19 August 2012

Nigeria: Abuja Vendors Cry for Help


They are ubiquitous on the streets of Abuja but they say despite their prominence basic challneges still beset their trade

Thirty-five-year-old Godwin Obong's daily efforts to make stipends for his upkeep are centred on his job as a newspaper vendor on the streets of Abuja. A graduate of Economics from one of the nation's foremost universities he was pushed into the trade by circumstances beyond him but as an alternative to life of unemployment. Rather than depend on friends or family members for handouts, he believes his job as a vendor is enough to sustain him in the rapidly growing capital city. On a typical day he can be found around the metropolis chasing motorists in an attempt to sell his wares. It is a back-breaking job and has its own fair share of risks. Many times he has seen vendors being hit by cars in a rush to get to their destinations and who see these nuisance or other roadside traders as obstacles. But for now until the young man gets an alternative he has to eke out on the harsh streets of the federal capital territory.

Roland Ndubisi (not real name) is an elderly vendor who plies his trade at the Area One section of the city. He gives an exciting insight into the world of the average vendor on the streets of Abuja. 'It is a risky job, but for most of us, we would rather do it than do any other job. It has its own benefits and disadvantages just like any other trade. I used to market my papers at Kubwa but I recently relocated to the city centre because I thought it would be more profitable. As a vendor, you have to be very fast at your job or you will not make it.

You can see how these cars are moving very fast. A vendor has to keep pace with them, as most of them would not wait a bit to allow the transaction end well. A vendor who is not fast or smart may get hit by them. You can see that I am not amongst the other vendors you see in the thick of the traffic as age is no longer on my side. That is the life of the average vendor. If only the vendors will exercise patience more for us it would be better for us,' he enthuses as a potential buyer whistles to him from a vehicle. He gratefully struts off to the motorist who has graciously parked by the roadside.

The elderly man has some other grouse he wants addressed by those concerned. 'Most of the media houses concentrate their efforts on making life easier for vendors in the city centre. They do not consider the plight of some of us in the suburbs. For example when they are giving out newspaper stands they only concentrate on those in the city centre. They do not provide such business shelters for those in the outskirts and the few they route through the vendors association get distributed only amongst the executives of the association. They should encourage us the vendors more as we are the ones that make money for every other person involved in this newspaper business.'

For another vendor who simply identifies himself as Innocent, the issue of adequate compensation for their labour is paramount. 'The amount one makes on a daily basis is not encouraging. We make a maximum of N20 from each copy sold. And no distributor will give you more than 20 copies of each newspaper. And in most cases you don't even sell everything in your stock. The amount you make at the end of the day is not enough to take care of your needs. Nowadays people no longer patronise us as in the past.'

Evans Oriri is the executive chairman of the Newspaper Vendors Association of Abuja and he commends the efforts of some media houses in ameliorating the plight of his members. But he says there is still need for more to be done to further encourage them. 'For one, we would appreciate it if they can assist us in setting up a newspaper village for us. Where we are now in Area One is just a temporary site given by government and it is not conducive. When we have premises of our own it would be a starting point. We know that it is not easy to please everyone but media houses can contribute towards this vision. They should also look into the area of commission they give us, the distributors and vendors. What they give presently is globally accepted but we need to look at the peculiar circumstances of our own country before lining up to follow their own pattern.

In the advent of the new social media, like online news media, in foreign countries a reader may read online and still go out there on the streets to purchase a hard copy, but in Nigeria once our readers read the online version they do not bother to buy the hard copy and this eventually impacts negatively on sales. One other alternative we are considering may be to urge media houses to delay the online version for as long as possible so that we can sell substantial copies. I sincerely also feel that there should be a legislation that will strive to balance the ongoing conflict between online news and the conventional news dissemination mode of newspapers (hard copy).

On his part, Edmund Arikpo, chairman board of trustees of the vendors association adds that the vendoring business is fast losing its lucrative status going by the sharp decline in membership of the union. He says inter alia that, 'we used to have over 748 registered members but as at the last accreditation exercise we held we documented only 441 members.

That is to show you that our people are moving out of the business. How do you expect a vendor to survive when he only has access to about 20 copies from each medium on a daily basis at a meagre commission, also considering the fact that not every copy is eventually sold. You know that the age of the internet has caught up with us and most people do not want to buy a paper whose news they have already read online. If only they (media houses) can delay their online news till after noon everyday maybe sales would improve. The newspaper houses should also stop accrediting corporate vendors as they cut into the expected profit margin of our members. The media houses can encourage us by giving us some credit leverage especially when we cannot meet up with our financial responsibilities to them'

On the allegation that newsstands donated by the media companies to assist vendors were dubiously shared by executive members, he debunks this. 'It was actually the vendors' association executives that got in touch with these media houses seeking their help in providing newsstands for members when the government started disturbing us to get them.

Many media houses responded positively but what was given could certainly not be enough to for all the needs of all the members. And, of course, if all the members were provided with these stands you cannot just give them out as the whole city would then become littered with stands and the FCT administration will not allow these.

The few that were distributed to members were given after certain criteria were considered, such as the allotee's participation in union's activities, years of membership and also distribution patterns of these stands as specified by the union leadership. Nobody was allocated stands without due process followed. The problem is that you cannot please everybody.'

Rasheed Yusuf, Head, Planning and Distribution, Media Trust states emphatically that vendors play a very prominent role in the dissemination and commercial process of newspapers and magazines worldwide and thus should be appreciated more. In his estimation their role dwarfs that of the distributors. 'Although they are all partners in progress, the vendors are the ones that can be seen on the streets under the rain and in the sun selling these papers. They are the ones risking their lives by on the streets especially in tenses traffic situations.

They make sure the papers get to their final destinations. Even in the long run they make less money as low as N20 on each copy sold than even the distributors who can only be found at the distribution points. In my own estimation they are the ones who should be commended and appreciated in this newspaper business and everything must be done by newspaper outfits to make sure that they are adequately taken care of".

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