The Guardian: A Day in the Life of the Flagship

by Bayo Olupohunda

Oga, The Guardian don come? asked the young, scruffy looking vendor as he made to sit on a rickety wooden bench that formed a disorderly row in the busy newspapers distribution centre bustling with a motley crowd of newspaper agents, vendors and layabouts. The young vendor got no answer from the busy middle-age agent who buried himself in the sea of piles of newspapers and magazines all tied up and waiting for distribution. The time was 8 25am on Tuesday 9th of October 2007. It was in the heart of Marina, Lagos and in no other place but the premises of the Newspapers and Magazines Distributors Association of Nigeria.

The premises, which for several years, has served as a distributing hub for all the newspapers and magazine published in Nigeria and overseas, is conveniently tucked under the Marina Bridge overlooking the Lagoon. A hedged-in access road, cordoned off with barbed wire from the Outer Marina will lead you into a fenced compound where you are at once confronted with mountains of newspapers and magazines waiting for delivery to newspaper agents and vendors that are scattered all over the Lagos Island District.

But the main attraction here is the activities of the newspaper agents and vendors who seem to have formed a bond, a fraternity of sort in the business of newspaper distribution. It was indeed a sight to behold as one newspaper arrived after another. As soon as a newspaper arrived, a flurry of activities begins. The human traffic is unimaginable and the camaraderie infectious! Vendors and newspaper agents began the rounds of shoving and pushing. From the large open door of the hall within the premises, vendors emerge and scurry off with bundles of newspapers carried aloft on their heads as if being chased by a thousand demons. In a matter of minutes the activities die off and calm returns.

A newspaper agent whom I had quickly cultivated as acquaintance had told me that what I had witnessed was routine and that the day in question was no different. Having searched without success for a past edition of the Guardian I had needed, a friend whose office is in Marina had advised me to visit the place for a copy of the past copy. He had assured me that if there was any place I was sure to get an old copy of any paper published in Nigeria, the Marina Center offers the best place. So, I woke up very early in the morning and before long had located the largest distribution centre in Lagos. The rain which had poured down in torrents did not deter the human traffic that throngs the premises. As more newspapers arrived, another round of activities began.

The rain continued to drone and for once, all the agents and vendors sat huddled in every available space under the bridge and in the opposite of the expansive hall that serve as the office of the news agents. As the day wore on and the traffic began to build up, news came from all parts of the city that the rain had caused untold vehicular traffic lockdown. That in itself was not new as every rain in this city was usually a harbinger of traffic build up due to blocked drainage leaving the roads flooded. But for the newspaper agents and vendors, their worst nightmare was about to begin. As the time crawled lazily to 1pm and still the Guardian had not arrived, the agents began to make frantic calls to their contacts.

Their fear was palpable and you could at once see the frowns and frustrations on the faces of hundreds of vendors who had now besieged the place. Some of the agents who had grown tired of waiting now began to doze lazily on the wooden benches in the compound. As the waiting continued, it became increasingly difficult to draw any of the agents who were awake into any form of conversation. But I was determined to find out why they were jittery over the non arrival of the Guardian Newspaper in spite of assurances that they had left the print and were headed towards Marina. I moved closer to a middle age newspaper agent who had proudly claimed to have been distributing newspapers since the time of Dele Giwa. I did not doubt him as he reeled out the names of legends of the pen.

Oga, good afternoon, what is happening, why is everybody sad?’ I queried. He looked at me and I could at once see that he thought I was dumb for not knowing what a pall of anxiety and apprehension occasioned by the unavailability of the Guardian had caused.

Na because Guardian never come’ he answered disinterestedly.

‘Oga but other papers have come.

Ah, I know but na Guardian be the koko, If Guardian no come today, na whala.’

He said with a frown on his brow,’

Why you talk say na whala? wetin go happen” I insisted’

This man you funny oh, you no dey this country? You no know say Guardian na the Baba? Even self in some offices on this Marina, if dem no see the paper, dem no go pay the suppliers and vendors’.

Na waoh, so na so the paper strong reach’ I replied, feigning ignorance of the reputation of the Guardian newspaper.

