By Adetokunbo Abiola
At noon on October 19, 1986, at 25 Talabi Street in Lagos, Dele Giwa’s son, Billy, delivered a parcel to him in his study during breakfast. Dele took a quick look at the parcel and 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”.
Dele thought the envelope contained some documents which may help his magazine, Newswatch, with some stories. As he readjusted his chair and tore the envelope open from the top left-hand corner, it exploded. A ball of fire flew through the air, emitting steam, with a choking smell in the air. Dele absorbed the shock and most of the impact of the massive explosion on his body. Dele Giwa was in deep shock. He was still alive when 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, by his close friend, Dr Tosin Ajayi. Dele never survived from the explosion.
Thirty-four years on, the echoes of the explosion still linger. 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 powerful quartet that founded Newswatch magazine shortly after their dramatic exit from Concord newspapers.
“These were the authentic superstars who titillated us with beautiful prose that dripped with poetic and colourful words. And they lived up to their billing. Newswatch was an instant success and the hottest cake out of the oven. Every issue was a collector’s item.”
Dele Giwa was indeed loved by his readers and colleagues. It was no mistake that one of his colleagues at Newswatch, Ray Ekpu, still speaks fondly and glowingly of the late journalist, 34 years after.
Ekpu said, “Dele Giwa was a nice human being, very compassionate, very personable, amiable human being, a bit boisterous, outgoing and someone you would like to meet. Someone who makes the difference to any room in which he enters. He becomes the star of the moment once he gets in the room”.
Mohammed Fawehinmi, a lawyer and son of late Chief Gani-Fawehinmi, was 17 when Giwa was assassinated in his home in Ikeja. Speaking to Pulse about the late journalist, the lawyer described Giwa as a genius and exceptional brain whom his late father loved so much.
“Dele Giwa is still one of the best Nigeria has had, to the best of my knowledge. He was an industrialist journalist. He was a man who made Newswatch magazine from nothing. He created it into an entity, and it became a very productive news magazine.”
Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa was born on 16 March, 1947 to a poor family working in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. He attended Local Authority Modern School in Lagere, IIe-Ife. When his father moved to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife as a laundry man, Dele gained admission to that school. Dele Giwa travelled to the USA for his higher education, earning a BA in English from Brooklyn College in 1977. He enrolled for a Graduate program at Fordham University. He worked for The New York Times as a news assistant for four years, after which he relocated to Nigeria to work with Daily Times.
Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded Newswatch in 1984, and the first edition was distributed on 28 January 1985. A description of the magazine said it “changed the format of print journalism in Nigeria and introduced bold, investigative formats to news reporting in Nigeria”. However, in the first few months of the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, who took power in August 1985, the magazine was flattering. It printed Babangida’s face on the cover four times, and even criticised “anyone who attempted to make life unpleasant for Babangida”. Later, the paper took a more hostile view of the Babangida regime.
He is remembered for his famous quote: “Nigeria is on fire and the citizens are amused”. Giwa was one of Nigerian’s strongest journalists, who many referred to as the man with the mighty pen.
Newswatch was so influential, news magazine such as Tell, The News, This Week, and others followed in its wake and Nigeria experienced investigative journalism at its best.
Dele died defending what he believed in – uncensored journalism. He had stood up against the regime of Ibrahim Babginda, and refused to drop a report linking his wife, Maryam Babaginda, with alleged drug trafficking. Some say this accounted for the padded envelope that took his life, and Dele Giwa is seen today in Nigeria’s media space as someone who paid the ultimate price for investigative journalism.
Speaking on ‘the contributions of investigative journalism to national development, Prof. Atobe who is a senior partner Beacom Group, Boston, USA, paid glowing tributes to Dele Giwa, extolling his virtues as a fearless, courageous, brave and heroic man.
He said the trace of the history of the nation’s democracy cannot be complete without the contributions of Dele Giwa, his colleagues and the Newswatch Magazine they founded.
Atobe called on Nigerian journalists to emulate his “gallantry, fearless and dauntless courage to reject and shun bad journalistic ethics to compromise accurate and truthful reporting.”
“In conclusion and without hesitation, I hereby suggest today that the private sector, federal and state governments should join minds together to honour Dele Giwa with the establishment of Dele Giwa School of Journalism for his contribution to democracy we are all enjoying in Nigeria today.”
This week, the nation is currently embroiled in the End Sars campaign. What would Dele Giwa have done? He would have added his voice to the ongoing nationwide #EndSARS protests, saying restructuring remains the only solution to the current struggle.
He may have called for the devolution of more powers to states, while asking the executive and the National Assembly to reduce the cost of governance.
He would have hailed Nigerian youths and said, “Nigeria is on fire and the citizens are amused”. No, delete ‘amused’ from it. He would have said the youths are not amused. He would have said they mean serious business and should not be ignored. He would have spoken, even when others are afraid to speak.