Reading is a favourite past time of many. Some do it simply for knowledge-as part of formal education while others do it for some other reasons. It is so important that a saying ‘’readers are leaders’’ underscores its relevance. Readers clubs have been formed in various societies and educational institutions. Today, reading newspapers which dates back to the discovery of printing is still common, despite the existence of online editions. It is important for social, political and economic development. In Nigeria, there are various newspapers and the emergence of even new ones seems to prove that the print media houses are having a good time.
However, of great interest is the newspaper reading trend which has been in existence in various nooks and crannies of Nigeria. It is jokingly called the ‘’The Free Readers Club’’. Its members are seen under the sheds in newspaper stands, where they sit down at various points reading the day’s newspapers and discussing issues of national interest. This fast growing trend emanated some years ago, when the Nigerian economy dwindled under military leadership and it has come to stay, even though the nation’s economy is more buoyant now.
The club consists of people of various social status. They include the literate janitors, traders, middle class workers including civil servants and bankers and even top executives who savour the excitement of discussing current issues with others while they read the dailies. Students especially University undergraduates are a common sight there too.
The most common attribute among the readers at the newspaper stands, is the fact that many of them cannot afford to buy newspapers every day. It is their love for being informed, educated and entertained through the newspapers that brings them to the stands daily. Some of the readers are those, who just simply indulge in the act to kill boredom, most of whom are unemployed youths. Interestingly, as some of these readers while away their time at the newspaper stands, they also use the opportunity to search for job vacancies and other relevant information in the papers. Thus, it is not unusual to see fellows who bring out a piece of paper from their pockets or wallets to copy important information.
From Water Works Rd. bus stop stand in Abakaliki to the Kofan Kaura Round about, tree shed newspaper stand in Katsina or from Oshodi bus stop, free readers club to University of Jos, bus stop stand, people will always gather at newspaper selling points to devour the latest news. Discussions on the latest Government policies, Nigerian politics, the president’s style of leadership, global issues, the latest soccer games in the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League as well as the exploits of Nigerian footballers in Europe, top the much talked about issues amongst others.
In order to maximize their use of time and the opportunities available, some of these readers have their lunch at the stands by patronizing the food vendors popularly called ‘’mama put’’. To them it could be real fun as they chose from various options such as African salad, roasted dodo, roasted yam, akara, fried potato and plantain, okpa or fura de nunu depending on the city they live. Others choose to settle for snacks while some who are privileged to have a wife that cooks for them at home or simply do not eat outside just spend their time reading the papers and discussing. Many fellows also use the opportunity to make telephone calls at mobile phone stands available or simply by signalling anyone who advertises the service nearby so at to make calls.
Some readers are more assertive than others in the discussion and do most of the talking. Certain readers are simply ‘’o yes’’ members who read and read without having their own view point on issues; they are always eager to be convinced. At some points such discussions lead to arguments and even shouting marches and exchange of words. Just before the US presidential elections, conversations such as this were often heard there.
‘’You people do not understand the whites, they will never allow Obama to get there!’’
‘’It’s not true, Obama is almost a white, his Mama is oyibo’’
‘’If his mother is oyibo, does that make him oyibo?’’. At certain point some arguers tend to give up, either because they do not want to spend all their time doing that or because they have run short of ideas. Such people will still want to make their point as they ease out of the argument.
‘’Well, even if Obama is not full oyibo, we know that his father is a full bred African’’. At such a point someone else could just cut into the discussion.
‘’O yes! That will mean free US visa’s to Africans..chei! I can’t wait for him to win o!’’ .This kind of remark expressing a great expectation will suddenly digress the discussion, as the issue will turn from US politics to US immigration.
Another line of discussion that attracts a great deal of argument is the review of a soccer game.
‘’We would have won that game if Kanu was brought into the pitch in the second half’’
‘’No way! That was before, Kanu is old now, they bench him in Portsmouth, Osaze would have been better’’
‘’Bench who? Who gave Portsmouth the victory in the FA cup? Eh! Forget his age, it’s a talk of experience.’’. With such a defending statement comes a chorus of yes and no, from those who agree or disagree with the speaker. The discussions do not end abruptly; it only digresses from one issue to another. The fellows, who derive joy in talking occasionally, keep mute in order to glance into the newspaper for hotter gist. After getting done with a newspaper they walk to the stand, drop the paper they just read earlier and pick another one.
One wonders if the newspaper vendors who operate the stand, experience less sales because of this trend but it appear that they enjoy the company of these readers. Some of these vendors sell light refreshments, a business that the readers patronise; this gives the vendors extra income. Occasionally, the newspaper readers tip the vendor-this could be likened to the club fees! It does ensure that they are welcome from time to time.
It is impressive to note that a brief presence at these newspaper stands will show the visitor or partaker that the average Nigerian is very intelligent. Current issues are analysed from various perspectives. There is also an avalanche of ideas freely expressed which could be useful in solving various problems associated with governance, security, business and sports especially in the area of coaching in football.
Whether one buys his newspaper and reads it in the comfort of his home, reads it electronically on the internet or reads it as a free reader, it is certain that many Nigerians will continue to read newspapers in the sheds of newspaper stands. It is an outdoor leisure activity that many people cherish.