•Newsstands are people’s parliament where views are expressed unhindered
By Cosmas Omegoh
Everywhere across the country, the average newsstand wears the toga of the people’s parliament. There, people gather to let out steam. They express their opinions on issues that bother them.
Probably nowhere nowadays offers the people such unfettered opportunity to express themselves and be listened to. It is a place like no other, with the record number of people that troop out to share ideas on various issues of the day and throw banters too.
Indeed, the newsstand is a place to visit every morning. It is home to all the regular, Nigerian newspapers that attract Nigerians of various classes, ranging from the middle class to the hoi polloi. At the newsstands, the attendees grab the news of the days in a jiffy – news they couldn’t pick up from their radio and television sets or the social media.
At every busy newsstand, various Nigerian journals are spread out on big, broad tables, the most prominent being the newspapers. The newsmagazines are also there. But nowadays, this class of publication is becoming increasingly extinct, becoming a vanishing tribe of printed matter.
All the same, there are specialised magazines dealing in various issues and sub sectors of the economy. The soft sell magazines are also dominant. They remain undying because many patronise them because they provide enormous gossips, some of which give enormous comic relief. There are also various publications reporting trends in the sizzling world of sports. Also there are journals dealing in pornography; there are also journals feeding on the perceived deeds or misdeeds of the clergy, not forgetting the ones that target the pro-Biafran and allied activists and a lot more. The publishers of the journals target various audiences, some of which are gullible. The audience sustains the journals because they serve them what they want to see and read.
Amazingly, at various newsstands, the vendors display their marketing skills. They are tricks they have learned over time based on their long-standing understanding of reader behaviour. Most of the vendors, though they have never been to Harvard Business School, understand readers’ attitude to buying the journals. Sometimes, what they know are tricks of the trade that editors and publishers of the papers they sell know nothing about. Because of their years of experience, they know a good story when they see one. They know the ones that sell fast. They know the particular papers that often bear the kind of stories that readers earnestly want to read. And they know how to treat those papers. They place them at vantage positions so that the readers would easily see their offering. Conversely, they tuck the seemingly irrelevant publications at an obscure spot of the newsstand, for they are seemingly real burden to them.
Sometimes, some of these vendors hang the papers with a rope, leaving them for all to see. They compete for space, and in the process sell themselves. Their headlines which range from the banal to the serious, hit everyone like a bullet. Each headline stands out like a true representation of what each journal largely is.
As always, Nigeria readers gather in their large numbers to glimpse at the good news the journals on display, particularly the daily newspapers bear. But while some visitors simply pick up the papers of their choice and leave, some stick to the spot to enjoy free reading, peering at each paper while standing. Everywhere these people are seen, they are called ‘free readers.’ They are common sights that seem like a swarm of insects around the newsstands. The very regular ones know themselves, having been attending the ‘peoples’ parliament’ for a pretty long time. They even seem to have a loose association in each area they operate.
Sometimes when they are done with reading the front page news, they attempt to break into the newspapers’ inner for the meat of the stories, a move some vendors sometimes resist. They are always fighting with the vendors. Some even pay a token to the vendors to have free access. When the headlines are interesting enough, they stop at nothing to get the real gist. Their desperation is easy to understand. In journalism as it is said, ‘good news is the bad news.’ And bad news is never lacking anywhere. There will always be bad news as long as things happen everyday.
Interestingly, many free readers at every newsstand are enlightened people. The least educated ones are at least enlightened enough to access news content. By the virtue of their regular reading, they follow trends in sports, politics, business, economy and more. So they know what is trending anywhere. And they can argue with their soul and spirit unfazed whether they are right or knee deep in ignorance.
When they are done reading as much as they can, they open the ‘parliamentary doors.’ They stay back around the spot to conduct a review of the items they have read. In doing this, they sometimes break into groups of two or more people of like minds. They argue; they haggle; they debate on the issues of the day or season. Rarely do they agree on common issues – the ones that affect the man on the streets.
Watching free readers engage one another can be both illuminating and hilarious. They debate and quarrel over some serious issues, less serious ones and even the mundane. The quality of their argument often points to their understanding of the issues they discus.
