•Vendors-free readers' deal work against newspaper sales
By VINCENT UKPONG KALU, DENNIS UGBUDIAN and WOLE BALOGUN
Saturday , March 6 , 2010
•All eyes on newspapers; But they don't buy
To gauge the level of how informed Nigerians are, a visit to newsstands at various bus stops in the morning provides the answer.
Every morning people gather at the newsstands, they are mostly those who want to read the newspapers and magazines for free and in Nigeria parlance, they are called members of the unofficial Free Readers Association (FRA). They are busy flipping through the papers to know what transpires all over the world. They drag for space while burying their heads in the papers as if their lives depend on them.
After freely glancing through the headlines of the dailies they begin to debate on contemporary issues raised in the papers. There is no agenda for discussion, but everything is the agenda. The agenda are drawn from the leading stories on the dailies.
Most of the people are jobless who find a job taking to the newsstands as a means of filling the gap of idleness reading newspapers and so must come out everyday to update their knowledge on developments and events.
They are all adults and cut across age brackets. When the topic requires historical facts, the elderly ones provide the background. The person that usually stuns and excites the crowd in the analysis and commentary of issues is one that is fluent and seems to command some elements of good expression.
However the prominent feature at the stands is the kind and level of discourse, usually argumentative and intellectual advanced by passionate Nigerians who are either newspaper buyers or members of the free readers.
They are analytical, knowledgeable and above all political. Those who constitute lead panelists are the free readers. They visit the newsstand as early as possible; liaise with the vendor who then allows them to read new copies of papers either for a token or entirely free. While reading these papers, the debate begins. The issues that usually top the agenda for debate range from politics, sports, and economy to high society and other current issues.
The free readers among these discussants display an adequate knowledge of a chronicle of events that have been happening and shaping the nation for several months and years ago. And they use history to analyze current issues. If there is a need to sample public opinion on any pressing national issue, meeting the people at newsstand is a most wise decision. While many of these discussants argued that Turai had stepped beyond her bounds in the manner she is handling the health of the president by barring Nigerian officials from seeing Yar 'Adua, some argue in the contrary. One unique thing about them as it is with brainstorm is the penchant to take opposite sides on issues of discussion.
Most of the FRA members Saturday Sun eavesdropped on welcome Dr. Goodluck Jonathan's emergence as acting president but the house was divided on having him as substantive president. Yet, a faction believes that Jonathan as president would solve Niger Delta problem.
At some newsstands the readers and debaters are usually into groups arguing and debating. These are some that may not be interested in politics and national issues but on sports, they stay away from the groups discussing politics.
At the newsstand at Ajao Estate Gate by the International Airport Road, Lagos,
it was a wonder that the dominant topic of the day was not even the economic woes or the politics of Yar'Adua's of the nation but the English Premier League. They seemed to have been tired of the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria. Many fans were in lamentation of the fate that befell Manchester United Football Club in the hands of Everton, which slaughtered them three goals to one the previous day. Their argument is that the slip by Manchester United has allowed Chelsea to have a four point gap on the league table having overrun the hard fighting Wolves FC by two goals to nil, courtesy of Didier Drogba. As the debate rages, it became a hot argument between various fans over which team is better and the one that is likely to carry the trophy at the end of the season.
When Saturday Sun sought to know why they have preoccupied themselves with football activities and developments that is played far away from here, one of the fans replied that it was the only thing that gives them joy in the face of the economic hardship in Nigeria. Asked whether they pay to read the papers, one of the fans that gave his name as Oladele Shittu said, 'I have not been told to pay since I have been coming here to read papers.
Also the fate of Super Eagles in the on coming World Cup in South Africa and the sacked national coach is also another issue. The roadside parliamentarians believe that it was a waste of national resources for the NFF to go abroad to interview coaches for the national team.
Some others on their way to work would stop by at the stands, while waiting for vehicles would freely be glancing through the headlines and join in the debate. It is always a rowdy and noisy session where no one actually allows the other to argue out his points or fights rather had to win in the debate as if in a contest. The blaring and hooting of horns by motorists and cacophony of noise by conductors beckoning on commuters to board their vehicles add to the rowdy session at this parliament.
In some cases, when the argument gets hotter and is not in favour of a particular discussant tempers start rising and unlike our elected legislators that resort to fisticuff to settle arguments and debates, these newsstands parliamentarians maintain their cool under such circumstances.
These days the main agenda that dominate the discussion is still the state of nation and the politics of President Umaru Yar'Adua's ill health, which led to his being flown to Saudi Arabia on medical emergency and his return. At this parliament, there is no story you would not hear ranging from bizarre to the ridiculous.
The sack of Amodu as the Eagles' coach was highly welcome by many just as many would be happy if Jonathan ensured the implementation of the Uwais report on electoral reforms.
Saturday Sun asked why many of these parliamentarians prefer to be free readers instead of buying papers and go home to digest it, some of them said the economic hardship is responsible for that because some of them are unemployed and just want to keep abreast of development. Some of the unemployed go to newsstands not for any other thing but to look for advertisements for vacancies in the labour market. 'Most of us are unemployed and hardly afford three square meals. How do we get N150 to buy paper? We need these papers on daily basis to know what is happening and if there is vacancy for employment,' a young free reader who pleaded anonymity said.
One of the readers said that he was buying one daily every day and stopped doing that when the cover price of the papers increased and his responsibilities at home also increased while his income did not correspondingly increase. According to him, the vendor is his customer and because of long time business relationship that is why whenever he comes to read, the vendor would allow him to read as many papers as possible. Others will also come to buy one paper but will first peruse other papers before buying one and would also join in the debate.
Vendors rip publishers
Some of the vendors lease out newspapers and magazines for a fee. At many newsstands, vedors provide benches for the readers who pay them between N30 and N50 to read as many papers as they want. Some of the readers greatly patronise them in this direction especially those that are searching for jobs and others who want to digest the papers properly and enjoy more than one. The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria had in the past expressed worry over this development, which it said was affecting the business of its members. In the evening some newspapers sell for as low as 50 percent of its cover price. According to the vendors, most of the publishers of the papers don't accept unsold copies. So, if you fail to sell the copies you collected, you bear the loss. That is why many vendors are afraid of collecting many copies from them.'
However, Helen Dimkpa, a 50 year-old woman who has been selling newspapers for about 17 years said that she does not collect money from the readers. According to her, she allows them just out of compassion. 'You know many of them don't have jobs so it is difficult for a jobless person to buy papers. Many of them who are in search of jobs usually come here to read papers everyday. I don't collect money from them like others are doing. It was only recently that I started collecting N30 from those reading a particular daily that publishes vacancies for job opportunities twice in a week because the publishers don't accept unsold copies on those two days from us. Many people read it because of job opportunities. So when you see me shouting at the free readers sometimes, don't blame me, just know that it is the loss I am thinking about.'