With the current array of communication media available in today’s world – the electronic or email, the short message service or SMS, voice and video calls, sharing and exchanging of information and ideas through social media – it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a world where most of these did not exist. It is also of interest that a good number of the media have only come into use in the last twenty years approximately.
1901 one Shilling Southern Nigeria postage stamp
Communication has always been a top priority of the human existence. This is perhaps attested to by the picture writings of archeological findings on ancient cave walls. Postal communications (and the radiotelegraph developed later) were probably the only means of long distance communication in Nigeria during the early and mid-twentieth century period of colonial rule. It may also appear that next in the line of priorities after hospitals, was the development of the colonial Post Office. The provision of hospitals and health care infrastructure were of top priority. The first few years of European presence had resulted in so many deaths for the new settlers, it unfortunately earned the African continent the sobriquet “white man’s grave.”
Post offices were of almost equal importance. They provided an undisrupted flow of communication between the colonial office and the administration in Nigeria, and thereby represented a pivotal tool in the colonial administrative process. Their function was however not limited to providing postal services; the post offices were also often equipped with telephone exchange facilities. Aside from their role in relaying official correspondences, post offices equally helped colonial civil servants, service personnel of the Royal West African frontier force (RWAFF) and other settlers of the time keep constant touch with families back home.
The ‘Sorting’ office
The Public Works Department (PWD) had designed and built these post offices across Nigeria as part of the wider colonial building program. As with most other public buildings of the time, the designs were based on ‘Type’ categories. These categories had perhaps reflected the postal requirements of various settlement types. This ranged from village, to native administration center, division, provincial headquarters and colony. Like the example shown below, the post offices were mostly designed in simple geometric open plan forms. The postage and package sorting office is the focus of activities, and has a larger dimension than the other spaces. The entrance features an open porch, fronted by a classical archway and topped by a parapet. The hipped roof form provides a conical, prism shaped backdrop, that makes the design exude a note of brilliance, simplicity and well-proportioned forms.
1946 PWD Post Office drawing