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Dele Giwa’s pen still mightier than sword

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MOMENTS before the October 19, 1986, bomb blast that killed Dele Giwa, his abode, No. 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos, wore the quietude that often permeates the street that morning.

That Sunday morning, as the clock ticked towards mid-morning, the silence that befell Giwa’s duplex and the entire street was deafening. There was grave silence in the vicinity, yet turmoil and confusion speaking aloud from within.

Nobody had premonition of the misfortune that would befall Nigeria media space, much more, a letter bomb killing one of its finest advocate, more so of  Nigeria extract in 1980. We heard much of bombs flying during the country’s civil war. But bombing an individual in peace time setting was unimaginable.

Yet, it did happen. When the dust of the murderous bomb settled, it had claimed the life of Giwa, one of Nigeria’s finest journalists. There laid the remains of Dele Giwa, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, who battled with life in his study before he gave up the ghost at the hospital. As it stood then, Newswatch was Nigeria’s foremost political magazine. It trailed the blaze in reportage and investigative journalism. 

Until date, no one has claimed responsibility of Giwa’s death nor his killers caught. The news of Giwa’s death travelled fast when in those days, news never moved with such speed. The news of his death sped, spread and competed with the sound of speed.

A month before Giwa’s death, the State Security Service (SSS) had invited  him to their headquarters for questioning on his article on the newly introduced Second-Tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM), which he described as “God’s experiment” but should it fail; that the people would stone their leaders in the streets. The SSS after questioning Giwa absolved him of any wrongdoing as it declared that they found nothing offensive in his article.

Three days before Giwa’s gruesome murder, the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) had him questioned over an allegation that Giwa had been heard speaking to some people about arms importation. On the same day, the SSS summoned Giwa to their headquarters. On the 17th October, he was summoned again by the SSS to their headquarters, accompanied by Ray Ekpu. This time, SSS accused Giwa and Newswatch of planning to write a one sided story on the removal of Ebitu Ukiwe as Chief of the General Staff to General Babangida.

Besides accusing Giwa of plotting with some labour unions and students to carry out a socialist revolution, the SSS also accused Giwa and Newswatch of allegedly planning to employ the suspended Police Public Relations Officer, Alozie Ogugbuaja, who had claimed that a bomb was defused by the police bomb squad at his official residence in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, on 16th October, 1986.

Before Giwa’s death, journalists had always been running battle with the government of the day. Anthony Enahoro, who first moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence in 1953 as journalist a decade earlier, was jailed by colonial administrator. Enahoro became the editor of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s newspaper, the Southern Nigerian Defender, Ibadan, in 1944, at the age of 21; thus Nigeria’s youngest editor of an established paper ever and later as editor of Zik’s Comet Newspaper, Kano, in 1945. He was jailed thrice by the colonial administrators.

The post-independence era had  Minere Amakiri,  then Rivers State correspondent of the Nigerian Observer Newspapers in 1973. He was beaten and had his head and beard shaved with broken bottle and detained  on the order of the state military administrator because he wrote an article on the plight of teachers in the state over non- payment of their salaries.

The story coincided with the birthday of the military administrator.  Amakiri’s article was termed embarrassing for the military administrator.

In 1984, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson of the Guardian Newspapers were jailed for allegedly publishing a story that embarrassed the government. None of the aforementioned journalists died under any questionable circumstance despite their battle with the authority of the day. Who wanted Dele Giwa dead?.

And what did the person or groups intend to achieve by murdering the fearless journalist. Giwa had come a long way in the profession with short life span, yet established his marks in the annals of Nigeria’s journalism.

Born  Sumonu Oladele Giwa on 16th March, 1947, in Ile-Ife, present day Osun State, to poor parents from Edo State, who worked in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife, Giwa schooled at Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-Ife, and later Oduduwa College, when his father secured a job as a laundry man.

After his secondary school education, Giwa worked as a clerk at Union Bank, and later in the administration department at Nigeria Tobacco Company (NTC). His next job as a news assistant at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) reinforced his dream of becoming a journalist.

 He travelled to the United States for his higher education where he studied English at the Brooklyn College, New York. He graduated in 1977 and later enrolled for Public Communication graduate program at New York’s Fordham University.

He engraved his journalism experience as news assistant for four years at The New York Times before relocating to Nigeria to work with Daily Times as Features Editor in 1979. He moved to National Concord in 1980, as editor of the Sunday Concord, the Sunday edition of the National Concord Newspapers, owned by Moshhod Abiola.

His stint with Concord Newspapers ended when he was removed as the editor of Sunday Concord. Teaming up with like minds in the pen profession; Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese, they founded Newswatch in 1984. Newswatch was staffed with young, brave, and talented journalists who brought fresh breath and credulity to journalism in Nigeria.

