From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
ijemo in Abeokuta, Ogun State, is one of the communities in Egba Ake. The area, located not far from the Alake’s Palace and the first church in Nigeria – St. Paul Cathedral, Ake – is renowned for its rocky terrains.
In fact, the preponderance of rocks and boulders in the locality made drilling of boreholes and wells an Herculean task. No wonder, it demanded the construction cum technology savvy of the construction company, which handled the road expansion in the area, to unearth the plethora of rocks deposited in the axis.
But one unique feature of Ijemo is that it shares a similarity with the Fleet Street, the journalism headquarters in London. As the latter is famous for being home of major newspapers in the UK, the former hosts the offices of several national newspapers in Nigeria.
Ijemo is synonymous with newspaper distribution, where various sales representatives of newspapers hobnob with the vendors. Apart from that, correspondents use to converge on Ijemo for their activities. It also serves as a location where members of the public receive information.
But unlike Ijemo, which only serves as state offices of Nigeria newspapers, the first British daily newspaper, Daily Courant, was published in Fleet Street on March 11, 1702. At its height, the street in the UK was the pinnacle of a journalist’s career, with nearly every national paper and several provincial newspapers having offices within a half-mile radius.
In similar vein, Ijemo is seen by many as the only location where retinue of journalists can be found. Even for any government of the day, the fear of “Ijemo Bombers” as correspondents were dubbed, is the beginning of wisdom.
Before the advent of the internet into the country, any visitor to Ijemo at the peak of journalists activities, would be greeted with the clattering of typewriters and humming sound of the fax machines. Here, office of each newspaper can be easily located as the signboard of such newspaper is conspicuously hung on the building. Ijemo was so popular and a hive of activities for journalists, than the NUJ Press Center, Iwe Irohin in Oke Ilewo area of the capital city.
With this convergence of journalists and the attendant frenzy of newspaper distribution, especially early in the morning, food vendors are always found at the location. Also, pubs dot the Ijemo landscape where journalists hang out.
By 1988, most national newspapers had moved away from Fleet Street to other parts of London. As a result, the buildings they left behind gradually morphed into other uses.
Ijemo too suffered the fate of the Fleet Street as virtually all the correspondents shifted their base to the NUJ Press Centre. With this exodus, however, Ijemo lost its major attraction, except for newspaper distribution.
Most of the newspaper offices are now occupied by the sales representatives as the once bubbling correspondents rendevouz gradually thinned out. But like the “old soldiers that never dies,” Ijemo still remains the largest singular location in the state where newspaper distribution takes place on daily basis.
For the chairman of the newspaper distributors in Abeokuta, Olabode Olalekan, Ijemo came into being almost three decades ago. The hub of newspaper distribution was initially situated at Oke Ijehun, but under the stiff influence of newspaper agents.
The 63-year-old, who said he had been in the business for over two decades, disclosed that he and his colleagues battled the monopoly of the agents until they pulled out and regrouped at Ijemo. He recalled that Ijemo, at its peak, was not only a meeting point for vendors and distributors, but also melting pot for correspondents, who tried to beat one another to exclusives.
He, however, noted sales of newspapers have gone down drastically, due to the newspaper review, particularly on radio, as well as the advent of the social media.
Olalekan who said he once worked in the production department of a newspaper company, thumbed up The Sun for being the first to organise a retreat in Ibadan, Oyo State, for newspaper distributors in the South West. He wants such retreat be sustained to further cement the cordial working relationship between distributors and newspaper houses.
Remi Lawal, also a newspaper distributor, described Ijemo as a “community information centre.” According to him, his over two decades sojourn in newspaper business environment, had not only enriched his knowledge about the nitty gritty of newspaper distribution, it had also afforded him opportunity to understand and appreciate how journalists work.
He admitted that though, social media had affected newspaper patronage, newspaper hard copies would still be relevant: “Not everybody has access to the social media to get news and information.”
Sharing the same view, Mrs. Faith Adeyemo and Japhet Ade, respectively recalled the “golden years” of Ijemo as the newspaper centre in Abeokuta. They pointed out that patronage at Ijemo reduced due to the economic situation in the country, their 20 years experience in newspaper distribution at the centre, has broadened their horizons and familiarized them with so many newspapers, including the defunct titles.
Chairman, Vendors Association, Bayo Odebiyi, said Ijemo is synonymous with print journalism, which according to him has created jobs for several youth as newspaper vendors. He, however, noted that activities at Ijemo had reduced saying unlike before, vendors now wait till around 6p.m to sell their papers.
Speaking on why Ijemo, which used to serve as a base of correspondents in Abeokuta, no longer holds sway, a former chairman of the Correspondents’ Chapel, Niyi Ogungbola, said no one could pinpoint the exact reason for the exodus to Iwe Irohin. He once served as the state NUJ chairman.
He observed that the gradual movement of correspondents to the NUJ Press Centre, might have started during his time at the helm of affairs of the state NUJ. He said despite the movement, Ijemo, still hosts offices of major newspapers, noting that the distribution and circulation activities equally preserves the reputation of the location.
Ayokunle Ewuoso, an Information Officer at the Ministry of Information and Strategy, said Ijemo was always beehive of activities for journalists. Ewuoso, who is a native of Ijemo, added that any government information officer, both at the state and local government, who knows his or her onions, must have close relationship with Ijemo.
Ijemo might have lost its place as the convergence point for newspaper correspondents in Abeokuta, various newspaper offices as well as the daily distribution of newspapers at the location, still make Ijemo the “Fleet Street” in the Rock City.