Working Lives – Newspaper Vendors
This weekend, our focus is on newspaper vendors around Lagos, learning about their respective journeys to the business. And why not? If you are a Nigerian that stays in Lagos (we can’t speak for other states), make a visit to a newspaper stand every morning and you are sure to meet different categories of people buying papers along with a mix of young and old people discussing topics that range from sports to politics. Well, it’s more like screaming their lungs to blandness, arguing over anything and everything. They gather around the newspaper stand, which they most likely will not buy from, and care little about how the stand got there. Not like they are supposed to anyway.
Working Lives: The Vendor Who Met and Married Saki Townsman in Mushin
“Back then the business was good, but now it is nothing to write home about as the internet has ruined everything. People can now read stuff on their phones without having to buy the newspaper. Before the internet took over, I could make as much as N10,000-N15,000 daily, I even make more on weekends. But now it is no longer so. I make about N30-N35 gain on one paper, for those sports papers that they sell for N50 Naira, I make a gain of N5 on them.”
Where are you from?
I am from Saki in Oyo state. But I was born and brought up in Ilorin in Kwara state. My parents were based there.
Please, tell us about your education.
I went to school up until the secondary level and that was it. I schooled for my primary education in Ilorin but I came down to Saki in Oyo state for my secondary school education.
Tell us about your family.
My parents gave birth to 10 children and I am the last child. My dad is a cleric, what people call alfa, while my mum sells petty stuff beside the house.
When did you get to Lagos?
I had been to Lagos several times before I finally came back to settle. I can’t remember what year it was exactly, but I know Obasanjo was still the president at that time. An uncle brought me to Lagos from Saki. I was living with him and his family in Alagbole Akute back then. While I was living with him, I worked under someone as a sales rep. I was getting paid N15,000 monthly. The naira still had value then.
Where do you live?
I live in my husband’s house here in Abule Egba, it is a 2-bedroom flat. We are still building it though, and some parts need finishing, but we thank God.
Since when have you been living there in the uncompleted building?
Shortly after I got married to my husband, about 2 years or so. We had to move in, trying to get money for rent was stressful and we had a piece of land with an uncompleted building, so we just thought to move in and start building little by little. Friends and family also helped out with one or two.
How did you start working as a newspaper vendor?
It was when I left where I was initially working as a sales rep that I started selling newspapers. I came down to Ojodu Berger and started selling petty things for a while before I moved again and went to Mushin to sell too. It was when I got to Mushin that I met my husband, and it turned out to be that we came from the same village and that was how it started. So, we got married and I gave birth to my first child and went back to the village so my mother could help me take care of the child because I was new to motherhood, I didn’t know how things worked. So, during my stay back home I started learning hairdressing and I did my freedom and came back to Lagos.
So, when I came back to Lagos, I got a shop at Kabowe, but along the line, there were issues related to a land dispute and I was told to vacate the place after I had paid. It was a big issue; my elder brother was almost killed. After all that mess, my elder brother who is also a newspaper vendor then told me to start selling newspapers instead of just sitting at home and doing nothing. And that was how it started.
How much did you pay for the space before you were asked to vacate?
I paid N85,000 for it then. This was including the kiosk too.
How much did it cost you to establish?
It cost me N1,000 to start. Newspapers were still being sold for N80 then, so it was easy to start off with that. I was getting a little profit from it then, and I was always making sure I saved every dime I got from the business. I didn’t need to spend much because my child was still with my mother back in the village. In the process, I was able to get two other spots where I could sell newspapers. I got people to stay there and oversee things, and that was how it expanded. As at when I wanted to get this space I am currently back then, I spoke to the chairman of the association in this area, and all he told me to do was just give him N400 MTN recharge card and that was it, and I got the space permanently.
Though out of the three spots I have, only two are functioning now. The boy that was overseeing one of the spots ran away with my money, and I have never seen him since then.
How much did the boy run away with?
I collected the money from him weekly, so he ran away with N62,800. I can never forget the amount.
Did you get a bank loan?
