Once the giant of Nigerian journalism, the print media has recently witnessed a large-scale weakening of its powers — exactly the way it has happened all over the world. As would have been expected, the Nigerian print media hasn’t been immune to the dwindling global advertising revenue of newspapers worldwide and, latterly, the advent of the Internet.

However, while other countries can reel out figures of dwindling newspaper sales, Nigeria cannot. Instead, the evidence can be found in a Nigeria-centric ‘Free Readers’ trend. In the 1970s and 1980s, the standing of print in Nigerian journalism could be gleaned from the crowd of people who thronged newspaper stands despite their inability to purchase newspapers. Since they couldn’t buy the papers themselves, they crowded out the vendor at each stand, chatting him up for hours in exchange for the chance to read the front pages from afar, or even read the inside pages from magnanimous buyers who were willing to delay their exit by a few minutes. As these people couldn’t buy papers but were always seen at newspaper stands, they were nicknamed the ‘Free Readers Club’. Their ubiquity made them so important that they soon became the news themselves, a few newspapers dedicating reporters to covering free readers’ opinions on important national issues. At newsstands these days, the population of free readers is dwindling — the ultimate proof of the wilting of print newspapers’ sales, revenues, influence and following.

In the last decade, many newspapers and magazines that have quit printing, resorting to maintaining only their online versions, include The News, PM News, City People and Net NG. NEXT newspaper, Compass and Tell Magazine folded up altogether. In their place has risen a string of online newspapers.

Still, the traditional superpowers have successfully withstood the newspaper Tsunami, along with a digital newspaper early-bird and two online-only digital platforms run by reputable legacy newspaper converts. In the former class are Punch, THISDAY, The Nation, Vanguard, Daily Trust, Sun and The Guardian; and in the latter are Sahara Reporters, Premium Times and The Cable. These ten, roughly, are the leaders of a news industry populated by hundreds of publications.

Punch is reputed as Nigeria’s most widely read newspaper. It is a status it has enjoyed for decades — although the last statistical backup for that feat dates back to two decades ago: in 1998 and 1999, the Research and Marketing Services (RMS), Lagos, published independent surveys that rated the paper the most widely read in the country. Although conservative with regard to its funding models and in-country media partnerships, Punch’s journalism is leftist, the paper boasting an endless list of hard-hitting editorials against both civilian and military governments. Punch was founded in 1971 by two friends, Olu Aboderin, an accountant, and Sam Amuka, a columnist and editor of the then leading Daily Times of Nigeria. A disagreement would later see Amuka break away 12 years later to found Vanguard, till date one of the country’s legacy newspapers.

Originally known as The Comet, The Nation, was bought and renamed in 2006 by Bola Tinubu, then Governor of Lagos State. Over the following nine years, the paper was ultimately an opposition newspaper, earning a reputation for its strong anti-government stance — a feature that has softened remarkably since the All Progressives Congress (APC), Tinubu’s party, assumed power in 2015. A survey in 2009 and another in 2011 rated The Nation as Nigeria’s second most read newspaper; it has been so ever since. The Nation enjoyed tremendous advertising patronage from government agencies in the states under the control of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

In all 19 states in northern Nigeria, any serious event requiring media coverage does not kick off until the arrival of the Daily Trust reporter. Such is the reach and influence of a paper founded in 1998 with only N22,000 by a group of friends, one of whom is Kabiru Yusuf, who currently serves as Chairman. Daily Trust broke a jinx — newspapers in northern Nigeria were always a commercial failure. The absence of a strong newspaper from the region had led to the characterisation of the Nigerian media as a southern establishment. With Daily Trust, a bit of a balance has been achieved in the media industry in the country.