By Dele Sobowale

“Were it left to me whether to have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” – Thomas Jefferson, US President, 1743-1826.

All Nigerians alive today and old enough to be conscious of our predicament as a nation are beginning to have an inkling of what life would be without a government. Very few people dispute the fact that nobody is safe anywhere anymore; that power supply, hitherto epileptic, has ceased in many communities; that food scarcity is rapidly becoming a crisis; that education has declined further and no public water supply.

In short, we are lacking everything governments are elected to provide. And, how do we know all these things? Nigerian newspapers, their reporters and correspondents, as well as columnists provide us with information and data which governments would want suppressed. News, in Nigeria, is frequently what governments would not want published. Without the media, mainly the press, we would all be total morons; tossed here and there by the people we often mistakenly elect into office.

Everybody can see how we asked for the current mess in which we find ourselves by re-electing Buhari in 2019. This generation and others coming after us will pay dearly for our blunder. Buhari will leave Nigeria a lot worse than he found it in 2015. You can bet all your money on that.

PRINT MEDIA ON LIFE SUPPORT

“It is unthinkable that wisdom should ever be popular” – Goethe, 1749-1832

Among the institutions receiving the touch of death of this administration is the print media. Newspapers are dying gradually. There is no other way to say the truth. One obvious sign of the problem is the number of pages on the average paper today. When I resumed work at VANGUARD in 1994, we were producing 64 pages and selling at N50 per copy. Being an economist, and not a journalist, I was stupid enough to suggest one day that we could reduce the pages to 56; save costs and make better returns.

The Editorial staff almost brought the roof down on my head. I kept my mouth shut; but, I was certain that events will eventually prove me right. It has been my unenviable luck to be ignored or even abused when talking out of inspiration. Later, the “blaspheme”, for which I would have been thrown into the Kirikiri Canal, was recognised as the way to go. Today, unless there are lots of advertisements, the typical newspaper is 32 pages long; and sells for N200. Deep in my heart I knew I was right and the majority was wrong then. History has proved it.

Only God knows how many millions of dollars we could have saved then when the exchange rate was relatively low. Now, we must pay N420/US$1, official rate or N610/US$1 to purchase newsprint. That is one of the factors why the print media is on its knees. There are others, especially television, the internet, major networks and social media. They are ravaging print media everywhere. This, however, is not the time to discuss those influences; and for a good reason.

Newspapers and magazines still constitute the backbone of news in every nation – even in those countries where they are officially controlled. The reason is simple. All the other sources only skim the headlines of news; they seldom provide enough content for the reader to get the full picture. And, even when television viewers can record in absentia what was missed, it is still an abridged version they receive. Newspapers provide more details and can be read anytime and anywhere – without missing anything. That is their strength; and that is why they will endure a lot longer despite new technologies. Why then is the Nigerian print media in mortal danger?

INTRODUCING NDAN: THE CHANNEL FOR PRINT MEDIA

“You are the salt of the earth”. That was the Divine declaration. He chose a proper metaphor to represent those essential elements in life which ordinary mortals take for granted – until they are missing. Freedom is one example. Until the day I was whisked off by armed policemen from my office at the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM, at Victoria Island, to be detained for eight hours at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, office in Lagos, I took freedom for granted. I had got published an article titled CONFUSED BANK OF NIGERIA, CBN, in 1992, highly critical of CBN’s dual exchange rate policy; and warning about the consequences.

By the time the late Governor of CBN had me released and driven back to my office at 7 pm, my idea of freedom as given had changed. NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES DISTRIBUTORS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, NDAN, is one of those institutions performing a vital function in our country, in an obscure manner, that most of us are not aware of its existence. Yet, without NDAN, all the papers and magazines would never reach us – at least very few will. Journalists, printers and erudite columnists, as well as rabble rousers like me, would labour in vain. Court-ordered notices might be printed; they will stay on the production floors of media houses. Governments’ announcements in print media will be wasted. We will largely become a nation without newspapers. That is a tragedy we should all want to avert at all costs.

Unknown to most people including government officials and politicians, the NDAN is the salt of the newspaper sector of media. Directly or indirectly, there are about two million people involved in the business; and their influence reaches corners no other media can for news dissemination and announcements. And, through them, every corner of Nigeria can be reached within 72 hours. Try me, if you don’t believe that.

Now NDAN is dying; as an institution and as individuals. Old agents and vendors are dying rapidly; few are replacing them. Vendors, those brave souls running in and out of traffic to sell papers, are now almost impossible to recruit. Several of them are in hospitals wasting away – victims of hit-and-run drivers.

NDAN needs help urgently. First, they needed somebody to help bring their plight to the attention of governments and Fellow Nigerians. These are among the working poor in Nigeria today. Out of desperation, they called me.

WHY ME?

“Who shall we send; and who will be our messenger?” I answered. “Here I am; send me” – Isaiah, Chapter 6.

The call came at about 9.30am on June 10, 2022. It was from the Chairman of the Lagos Island NDAN, Mr Akpan. I had stored the number since GSM numbers were assigned and I was in charge of Circulation for VANGUARD. It was not exactly the job I wanted, but, it was a challenge all the same. Daily Circulation was declining; unsold papers were mounting and several distributors were indebted to the company. The traditional approach was to stop supplying papers to debtors. But, that would depress circulation further – at a time when we needed more papers sold. Fortunately, I have had years of brands sales and marketing experience starting from Boston, USA in the summer of 1968. Nobody’s supply was stopped. Instead I started my first in a series of early morning breakfasts with distributors and vendors in Lagos and throughout Nigeria. We got our money back and on the day after the 2007 elections, our circulation had reached 100 per cent more than when we started. Only God knows how many breakfasts I had with agents and vendors in the ten years on the job in all the state capitals and Abuja. By the time I left VANGUARD in 2008, I was the only person in print media who knew agents and hundreds of vendors personally. One of my official cars clocked 130,000 kilometers in eight months.

That was why they turned to me, 14 years after we officially parted ways. What else could I do? They were my partners in progress for ten years; they belong to various ethnic groups, states and religions; there were a few females; old and young. But, we were more than business partners. We became friends. That was why they came to me. I planned another article for today before NDAN came. I postponed it; because Nigerians must know about this problem – which the Federal Government and states can help solve by considering annual grants to NDAN. Details can be discussed later. But, they have done me the undeserved honour of making me their unpaid National Adviser, Canvasser and Spokesperson. I can’t refuse. As somebody wiser than me had said: “I know I shall pass through this world/ But, once/ Every good thing I can do for any fellow man [or woman]/ let me do it now/ let me not defer or neglect it/ for I shall not pass this way again.” Governments, NPAN, philanthropists, etc, please help NDAN. Otherwise, papers will be printed; but there will be nobody to distribute them. That will be a national tragedy.

BREAKING NEWS: NDAN and its junior association – NATIONAL VENDORS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, NVAN – can be used by Peter Obi, the Labour Party and smaller political parties to mount cost-effective campaigns this year. Those interested in the possibilities should get in touch. A big surprise awaits you. You can bet on it.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.