No, I didn’t get a loan. I didn’t even meet friends and family for any assistance.
Who supplies the newspaper to you?
There are agents that supply us. These agents pay into the newspaper companies account and then the company delivers to the agent. For instance, the agent pays to Tribune and they deliver to him here in Lagos every morning all the way from Ibadan. They supply very early in the morning, then the distributors go there to get their papers.
How does the payment plan work with your supplier?
We pay before we collect or pay as we collect. Those that trust you enough and have been doing business with you can allow you to collect on credit and then come back to pay the following day or at the end of the week as the case may be. Before now, the majority of us newspaper vendors used to collect on credit and then pay the next day when we were about to collect another set. But you know how people can be, they started running away with the supplier’s money or they would go to another place to collect papers. So, there’s no trust again.
These days only those that have been doing business with them for a long are permitted to still collect on credit. Daily Independent and The Nation don’t give suppliers papers on credit. But others like Punch, Vanguard, and the like still do.
Back in those days, you didn’t need to do any sort of registration to be under an agent or a supplier, but now it is required because of several cases of people not coming back to pay their debts.
Do newspaper companies reward their customers in any way?
Punch used to do this. They would give branded T-shirts to their end-users which are people like you that come to buy frequently from us. And then to us, the vendors, they would give umbrellas or aprons to keep our money. When they did their 8th year anniversary or so, they gave some of us electric kettles, but lately, they have not shared anything.
What were you doing before you started as a newspaper vendor?
Apart from the place I worked as a sales rep. I didn’t do anything else. I got right into selling newspapers after that.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I get to my spot at 7 o’clock and then I close by 12 o’clock latest. Or let me say I would have sold whatever I want to for that day. Whatever is left will be either magazines or some of these papers people don’t like buying, I just buy one or two because some customers always come to ask for it.
What’s your best day like on the job?
I think I like Sundays on the job, a lot of people buy newspapers on Sunday. You know, it’s the weekend, everyone will be home and they just want to relax and know what is going on in the country.
Your worst day or experience on the job?
There are a lot of bad experiences. Let me not even start with that boy that ran away with my money, or should I start talking about the days when it rains and all the papers I have bought will be wet and ruined? Look at Punch for instance, if we don’t get to sell all the papers that we bought they won’t take the leftovers back, unlike other companies. This of course is a loss on my end. I have also been attacked by robbers early in the morning when I was on my way to get my supplies. A lot of horrible things like that, let’s just continue to thank God.
Who are your main clients?
Apart from end-users that buy one or two, I also supply to private schools around here in Abule Egba. I supply to a public library here in Meiran and I also supply to some hotels around too.
How much do you make in sales daily/weekly?
Back then the business was good, but now it is nothing to write home about as the internet has ruined everything. People can now read stuff on their phones without having to buy the newspaper. Before the internet took over, I could make as much as N10,000-N15,000 daily, I even make more on weekends. But now it is no longer so. I make about N30-N35 gain on one paper, for those sports papers that they sell for N50 Naira, I make a gain of N5 on them.
How much do you spend in a day?
I get to spend about N700 on food for the day and transport fare to get paper from my supplier.
What other things do you spend money on?
I spend on clothing for my kids, basic home necessities amongst others.
For how long have you been in the business?
I have been in the newspaper vendor business for a long time, it should be close to 20 years now if I am not mistaken.
Are you married/looking forward to marrying?
Yes, I talked about getting married when I came to Lagos earlier. I am happily married with 3 kids.
Do you have savings/ how much do you save in a month?
I save weekly and daily. For the daily savings, after I must have eaten and taken care of my kids, I get to save whatever is left which is about N200 or N300 in a day, and then I do the weekly savings with the local ajo people, I get to save N2,000 weekly.
Do you have plans to venture into something else apart from this newspaper vendor business?
Yes, I really just want to get a shop and start selling foodstuff like rice, beans, yam, and the likes. The business is lucrative and there’s a lot of gain in it, the only thing delaying that is money!