By Bisi Olominu
The quintessential Dele Giwa would have celebrated his 74th birthday yesterday but death through the enemies snuffed life out of him. He was a flaming journalist with nose for news. He was born a journalist and died on duty as a journalist. He was the first journalist to die through a parcel bomb in Nigeria.
Among his peers, he distinguished himself with flowering language of the press and this he used distinctively in all his write-ups. Indeed Dele Giwa was a genius in journalism firmament in Nigeria.
Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa was born in 1947 to a family who worked in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the then Ooni of Ife. After his secondary school education in Ile Ife, he headed to Brooklyn College, USA to study English. In 1974, he married an American nurse. After his graduation in 1977, he proceeded to Fordham University for his graduate school.
Upon his return, he landed a job with the leading newspaper in Nigeria then, Daily Times newspaper. He went on to marry former senator Florence Ita Giwa but the marriage lasted 10 months.
In 1984, when he had problem with his write-up in the National Concord and the late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Abiola ordered him to apologize to the then Head of State and Military President, Badamosi Babangida, he refused but instead, he and other journalists, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yabuku Mohammed founded the Newswatch magazine. The magazine redefined investigative journalism in Nigeria.
That same year, he married Olafunmilayo Olaniyan. 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 irked the new administration because of the Newswatch criticisms.
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 did not go down well with the government who invited him to the State Security Service (SSS) office on September 19, 1986, and this was the beginning of his problem which later led to his untimely death
On October 9, 1986, the deputy director of the SSS, Lt. Col. A.K. Togun organised a meeting with airport journalists to state that any report that will embarrass the government be given to the SSS before publishing it. Col Togun alleged that this meeting was also held with Dele Giwa and Alex Ibru of the Guardian Newspaper.
Also, on October 16, 1986, Giwa was questioned by Col Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) on the allegation that he was speaking to people about arms importation and for attempting to write the “other side” of the story on the removal of Ebitu Ukiwe as Chief of General Staff to General Babangida in the cover of Power Games: Ukiwe loses out.
After his return, Giwa told his friend Prince Tony Momoh, the then Minister of Communications that he feared for his life but Momoh joked that it should not be taken seriously.
The following day, a staff of DMI requested for his office number from his wife. Attempts to reach him at his office failed hence the call once again to his home only this time, Col. Akilu spoke with his wife asking her for directions stating that the president’s ADC has something to give Giwa.
The following day, Giwa called to find out why there was a call and Akilu told him not to bother. 40 minutes after that, Giwa received a parcel which it turned out to be a letter bomb. He was rushed to the hospital where his last words were to his friend and Medical Director of First Foundation Medical Centre, Ikeja. According to a report, the veteran journalist said “ ‘in burning pains took a look at the Medical Director who was said to be his friend and told him: “Tosin, they’ve got me.’ ”
He died on an unriped age of 39.
Investigations by Dele Giwa’s lawyer, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, to get justice for the late journalist were taunted by the authorities.
Personal investigation by Fawehinmi for justice in the case, revealed that a security agent, Lt. Col Ajibola Kunle Togun, interrogated Dele two days before, and had falsely accused him of gun-running and planning to destabilize the government. Dele was so disturbed by the allegations that he called Col. Haliru Akilu, director of military intelligence, to complain. At last the enemies got Dele Giwa and was blown up by parcel bomb.
The government announced that a judicial commission of inquiry would be set up, but in the end the commission never came to be. “We passed every tip we received to the police and we repeatedly sought information about their investigations but at no time did they inform us of any breakthrough. As at today, Dele’s killers are probably walking the streets as free men but, we hope, with a throbbing conscience,” Ray Ekpu lamented.
Speaking on the death of Dele Giwa, his friend and co-founder of Newswatch magazine, Ray Ekpu said that ”the murder cast a chill on the journalistic odyssey that Dele, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and I set out on as publishers of a pioneering news magazine whose circulation peaked at 150,000. The four of us had made names individually as editors and columnists of national dailies and weeklies and Newswatch became the first publication born out of the partnership of journalists in the country’s history.
”Dele was part of the driving force in meeting the challenges and the bar we set for ourselves. His mantra: Newswatch is all we have; we must give it all we have got.
“We had no choice but to press on despite the odds. Newswatch was banned for six months in 1987 by the Babangida administration for the grave offense of doing what all good and serious publications must do—put the interests of the public and the nation above the narrow interests of the few men in the corridors of power. The magazine’s offense was that it had violated the Official Secrets Act by running stories revealing the recommendations of a presidential commission devising a unique political system for the country. At the time of the publication, there was no law forbidding the press from publishing a public document even if that document had not been officially released to the public. Three times the editors of the magazine were detained.
“Each time that we were tempted to wallow in self-pity and despair, we remembered Dele’s mantra: Newswatch is all we have; we must give it all we have got. In its first quarter century, Newswatch has become the most decorated publication in Nigeria, having won more than 90 professional awards locally and internationally. And the best credit to Dele’s legacy is that the magazine is today a journalistic institution in Nigeria.
“The pain of losing Dele so early and so cruelly remains fresh for us. It stabs us each time we see his empty space in the office and know that that space will never be occupied again. The pain stabs us each time we see images of his handsome face and remember his mangled body. And when we remember, as we often do, that the man who delighted in sartorial elegance and loved life has been reduced to a memory, our eyes cannot but well up in tears. Nonetheless, Dele lives on the pages of Born To Run, a book published by journalists Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dele Olojede on the first anniversary of his murder.
” We are soldiering on, in our own way, expanding the frontiers of press freedom even as we bear the burden of official intolerance and the fickleness of the Nigerian public. What we’ve given to the magazine is our sweat. What Dele gave to it was his life.”
The question remains ” Who killed Dele Giwa’’