Ever wondered why newsstands in major Nigerian cities have become a veritable source of information gathering? Take a peep into the world of the Free Readers.
Members of the Newspaper Free Readers Association will be sure to thrill, amaze, captivate and enchant you with their knowledge of happenings in the country and the world at large.
They will regale with you the economic policies of the government of different countries, the football players that earn millions of Pounds, who will win in any given election, the price of oil in the next five years, and just about anything on the surface of the earth.
From Ojuelegba to Oshodi, from Ojota to Ojodu, Ikeja to CMS, from Lagos Island to Orile, the Free Readers have one thing in common. They possess an amazing knowledge of happenings in the society you would wonder at their prowess.
You will see a congregation of people from all walks of life gathering daily and routinely at the newsstand to read papers free of charge and give their opinions, sometimes doing everything to make their views acceptable and forcing them down the throats of others.
The component of this group includes graduates, unemployed, retirees, pensioners, civil servants, artisans, aged, miscreants and even pickpockets who all mill together to either read the newspapers or argue about just about anything that catches their fancies.
These Free Readers make it a point of duty to gather at the newsstands as early as 6 am daily, on arrival of newspapers to read the content therein and may not leave there until 2 pm, only to regroup again at 5 pm when evening papers hit the stands.
After digesting the contents of the papers, they go into discussions and debates on various issues discussed in the papers, often times pretending to know more than the journalists who pieced the news together in the first place.
These discussions can last for hours depending on the issues addressed and the manners the panelists marshal their points in the discussion.
Sometimes, you would notice serious arguments and fights breaking out if one member vehemently disagrees with someone's point of view.
Discussions do not always end peacefully, sometimes forcing the gathering to disperse in different directions and reconvene the following day.
Some of the issues that usually catch the attention of the readers range from politics, economy, sport, corruption, sex, entertainment, society, judiciary etc.
They will x-ray and dissect issues better than what you get from renowned journalists and analysts, let you know what will happen in such situations, who stand to lose or gain from any political arrangements and who will win at a particular election without even campaigning.
Discussions among the free readers are loud, furious and intensified. They are passionate about their views and would dare anyone to challenge their vast fountain of knowledge and would do anything to buttress their points, even if they are out of order.
Newspaper stands can be said to represent the proverbial African Village squares where the people gathered to take decisions on issues concerning their communities in the past.
A peculiar characteristic of the Free Reader is that he can claim to have more knowledge than a Professor or even the president and can do a better job if given the opportunity.
Free Readers know more than the coach of the Super Eagles and know just about every tactics Arsene Wenger or Jose Mourinho should apply in a particular match to come out a winner.
They know the best players Real Madrid or Barcelona should buy to fortify their teams. They know how much Neymar Junior and Kilian Mbape earn as if they were part of the negotiating team of the players.
They know what led to the World War II and exactly what Gen. Yakubu Gowon said that triggered the Civil War. They know the exact time Gen. Emeka Ojukwu boarded the plane that took him out of the country while the war was going on.
They know how much Aliko Dangote is worth and the last amount Davido collected for a performance in the Carribean.
There are three ranks of the Free Reader and they are easily recognized and given their pride of place by the vendor and other readers.
The first rank is the General Reader who pays a token between N50 and N100 and has access to the newsstand and can read all the papers available for the day.
He leads the discussions based on the knowledge he has garnered over the years and is usually a retired civil servant or pensioner who has seen it all.
His knowledge of events and issues come in quite handy and others listen and make reference to him, after all, he is credible and can be a trusted source of information.
The second rank in Free Reader’s Association is the Senior Reader who aspires to be a general reader. He is given that position owing to the fact that he has put in a considerable amount of time at the newsstands and is well known to the vendors since he is a regular.
He must have been a regular customer in the past and owing to this, he has free access to the stands as all the vendors know him. He is the one who often initiates discussions on any topic and waits for others to jump in, to show his prowess and knowledge.
He has all the information at his fingertips, knows the who is who in government even if he has never seen any of them all his life. He is a passionate fan of a European club and can reel out names of past and present players.
He knows when the Super Eagles were called the Red Devils and when India defeated Nigeria 90-0 in an international match and why FIFA banned India from playing football since then.
The third rank of Free Readers are the 'Assistant Vendors.' They have been at the stands long enough to be so trusted by the vendors to help in passing out papers to buyers and even collecting the money for such sales.
Even when the vendor goes on a round of supplies, the assistant vendor does a good job of selling the papers and keeps the money intact and helps in keeping accounts.
Do not joke with these set of free readers because they have so much knowledge of happenings in the world that they can even school a Ph.D. holder.
The job of the Assistant Vendor is usually done by unemployed youths and recently retired civil servants who have a lot of time on their hands and are not in a hurry to get home.
One nice thing about being an assistant vendor is that you can even take some of the unsold papers home and you do not have to pay a dime, after all, you are 'partner' in the business.