As I make my way through Ojuelegba en route Akoka to my alma mater, the morning rush characteristic of the city is at its peak with a beehive of activities already picking up as traders of all sort display their wares. Amongst my early callers is the newsstand just under the Ojuelegba bridge where I stop by to steal a glance at the day’s headlines. One newsstand out of the many others sprawled across the city along major routes often characterized by a high traffic of commuters. Yet, most share a commonality in structure as the setting is at best a modest make-shift wooden table with dozens of newspapers and magazines neatly stacked. As I’ve come to observe over the years, even though you may want to be cautious, such places are not necessarily dotted by truants but rather an attraction for information savvy individuals usually of the low and average class. Thus, what you find is a mix of literate and semi-literate individuals usually male (ironically, I’ve never come across a female!).
It all starts rather quietly. One by one, passersby take a peek at the displayed publications. For the employee who’s in a rush to catch up with early resumption at work, he steals only a few glances then dashes off. For others without a care for time consciousness, they glance from headline to headline. Then, the numbers start to build. Amongst the latter, the catchy phrases of some headlines prompt for in-depth reading which attracts a stipend of 10 naira. The foregoing make up a section of the customers as they assume different postures, many standing, flipping through the pages. That section can be further divided into two categories with job seekers forming the pack on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the Guardian newspaper rich in employment prospects. The others: students on the lookout for admission lists into tertiary institutions; sports’ fans looking out for the latest results. Yet, others like me just want to stay informed for obvious reasons. To be fair, a section of readers only want to be sure that the newspaper is worth buying and would upon glancing at the headlines or flipping through, eventually pay to own one.
One comment on an issue is all it takes to elicit the debates that follow. At this point, the numbers have built up to about a dozen and spirits braced up for a good debate. Nigerians are good commentators and anyone with a need for proof need not look beyond these newsstands. The really hot categories are politics, sports and the economy with the issues on debate drawn from popular news making the rounds presently. Few if any bother to read through magazines like Ovations which these ilks obviously can’t relate to. For some, it’s sports. Even at an average cost of 30 naira for the likes of Complete Sports, 10 naira for a session still comes better since it’s a read once-dispose medium. This crops look out for d latest soccer results in the domestic and international leagues; others for transfer stories. In the end, this same info feeds the burner for the arguments to follow as fans/analysts take center stage with conflicting facts.
It seems someone knows much more than the others as the main speaker commands the attention of others. Thus, what usually starts out as a field for everyone ends up with the chief speaker who seems to have more than enough facts to support his argument. The manner he rants suggests a well enlightened figure whose facts pool from an array of sources; local to international. Other times, the man is only the regular customer. It doesn’t matter that he’s never bought a single newspaper from the vendor. No! He’s just a more frequent face, probably unemployed or a retiree or hustler to coin a popular phrase, middle aged and one who’s already won the hearts of many in past arguments.
Yet, don’t be fooled for if you are conversant with this arena, you’ll know that in most cases, the crown belongs to the man with a good display of wit and not necessarily one with proven facts; style matters here! A good command of choice words is enough to displace other competitors on the topical issue on debate especially if they are ill-informed and insecure. And, don’t expect to see anyone flick on a Blackberry phone to double check on the facts thrown by the speaker to back up his arguments. If they had one, they wouldn’t be paying 10 naira to flip through the daily! That individual seems to know someone, an informant, close source who he lays claim to as a reliable source for his supporting facts. He may also claim to have or have had direct relationship with the subject. Anything however superfluous to support his arguments; egos play out too! Well, in the end, it all adds to the fun as gibes and laughter follow.
Many wonder, how then do these vendors make money? Well, I wonder too given a good number of papers remain on the stands even in d evenings. Few minutes later, d crowd disperses to be replaced by the next session of readers.