Expectedly, in the middle of the pack, are the most vocal ones who set off the discussion and moderate proceedings. They determine the swing of things. In a bid to convincingly drive home their points, they poke fingers at each other’s faces, especially when the issues are contentious and combustible. They gesticulate; they spill lots of saliva trying to make their points quickly. Their voices rise to very high decibel, with the less-vocal ones listening and the gullible ones believing in every thing that has been said even when they are bunkum premised on the sand of ignorance. Such people build their entire worldview around what they hear at the newsstands and nothing more.
Recently, Daily Sun visited some popular newsstands in Lagos to see how readers conduct themselves. The outing was simply amazing. Under the bridge at the busy Ojuelegba Bus Stop, Surulere, is a number of thriving newsstands. The time was 8.30 am. The free readers had read enough of the newspapers headline of the day and had opened the doors of the ‘people’s parliament.’ Top on the agenda was the President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti corruption crusade with the Dasukigate still festering. Already two camps were on each other’s jugular. And the thrust of the debate was, “was President Buhari also guilty or not for allegedly admitting to receiving a gift of a SUV from the embattled former Security Adviser to ex President Goodluck Jonathan, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd).”
A man in his mid 30s was on top of the matter. He was fiery, contending vigorously that President Buhari had done exceedingly well trying to smoke out many who had stolen Nigeria blind. He said if ever Buhari received any of such vehicles as a senior citizen, it was a mere gift from a younger colleague in the army. Listen to him: “As an elder in the force for instance, if you come to me and say take this ooo, it is from the government of the day, I will gladly receive it. It is no corruption; it is no stealing. If ever President Buhari said he got a jeep from Dasuki, it was a mere gift. As a once senior man in government, he would take the gift. After all he did not ask for it.
“I believe all that is coming up now because someone wants to rubbish the anti corruption crusade. Nigerians will not allow that to happen,” he fumed.
He had barely concluded when another man took over from him. “All of them are corrupt,” he said. “You mean to tell me that if you were Buhari and someone sauntered into your home with a gift of an SUV, you would take it without asking questions? We can not be deceived,” he said and the debate went on.
It was another session elsewhere at Ijesha Bus stop on the Mile 2-Oshodi Expressway. The time was about 9am. The newsstand was surrounded by readers. A few metres away stood a handful of ‘parliamentarians.’ They were arguing hotly and could hardly keep their voices low. And the focus was on the rampage of militants in the Niger Delta region. Were the militants right or wrong by blowing up gas pipelines? On one side of the debate was a lanky man, averaging 30 years old, who sounded moderately educated. He said: “Look here, I don’t know why you call those folks militants. They are people fighting for their rights. You cannot come to my home to take away my resources and expect me to keep quiet and watch you go away just like that. Those youths are freedom fighters. They should continue to do what they are doing at the moment until this country listens to them. In this country, one has to fight for his rights; that is it.”
Then a man beside him cut in, firing back with equal venom. “They are no less than Boko Haram. They are economic terrorists,” he thundered and the argument raged on.
Then at a newsstand at Mazamaza, on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, the issues centred around sports and the former Super Eagles’ coach, Sunday Oliseh and the English Premier League. It was just before Oliseh threw in the towel as coach of the Super Eagles.
“This Oliseh will coach Eagles to death,” a man fired, clutching a popular sporting journal. “See, he could not even go beyond the first round at the AFCON championship, yet we say he is a coach? I fear for Nigeria ooo!”
Just then a voice rose from the pack: “But the team he took to the championship is home-based. We don’t have quality players at the domestic scene. Or you want the coach to kill himself abi?”
A touching distance away, some other young men were pitched against one another, contending who would claim the Premiership diadem. Will Arsenal or Manchester City overtake the surprise team of the moment, Leicester City, now in pole position to win, or will Chelsea rise from its own ashes to produce a rebound?
“Impossible!” a stocky man intoned, laughing, trudging off as he spoke, perhaps, having been around listening all the while.