The magazine’s first edition was distributed on 28th January, 1985, and was once described as changing the format of print journalism in Nigeria besides introducing bold, investigative formats to news reporting in Nigeria. The magazine circulated in Africa, Europe, and North America.

Ray Ekpu and Yakubu Mohammed decided on Dele Giwa as the Editor-in-Chief and Dan Agbese as the managing director for the fact that both men were removed as Editors in the last designation; Giwa at Concord and Dan Agbese was removed as the editor of New Nigerian. Even with the titular roles of Giwa and Agbese, Ekpu said  Newswatch was arranged in such a way that they didn’t have the question of seniority or juniority, as all the four directors were equal and earned equal salaries and allowances.

Security operatives initially implied that Giwa’s death was an insider’s job. In as much as they wanted to sound that way, it was obvious they were far from the truth.  The investigating operatives at a point linked Kayode Soyinka, the Magazine London Bureau Chief, who was with Giwa when the bomb blast as an accomplice,

which Mr. Ekpu said couldn’t have been possible as common logic suggests that “any sensible person, who would know that a bomb will explode in a room and cannot sit face-to-face to the person who will open the parcel. It is preposterous to think somebody will do that. So Kayode Soyinka could not have been an accomplice or anything like that.”

According to Ekpu, Soyinka could not have been aiming for senior or management role as he was far in other of schemes. “Kayode could not have killed Dele Giwa because he had nothing to benefit from it. He was not even in the top 10 of the company at the time. So what would he gain by killing Dele Giwa?

In the next 10 years after that, he would never have gotten to be Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch because apart from the three guys, there were other senior people including Soji Akirinade, Nosa Igiebor, Dele Omotunde, Onome Osifo-Whiskey and others. So you have to find a motive, why would he do it.”

Giwa’s death points to external factor; forces outside Newswatch wanted Giwa dead. The question most Nigerians asked was, “What information could be in Giwa’s possession that his murderers wanted him dead? Then, such information must be prized to his killers.

A week before his death, Giwa told Prince Tony Momoh, who was then the Minister of Communications that he feared for his life because of the weight of the accusations leveled against him. According to Ekpu, Momoh “dismissed it as a joke and said the security men just wanted to rattle him”;

but promised to look into the matter. On 18th October, a day before the bombing, Giwa, spoke to Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the Chief of General Staff, who said he was familiar with the matter and also promised to look into it.

On the same day, a staff of the DMI had phoned Giwa’s house and asked for his office phone number from his wife, Funmi. This same person from the DMI later called back to say he couldn’t reach Giwa at the office and then put a top officer of DMI on the line.

Ekpu alleged that the officer asked Giwa’s wife for driving directions to the house and when she asked him why he needed the directions, he explained that he wanted to stop by the house on his way to Kano and he wasn’t very familiar with Ikeja.

He offered that the President’s ADC had something for Giwa, probably an invitation. According to Ekpu, this didn’t come as a surprise because Giwa had received advance copies of some of the President’s speeches in the past through the officer.

On 19, October, about 40 minutes after the telephone conversation with the officer, like what you see in a movie, but this time not in a make belief world, a package addressed to Giwa was delivered to his gate man. His 19-year-old son, Billy, collected it and headed to his father’s study. Kayode Soyinka, London Bureau Chief of Newswatch, who was in Lagos for an official business and had lodged at Giwa’s residence was with Giwa in his study that morning.

The parcel which bore a “confidential” stamp and the Nigerian Coat-of-Arms exploded as Giwa attempted to open it. The explosion tore open his lower region. Soyinka lost consciousness, his eardrums perforated. Giwa was rushed to First Foundation Hospital, Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, where he eventually died from his wounds.

Some said Giwa was killed because of the Gloria Okon connection. Gloria, a drug courier for some top military personnel was arrested in 1985 at the Aminu Kano International Airport. It was later alleged that she had died in custody.

Dele Giwa happened upon Okon on a trip to the UK where she told him her story. Another narrative was the video tape containing Gen. Mamman Vatsa’s testimony before the military tribunal that had serious implications for the top brass of the ruling government.

Then there was the issue of messy contract deals in the armed forces involving masterminds of the August 27, 1985 coup. Nobody knows why they wanted Giwa dead. But it was obvious Giwa had in his possession information that they feared he might publish. 

Like in a movie that Sunday morning, the day also coincided with the death of Mozambique President, Samora Machel, when his plane crashed in the mountains of South Africa and Mozambique borders in what people considered an intrigue of international conspiracy. Like Dele Giwa, his killers have not been found.

Giwa, aged 39, who died at about 12:27pm’s final words: “They got me!”. Whoever got Dele Giwa’s flesh had done no service to himself but had blood on his hands. Giwa still lives in our memory. His pen is still mightier than the bomb that killed him.

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