A Letter from Nigeria

by Betty J. Coxson (Nigeria 1964–65)

    Aba, Nigeria
    October 1, 1964

Postmaster General
Aba, Nigeria

Dear Sir:
     I am reporting that I was insolently invited to leave your country by the officer in charge of the parcels division at the Aba Post Office on Wednesday, September 30. I must admit that my warm feeling for the country suffered a slight chill, but as I thought of all the nice Nigerians I know I decided not to let one nasty one distort my view. Besides, I love my work as a teacher here (at Nigeria’s invitation) and have a little more than a year to serve yet before my government will send me home. I also know that I was not singled out for abuse because I am a foreigner because I have heard of and witnessed similar affronts to Nigerians at the Post Office.
     There is a marked contrast between the attitudes of clerks in the stores and some of the clerks in the post office. After all, you can’t take your business elsewhere if you don’t like the service at the post office. This gives rise to a smug arrogance in some employees that is very distasteful. Some clerks assume they are doing you a favour to sell you a stamp after you have waited in line for 30 minutes or more sometimes. They seem to feel no obligation to the public at all for service, much less courtesy. Poor service because of a shortage of trained help is understandable and excusable, but poor service just because a clerk doesn’t happen to be in the mood to give reasonable service is quite another matter.
     A smile and a pleasant word once in awhile cost nothing and can do a great deal of good in the way of promoting sound public relations. In my own country, government employees at all levels are expected to create good will for the government and civil service by their manner in dealing with the public. The public expects courteous service and gets it. Some postal employees here seem to disregard completely the feelings of the public and even go out of their way to create ill will. I should think this would be a serious handicap to a new government interested in maintaining the loyal support of its people and also interested in impressing business investors from abroad. I would guess that of all government agencies, the post office is the one that has the most dealings with the most people.
     The immediate provocation for this letter was a very unpleasant experience I had when mailing two packages overseas for Christmas. I had the customs forms filled out ahead of time. The clerk weighted the parcels and told me the amount of postage I needed. I had my money ready to give him when he thrust the packages through the window and informed me that I had to gum the customs forms to the packages myself. Since I do not carry gum with me. (I think few people do) I was surprised and annoyed, especially since the same man had gummed the forms to the packages last time with no comment to me that it was not part of the normal routine. I reminded him that he had done it last time and he flippantly told me that I should be grateful for his mistake of last time rather than complaining this time. So I picked up my packages and trekked to the bookstore to buy gum rather than walk back three blocks to my home. When I returned to the post office I gave him the bottle of gum I had bought. With condescending sarcasm, he reached for the bottle of gum that he held an arm’s length away and told me he didn’t need my gum and he was under no obligation to gum my parcels for postal forms. It evidently had given him a great deal of personal pleasure to inconvenience me in this way. If the post office does not require him to provide that small service for its patrons, it should. But whatever is the policy, it should be consistently maintained to avoid creating unnecessary friction and ill feeling. No one will usually object to complying with rules, if he knows what the rules are.
     I know this matter has been brought to the attention of the authorities before. (There was a letter to the editor on this very subject in the Aba paper this week.) All I’m doing is adding my voice to the others in the hope that someone will care enough to do something about it. If nothing happens, it is no loss to me because of my temporary residence here, but at least my conscience won’t bother me that I didn’t try. I would say that the postal clerks should feel a sense of pride in giving good and courteous service to all customers — both Nigerian and foreign. I don’t see how a person can get any pleasure or satisfaction out of doing a job unless he has some rapport with the people with whom he is in daily contact.

Yours very truly,
(Miss) Betty Coxson

 cc.  Postmaster General, Enugu
Officer in Charge of Parcels Dilivery, Aba
Mr. A. Lekwa, manager, ST. Andrew’s Commrcial Sec. School, Aba
Mrs. Margaret Ekpo

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HPBA 18/1/1894/64
Head Postmaster’s Office
Posts and Telegraphs,
ABA: 12th Oct., 1964

Miss Betty Coxson,
51 Milverton,
ABA:

Dear Madam,

Alleged Discourteous Attitude to Miss Betty
Coxson by the Office-Chater- U.K. Parcel
Section Aba.

Your report dated the 2nd Octobrer, 1964 on the above matter was received.
     It is unfortunate that an occasion such as that has happned. However the matter has been given necessary attention.
     The unpleasant situation could have been averted, had knowledge of information contained in Post Office Guide page 17, under the headings:

“OFFICERS MAY NOT ACT AS AGENTS FOR THE PUBLIC,”
“STAMPS TO BE AFFIXED BY THE PUBLIC”

was taken.
     With these therefore, I hope that similar incidence will not reoccure in future.
     But if, at any time you experience any difficulty at Post Office, you may approach any available supervising Officer who is ready to helpyou out. Should that fail, you will then see the Head Postmaster.

Yours faithfully,
HEAD POSTMASTER.

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October 25, 1964

Dear Mom, Betty and Emmett, and the Bellflower tribe,
     You should have seen the red carpet treatment I got yesterday when I went to the Post Office. I was standing in the first line to get my two envelopes weighted so that I would know how much postage when a postal employee touched my arm and asked what I wanted. I told him that I wanted to weight my envelopes. He said he would take them back to find out for me. I said I would wait in line but he insisted. He headed in the direction of the parcels department where I had the trouble before. The man that was so nasty the last time wasn’t there — and I didn’t ask for him, but I hope that he didn’t lose his job because of me. Anyway, this man sold me all the stamps I wanted and asked if I was sure that was all I wanted. He was very pleasant and courteous, but they seem to have completely missed the point that I was trying to make — that every customer should be treated to courteous service and not just the white people or the ones who make the most noise.

Love to all,
Betty