Dele Giwa: October 19 conundrum

By Bisi Olominu
In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Abraham Lincoln.

Dele Giwa lifetime was short but within the short time, he imparted greatly on the journalism profession and lives of people who surrounded  him.

Like the Biblical Jesus Christ who spent 33 years to change the world through his  preaching, teaching, performing miracles and healing the broken hearted, Giwa spent just 39 years on earth, but it was a life of integrity, doggedness, boldness, selflessness and service to the people.

Dele Giwa like the legendary reggae icon, Bob Marley who spent 36 years on earth to shape the world through music, Giwa in his 39 years on the surface of the earth used journalism profession to correct the ills of the society. He was a fighter for the oppressed, friend to the downtrodden, a quintessential pen pusher of repute.

Who was Dele Giwa? Talking about him in terms of journalism alone is like reducing his worth. Yes, he was among the vibrant journalists of the profession. He was one of the finest journalists even above his peers,he had all the qualities that a leader should possess.

According to Chief Dele Momodu, Publisher of Ovation Magazine ” It was impossible not to be attracted to the writings of Dele Giwa,Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, the quartet that founded Newswatch magazine in 1984, after they all existed Concord newspapers.”

Dele Giwa was born on March 15, 1947 to a poor family in Ile-Ife,Osun State. His family worked at the palace of late Oba Adesoji  Aderemi. In 1960, he attended the local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-Ife and in 1964, his father took up a job as a laundry man at  Oduduwa College. In his thirst for more knowledge, he proceeded to New York, USA, earning his Bachelor’s degree in English from Brooklyn College in 1977 and his Master’s in Public Communication from Fordham University.

While working for his Master’s degree, he joined the service of New York Times, and within a short period of time, his  prowess and adeptness of  English Language singled  him out   as he pointed out a grammatical error  in one of the Times articles. Because of his boldness, he was hired instantly and he worked there for four and a half years.

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He later met Dr. Patrick Dele Cole,his name sake and the then Managing Director of Daily Times , who wanted him back in Nigeria to become the editor of the newspaper.

In  1978, a year after he met Dele Cole, Dele Giwa accepted his offer and he became the features editor of Daily Times in 1979. He left Daily Times shortly and pitched his tent with Concord Newspapers established by Chief M.K.O. Abiola.

In 1984,  Giwa and his fellow journalists founded a news magazine called Newswatch, and as the first Editor-In-Chief, the first edition was distributed on January 28,1985 and it was an instant hit throughout the country.

In 1980, he had become a pain to the powers that be  and irked the establishment with the magazine’s incisive, accurate, portent and thorough investigative journalism. He had written about the newly introduced Second -Tier-Foreign-Exchange Market(SFEM) and stated that if SFEM (God’s experiment) failed, people will “stone their leaders in the streets.” This edition did not go down well with those in power who invited him to the State Security Service ,SSS, office on September 19  1986.

On October 9, 1986, the Deputy Director of the SSS, Lt. Col. A.K. Togun met with journalists covering Lagos Airport and urged them that any report that will embarrass the government  should be handed over to the SSS before publishing it. Togun had earlier met with Dele Giwa and journalists in the Guardian Newspaper  establishment  on the same issue.

On October 16,1986,Dele Giwa was questioned by Col. Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) on the allegation of trying to radicalise and destabilise Nigeria by publishing stories to remove certain government officials.

The following day,Dele Giwa not knowing that death was on his trail, was visited by a staff of DMI in his office. The DMI staff asked from his wife, but no response and his house telephone was called where Akilu again spoke with his wife for directions, stating that the military president’s ADC had  a parcel to deliver to her husband.

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On Sunday  October 19, 1986, a day set aside by God to worship him, was the day enemies agreed  to snuff  life out of Dele Giwa. He was working on the magazine’s edition slated for Monday,October 20,1986, in company of Newswatch’s London Bureau Chief, Kayode Soyinka,when he received a parcel addressed from the “Commander-in-Chief, displaying the country’s coat-of-arms and stamped ” Confidential”. This letter bomb was what the enemies used to kill Dele Giwa.

He was rushed to the First Foundation Medical Hospital, Ikeja, and all efforts made to safe his life came to nothing.

According to a report, the veteran ” in burning pains took a look at the Medical Director of the hospital who was said to be his friend and told him” Tosin,they have got me”.

Speaking on the death of Dele Giwa, his colleague Ray Ekpu in the Newswatch edition of November 17,1986 titled, The Choice We Make  said ,” He had planned on that holy day that he would be at work at noon. Little did he know that somewhere under the ground someone was planning something else, something that would abort his appointment, something that would turn his noon into his doom and make him see noon no more. He didn’t keep his appointment, not because he didn’t want to but because he wasn’t allowed to. He rather kept an unscheduled appointment, an appointment he did not plan to keep,an appointment with death. This holy day became his last day,the last day he would keep an appointment, or would do anything else because someone had come on a bombing mission. And it was a mission possible”.

Dan Agbese in a tribute to Dele Giwa titled, Little Hands of Death, said ” Until October 19, the letter bomb was a fairy tale in Nigeria. Nigerians, great letter writers, look forward to the arrival of the mail bag in offices and homes with happy, innocent thoughts of hearing from loved ones. October 19 changed all that. On the day,death leaped out of an envelope and claimed its first such victim in the land,Dele Giwa. The envelope that arrived at his home carried,not a letter from a friend but a bomb-death itself is a gelignite”.

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“The reality, the ugly reality, hit Nigerians smack in the face. Death can be found in an envelope. Naturally,the envelope has acquired the status of an unwelcome guest in homes and offices in Nigeria. Death has taken over where words of love and affection used to sit. The ubiquity of death is not cured for worry beads. The ageless, hateful thing finds its way everywhere anytime, still, death’s new weapon is still a cause for concern.

” Every time innocence dies, impaled on the spite of evil-mindedness,mankind takes a giant leap backwards. For the death of innocence is not usually the beginning of wisdom but that of fear-fear of the present,fear of the future”.

It has been 32 years that Dele Giwa died through a letter bomb,but he lives in the hearts of those who love him.

Like the late Bob Marley sang  in his album:

“One good thing about music when it hits you(you feel no pain). Oh oh I say one good thing about music when it hits you(you feel no pain. Hit me with music, hit me with music”.

Writing and music are interwoven, both are symbiotic in nature, they last eternity. Both reduce pains and make you to be comforted. Reason when you listen to a good music or you read a good and interesting write up, you are comforted.

The write ups of Dele Giwa are like music,they can’t die. His writings like a soothing balm healing the society,but pains in the hearts of the oppressors who killed him.

He was just 39 years, but he impacted brilliantly in the minds of Nigerians as a dogged ,fearless legend at that age.

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