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How “free readers” colonize Lagos newsstands

Fela was indeed apt with the graphic description of Ojuelegba given the human and vehicular movement which characterised the place. Today,Ojuelegba is fast gaining another…

Fela was indeed apt with the graphic description of Ojuelegba given the human and vehicular movement which characterised the place.

Today,Ojuelegba is fast gaining another pride as it has now become the congregation of people who daily and routinely gather at the newsstand to read papers free of charge. Because of the rehabilitation work that has gone into the place now by the Lagos State government it is now easy for this readers to mill round different locations of the place to read newspapers without bothering about vehicular movement.

The practice is not limited to Ojuelegba alone as it has now spread to every nook and cranny of Lagos. From Ikeja to CMS,Orile, Lagos Island ,Oshodi,Palmgrove and environs, the practice has become common.

The component of this group, which has been corruptly dubbed Free Reader Association of Nigeria, include graduates, unemployed, retirees, pensioners, civil servants, artisans, aged, miscreants and even pickpockets.

According to investigation, these people gathered at the newsstand as early as 6am daily on arrival of newspapers to read the content therein and may not leave there until 2pm.

After digesting the content of the papers, they will venture into discussion on various issues discussed in the medium.

Usually this discussion lasts for several hours depending on the issues addressed and the way and manners the discussants marshal their points in the discussion.

Besides, what is striking is the way the readers initiate discussion and sometimes end same likened to the nation’s National Assembly. Usually somebody initiates a discussion based on the content of the newspaper following which others follow with their opinion or what ought to be or not. Discussion does not always end peacefully forcing the gathering to disperse in different direction and reconvene the following day.

Some of the issues that usually caught the attention of the readers ranges from politics, economy, sport, judiciary and etc.

For instance the ongoing discourse on the Peoples Democratic Parting’s (PDP) political zoning arrangement has been x-rayed by these readers. Our correspondent cut into this discussion at Ojuelegba newsstands recently where majority of the readers after extensive debate agreed also that zoning would not do the nation any good and Nigerians irrespective of creed, religion, age and tribe should be given equal access to the political and economic determination of the country.

One of the readers, called Major, a retiree said, “Zoning arrangement is awkward at this century when the world is going places and electing leaders that can break borders, barriers and create opportunities. Nigeria should not make the mistake of tying its fortune along ethnicity line.

Perhaps, Nigeria’s dismal performance at the last world cup in South Africa shows the depth and crude nature some of these readers approach the round leather game.

At the CMS  newsstand on the day the nation crashed out of the tournament , readers exchange brawl on the fact that it was Isma’el Kaita who caused the nation’s misfortune and that the coach should be given the boot on arriving the country. Some suggested that Kaita should not be given a second chance to play for the country again.

But the Kaita issue did not go down well with an Okada man,who is from the North. He challenged the discussants and within a twinkle of an eye they began to exchange fisticuff .It took the intervention of police to settle the brawl.

Besides, the gathering sometimes discusses issues outside the content of newspapers. They gossip about marriage.

The gathering has also become a veritable instrument of miscreants and pick-pockets, whose pre-occupation is not indeed to read and engage in hot debate but to strike on their preys.

One of these pick-pockets was caught at Oshodi newsstand recently and was beaten to a stupor by passers-by

Because of the growing number of these readers, newpaper vendor have devised a way of catching in on the development by charging a fee for reading newspapers. The vendors now charge N50 per reader

Mr Asiwaju Adewale,one of  vendors in Ojelegba told our correspondent that it was all the readers that pay the N50 charge as some of them milled around the  few who pay the charge.

He said the readers who pay the charge were mostly unemployed and graduate

He said the charge has to some extent militated against the loss he would incur on unsold copies of the newspapers.

He said, “The cost of newspaper is high compared to the cost of living in the country. Our sales is very low and there is nothing we can do about that. The only thing we now do is to charge a peanut from readers who cannot afford N200 to buy the paper. By doing that we are helping them and at the same time helping ourselves. “

On the debate usually engaged by some of the readers at the newsstand, he said, “I personally enjoy it. I have been in this business for the past 20 years, and if there is something I’ve gained it is the fact that different people from different background come here daily to discuss Nigeria and issues which have enriched me intellectually. Before I started this business I didn’t have a certificate, but through the influence of the readers, I got my OND certificate which to me is worthwhile.’’

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