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35 years after, stakeholders want Dele Giwa immortalised

By Sunday Aikulola with agency report
19 October 2021   |   3:02 am
Thirty-five years after his gruesome murder, members of Nigeria Union of Journalists, League of Nigerian Columnists (LNC) and stakeholders in the pen profession have stressed the need for immortalisation

Dele Giwa

Thirty-five years after his gruesome murder, members of Nigeria Union of Journalists, League of Nigerian Columnists (LNC) and stakeholders in the pen profession have stressed the need for immortalisation of Dele Giwa, one of the founding editors of the defunct Newswatch Magazine.

Giwa was killed by a parcel bomb in his home at Ikeja, Lagos, while in his study with Kayode Soyinka, on Sunday, October 19, 1986. The assassination occurred two days after State Security Service (SSS) officials had interviewed him.

The Secretary-General, League of Nigerian Columnists (LNC), Prof. Anthony Kila, told The Guardian that Dele Giwa’s death remains an open sore.

According to him, “it tells you the inadequacies of our investigative and security system. On the other side, it pains one that you don’t look around and find monuments that remind of someone who was considered one of the best in his period. It’s a shame that our institutions of higher learning and schools of journalism do not abound with classrooms named after him. It pains one that a lot of people under 40 years old do not know him at a time when more than any time in the history of humanity, information is available to everybody. Giwa’s murder is a collective indictment that tells us that as a people, we are not treasuring the right thing and we are not capable of investigating and keeping legacies.”

Similarly, Chairman Nigeria Union of Journalists, (NUJ) Lagos State Council, Adeleye Ajayi, said, “we are all students of history but Nigerians forget history.”

Ajayi said, “Even if everybody forgets Dele Giwa, journalists must never forget him. We must celebrate the man and forever live to remember him. As far as I am concerned, he has not been immortalised. Government should immortalise him. I want to assure you that at the appropriate time, Lagos NUJ will do something about it.”

According to founding Director of Newswatch, Yakubu Muhammed, “we are trying to compile his columns from Daily Times to Concord and Newswatch. It is an ongoing process and when we complete it, it would be made public. As far as I am concerned as a Muslim, God has immortalised him. His name can never be deleted. Erecting a monument in his name may not be the only way to immortalise him.”

Mohammed noted that in the area of justice, “the late Gani Fawehimi took the case to Supreme Court. Once the Supreme Court made the pronouncement, to me that looked final.”

He added, “there is also the court of public opinion. The problem is that the longer it takes, the more people twist the facts. Even those sympathising with us were already twisting facts and embellishing the story to make it look better in the ears of those listening to them. Those of us close to him knew the facts. For example, he was not interviewing Gloria Okon. I travelled with him in September 1986 to London and we did not interview any Gloria Okon. We went to see our chairman who had an accident in Nigeria and was flown to London. We were there for one week. The same people said Kayode Soyinka brought Gloria Okon’s tape to Dele Giwa’s house. If we interviewed Gloria Okon, will someone bring the tape for us? The reason Kayode Soyinka went to visit Dele Giwa was that he was our London correspondent. But we were selling more in the US than Europe and we felt he should go to the U.S. and survey the possibility of our printing there. So, he happened to be around when the parcel bomb was brought.”

Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Edetaen Ojo, said Dele Giwa remained one of the greatest journalists that the country ever had “and the manner he was killed, the media community needed to continue to show its aversion for it.”

He said, “One way of doing this was to immortalise his name so that those who killed him would know that they have failed and he lives on.”

Concerning justice, Ojo said it was possible to still get justice, adding: “After a while, those that have direct knowledge may have died or if there is any evidence, with the passage of time, they destroy it, and we know from experience that with the passage of time, some people, either because their conscience begins to trouble them, come forward, and say what they know but I remain hopeful that at some point in the future, we will know what really happened to Dele Giwa, then there will be an effort to ensure that those responsible for the cruel murder are brought to justice.”

BORN Sumonu Oladele Giwa to a family working in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife on March 16, 1947, he died October 19, 1986.

Giwa attended Local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-lfe. When his father moved to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife as a laundryman, he gained admission to that school.

Giwa travelled to USA for his higher education, earning a BA in English from Brooklyn College in 1977 and enrolled on a Graduate Programme 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 at Daily Times.

Dele Giwa and fellow journalists Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded Newswatch in 1984, and the first edition was distributed on January 28, 1985. A 1989 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 printed his 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. And he was invited by the security.

Giwa reported the interrogations to his friend Prince Tony Momoh who was then the Minister of Communications, Giwa had told Momoh that he feared for his life because of the weight of the accusations levelled against him.

According to Ekpu, Momoh “dismissed it as a joke and said the security men just wanted to rattle him”; Momoh promised to look into the matter. On Saturday, October 18, Giwa also 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.

Later on October 18, a day before the bombing, a staff of the DMI had reportedly 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 Col Akilu on the line. Ekpu alleges that Akilu 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 also 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 Akilu.

On the morning of October 19, Giwa phoned Akilu to ask why he had been calling his house the previous day. Akilu was alleged to have explained that he only wanted to tell Giwa that the matter had been resolved.

Ekpu said Giwa replied Akilu that it wasn’t over and that he had already informed his lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi to follow up on the matter. Akilu then told Giwa that there was no need for that, that it wasn’t a matter for lawyers and that he should consider the matter resolved.

On October 20, the day after the bombing, the government convened a press conference presided over by Augustus Aikhomu. Before the press conference started, all press photographers, foreign journalists, and Nigerians that worked for foreign news media were ordered out. Those left behind were told that the briefing was “off the record” and Aikhomu would not be entertaining questions.

In a newspaper interview years later in retirement, Chris Omeben, who at the time was the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) in charge of the Federal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (FIIB) at Alagbon, on his part recalled that he was the second officer to have handled the case file after he had taken it over from his predecessor at the FIIB, Victor Pam. Omeben explained that he had done what any competent investigator would have done in unravelling the circumstances surrounding the death of Dele Giwa.

In a testimony that he gave on July 3, 2001, before the Justice Oputa led Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (HRVIC), former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, alleged that the government stonewalled his investigation into the assassination.

Tsav claimed that he was not granted permission to question key actors involved, including Tunde Togun, Ismaila Gwarzo and Haliru Akilu. He also said that he had requested that the privileges of these officers be withdrawn so he could take their statements and conduct a search of their offices and residences for items of evidential value but this request was denied.

Tsav noted that in his final report, he had concluded that there was enough circumstantial evidence to accuse the duo of Togun and Akilu of conspiracy to murder but still the government did not make these two officers available for interrogation or a voice identification as he had requested.

Owing to official obstacles, 35 years after his death, nobody has been able to answer the question: Who killed Dele Giwa!