‘Let me tell you’, he went on.’ this distribution centre is the most important one in Nigeria; you know say all the important offices, embassies are located on the Island, and na Guardian dem dey read. That is why all the vendors are not happy. And today come be Tuesday. Do you know how many adverts Guardian dey carry and also the vacancies? Guardian cannot afford not to publish in a day. Make I tell you, if no be Guardian, (sic) all of us for don go home’.

And as if to confirm this assertion, all the vendors and agents huddled on the bench nodded in agreement. And the waiting continued. Vendors moved in and out of the compound. The time was now 2.30pm and still no sign of the Guardian. Frustration boiled over. Now the mobiles telephones of the hundreds of vendors that milled round the center continued to ring ceaselessly. The reason was obvious. The absence of the Guardian among the piles of newspapers supplied to the various highbrow offices had begun to cause ripples. Officials in charge of newspapers in those offices were being pressured by their bosses to explain why the Guardian was not included in their supplies and they in turn called the center to get assurances that the Guardian would still be supplied. This much was revealed to me by the newspaper agent whom I had now identified to be Richard.

All of a sudden, one of the younger newspaper agents announced that the Guardian van was now on top of the Marina Bridge and at once the whole place went up in a loud roar. But it turned out to be a hoax! The offender was chased by another agent in a fit of anger for having the effrontery to cry wolf with a serious matter such as presented by the Guardian delay.

Then at exactly 3pm, the long, blue van of the Guardian appeared from a distance with an obviously wearied driver conspicuously drained from the long hours of traffic. The shouts and songs that rented the air were unprecedented. This was the kind of excitement you see displayed at the height of Enyimba victories at the Aba township stadium. The van was mobbed and at once smiles returned to the faces of the vendors again. Not minding that the day was far spent, hundreds of waiting vendors hurried off with bundles of the paper on their heads with the gait of someone carrying a prize item. In the midst of this flurry of activities, somebody, shouted olori oko ti de (the king of the forest has arrived, an obvious reference to the Guardian appeal). In a matter of minutes, the hundreds of vendor that had throng the place to wait for the Guardian had disappeared into the belly of offices and streets which form the core of the corporate hub of this city, nay Nigeria.

For me, the experience of Tuesday October 9th 2007 was a lesson in the vagaries of newspaper publishing and distribution in Nigeria and indeed Lagos. It also further accentuates the fact that those in the business of newspaper publishing and having the unenviable task of meeting deadlines should indeed be commended. With the chaotic transport situation in Lagos, that newspapers could still get to their readers is indeed a miracle. The experience also brought to my consciousness the difficult job of publishers and journalists who have continued to brace all odds to contribute to nation building. I have often wondered how this set of people continue to surmount the unpredictable transportation system of traffic jams, cancelled flights and deadlines to distribute newspaper to readers all over the country and overseas. No wonder the newsroom is sometimes a mini war zone.

For the risk of being labeled a praise singer (which I am not) the experience at the all powerful Marina newspapers and magazines center also confirms the place of the Guardian as the flagship of Newspaper published in Nigeria and which has also become a reference for Nigerians and non- Nigerians in the Diaspora. This fact has been confirmed by Nigerians themselves and kudos to the staff and indeed the drivers in their distribution chain who have continued to deliver to us fresh prints of ‘Conscience Nurtured by Truth’ on daily basis.

Let us also not forget the ubiquitous vendors and agents who toiled day and night to deliver all newspapers and magazines from the various centres and in traffic jams in spite of all odds. Beyond their quest to eke out a living for their families is the passion they put in their job, they have also continued to contribute in no small measures to national discourse. Without them, majority of Nigerians would have been kept in the dark from the activities of government at all levels and the corrupt tendencies of some men and women whose stock in trade is the continuous looting of our commonwealth.

Back to my search of the old edition of the irrepressible Guardian that had brought me to the Centre and for which I was told I may have to pay a fortune to get, Richard, who is now my contact man, was magnanimous enough to search for a copy of the September edition for me. But not after I had bought the day’s copy of the paper did he offer me my old edition for free and I sauntered off happily home.

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Anonymous October 25, 2007 - 7:06 am

No doubts, Guardian seems to be one of the best dailies one can relly on in Nigeria. But dedicating a whole space like this for only Guardian newspapers makes you a praise singer.

Not too good for a versatile writer like you. Nuzo.

Anonymous October 24, 2007 - 9:15 am

I love the Guardian


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