parcels. It was a throwback to a period before the personal computer, digitisation, and the gig economy.

Three of the books I ordered off Amazon are past their due delivery dates, and no one seems to know where they are. But that they got to Nigeria is scarcely in doubt. That an inefficient process can’t find them, is no surprise.


Given that these parcels carry barcodes, it would have been far easier to scan them as they are taken delivery of. This way, first, a trail is established that guards against pilferage and carelessness. And second, the interrogation of the database in pursuit of enquiries like mine is rendered a much easier experience. Three of the books I ordered off Amazon are past their due delivery dates, and no one seems to know where they are. But that they got to Nigeria is scarcely in doubt. That an inefficient process can’t find them, is no surprise.

Increasingly, though, we cannot continue to hold off the digitisation of work platforms here simply because they could lead to the loss of employment at certain levels. Inefficiency of the sort that I have been exposed to looking for these books carries a far greater threat to the long-term health of our system.

foraminifera

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.