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Monday, November 29, 2021

Dele Giwa: 35 years after

By Bisi Olominu

They got me.’ This were the last words of the dynamic, terrific and down to earth journalist, Dele Giwa, who was killed by a parcel bomb on October 19, 1986. Giwa lost his life as a result of injuries he sustained from letter bomb delivered to him in his home at 25, Talabi Street, off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos. He died at 12.27.pm in First Foundation Hospital, Opebi, Ikeja.
Dele Giwa was a great writer of note. He had dexterity for writing and his column in his news magazine, ‘Newswatch’ was a delight to read every week. Talking about him in terms of journalism alone is like reducing his stature. Yes, he was among the crème de la crème of the profession. He was one of the finest journalists ever, but above all, he had all the qualities that a leader should have. He was selfless, fearless, detribalised and so on.
Speaking about him, it is also almost impossible to leave out his colleagues. In the past, there were musical groups like the Beatles, Jackson Five, Cool and the Gang. Here we had a group of young men who mesmerised us, but not with music. They did their own with pen. No wonder the adage, ”The pen is mightier than the sword”.
The quartet of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded Newswatch magazine around 1984 ,shortly after they exited Concord newspaper that was established by the late businessman, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. The quartet mesmerized Nigeria with their powerful articles and every week came out with incisive and investigated write ups that could not be faulted.
These were the authentic superstars who titillated us with beautiful prose that dripped with poetic and colourful words, and they lived up to their billings. Newswatch was an instant success and the hottest cake out of the oven. Every issue was a collector’s item.
They wrote the minds of the masses, irrespective of whose ox was gored. That is the true essence of journalism. It is just as if the words integrity, detribalised, fairness, equity, doggedness and brilliance were invented specifically for these Newswatch men.
They had it all. These men coming together to found Newswatch were like a match made in heaven. They came from different backgrounds but had professionalism in common. They were pacesetters and trend setters. They made journalism attractive in Nigeria because they combined intellect with swagger.
They were very brave and were never afraid to tell the truth during the military era when there was no freedom of speech. They were imprisoned several times for speaking truth to power.
The quartet were in their late 40s, but through their writings shook the foundation of the country. They were fearless but totally committed to the ethics of journalism profession.
In 1985, the paper attracted the attention of the new military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, which it praised in the beginning. By 1986, he had become a terror and annoyed the new administration because of the Newswatch criticisms and investigative stories about the government.
Giwa was killed through a letter bomb while having breakfast with Newswatch correspondent in London, Kayode Soyinka at his residence. The journalist, who died at the age of 39 was known for exposing corrupt and illegal dealings of the government, and this earned him recognition.
The assassination occurred two days after he had been questioned by officials of the State Securty Service. The Newswatch editor had just written an article on Second-tier Foreign Exchange Market, a Central Bank of Nigeria policy introduced at the time before the incident occurred.
Speaking on the demise of Dele Giwa, a journalist working with him in Newswatch then, who accidentally was with him when the parcel bomb exploded, Kayode Soyinka, said he still carries the effect of that incident till date.
Soyinka in his book titled “Born Into Journalism, Memoir Of a Reporter,” said Giwa’s death would continue to be a scar on Nigeria’s conscience.
His words: “During my time at Newswatch, a horrific incident, unique to Nigeria, occurred on 19 October, 1986. It was the gruesome murder of Dele Giwa. I miraculously survived the attack. I was on an official visit to Nigeria from London. As usual, I was staying with Giwa at his Lagos home, which was then on 25, Talabi Street, Ikeja. That was when a parcel bomb was sent to him. The deadly package was delivered to him by his unsuspecting son, Billy, in his study where we were having our breakfast.
“He took a quick look at the parcel and handed it over to me to see. I held it in my hand, looked at it, and handed it back to him. When he took it back from me, he said, “This must be from the President.” The padded envelope, just slightly bigger than A4 in size, had marks that suggested it had been sent “from the cabinet office” in Lagos. It was addressed to “Chief Dele Giwa”, – though he was not a chief and with the instruction printed on it that it must be opened by the addressee only.
“Dele thought the envelope contained some documents which may help Newswatch with some stories. As he readjusted his chair and tried to tear the envelope open from the top left-hand corner, the envelope exploded. It was a huge and horrific explosion. There was a big ball of fire. Dele absorbed the shock and most of the impact of the massive explosion on his body, as he was the person who held the envelope and had tried to open it. I was saved by the huge mahogany L-shaped table on which we were eating.
“That table was so strong with a thickly padded lower part that it absorbed the impact of the explosion that would have affected me directly. Still, the explosion was powerful enough to lift me from my chair and throw me on the front of the door to the study. Dele Giwa was in deep shock. He was still alive, as helpers rushed in and helped to carefully drag him out of the rubbles of the explosion. He was rushed to First Foundation Hospital in Opebi, owned by a close friend of ours, Dr Tosin Ajayi.
“I could have opened the parcel myself when Dele passed it to me to take a look at it. When he tried to open it and the explosion occurred. I was shocked that parcel bombing could happen in Nigeria. We had never had such an experience of eliminating someone in such a dastardly manner in our history before. The thought of what our country was turning into was running through my mind even as I reeled from the shock. My hearing was impaired. I could not hear when people talked to me, no matter how close they were to my ears.
“The power of the explosion affected my hearing and there was a continuous noise inside my ears, it was very irritating and I endured it for over five years. I was hospitalised in Nigeria. I was occupying the room next to where Dele’s dead body lay. When I returned to the UK and got my ears thoroughly checked at my local hospital, it was discovered that the eardrums in my ears were perforated. The doctor told me there was not much that could be done, that the perforation would heal by itself with time. I couldn’t complain because my situation would have been worse if the blast had claimed my life like it had claimed Dele’s.
“It confirmed to me how ruthless people can be, especially to stay in power at all cost – they can kill for that! I said it at the time that if the killers of Dele Giwa were not found and brought to justice, similar attacks would occur.”
Many have been killed politically since the demise of Dele Giwa in 1986. Many journalists have been molested and have been made sacrificial lambs in the course of their jobs, but like Kayode Soyinka elucidated, Dele Giwa’s killer(s) must be found and prosecuted. It is a disservice to the profession that someone was killed through a parcel bomb and 35 years nothing concrete has been done to unearth his killers. Dele Giwa must not die in vain and his memory must continuously be remembered in Nigeria.
Who killed Dele Giwa?

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