An Open Source Project Nigeria Needs

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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.

Postcodes are an important ingredient in organizing the addressing system in a nation. Like with many things in Nigeria, the Nigerian post code system is a huge mess and this has gone on to create 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)

But I digress.

In this post I’d like to proffer a simple solution to reactivating the postcode system especially as it concerns the eCommerce sector of the economy.

Prerequisites

1. 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 open.

2. NIPOST and the 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.

Yes, Nigeria has a Post Code System.

I’ll suggest starting with Lagos than proceeding to other states. From the product end, I foresee the following steps in realizing the goal.

1. Create an easily searchable database/spreadsheet of all the street names, their corresponding postcodes, areas, LGAs etc. and of course their corresponding locations on a map.

2. 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.

3. 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 plugin would look like a simple form below.

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4. 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.

5. 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”.

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6. 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 government interference.

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 by the way, any 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.

Notes

1. A mobile version of this can be implemented. One button to get the postcode/address of any location you are in.

2. 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.

3. 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.

This post originally appeared on Osita Nwoye’s blog. Osita ‘Oo’ Nwoye is the cofounder of Fonebase Labs, a Nigerian tech company whose products are Fonenode – a telephony API, Callbase, a virtual contact center and WriteRack.

Photo Credit: airpanther via Compfight cc