The Martyr of Conscience And Justice

Dele Giwa was a Nigerian journalist, editor and founder of Newswatch magazine. 

BACKGROUND

Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa was born on March 16, 1947, to a family working in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. He attended local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-lfe. When his father moved to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife as a laundry man, he 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 and 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 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. It 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. 

Dele Giwa married an American nurse in 1974. His second marriage, to Florence Ita Giwa, lasted 10 months. He later married Olufunmilayo Olaniyan on July 10, 1984, and they were married until his death in 1986. He was survived by his mother, wives and children. 

Dele 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 he had been interviewed by State Security Service (SSS) officials. In an off-the-record interview with airport journalists, Lt. Col. A.K. Togun, the Deputy Director of the SSS had claimed that on October 9 Dele Giwa and Alex Ibru had organised a media parley for media executives and the newly created SSS. 

Togun claimed that it was at this meeting that the SSS and the media executives reached a secret censorship agreement. Under this agreement, the media was to report any story with potential to embarrass the government to the SSS before they tried to publish same. 

Giwa had been invited by the SSS to their headquarters for the first time on September 19, 1986, after writing an article in which he described the newly introduced Second-Tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM) as “God’s experiment” and suggested that if SFEM failed, the people would stone their leaders in the streets. Giwa was interviewed and his statement taken by two SSS operatives. He was later taken to meet with Lt Col Togun, the deputy director of the agency in his office. Togun is reported to have told Giwa that he found nothing offensive in the story as Giwa had also stated in the same story that he was hopeful that Babangida seemed determined to make SFEM work. 

According to Giwa’s neighbour and colleague, Ray Ekpu, on October 16, 1986, Giwa had been questioned over the telephone by Col Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) over an allegation that Dele had been heard speaking to some people about arms importation. SSS officials reportedly summoned Giwa to their headquarters again on October 16, 1986, and on the next day Ekpu accompanied him to the SSS headquarters for the interview. 

Lt. Col Togun accused Giwa and Newswatch of planning to write the “other side” of the story on Ebitu Ukiwe who was removed as Chief of the General staff, to General Babangida. The magazine had published a cover story titled, “Power Games: Ukiwe loses out”, in its edition of October 20 which was on sale on October 13, 1986. Togun also accused Giwa plotting with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and students to carry out a socialist revolution. Giwa was also accused of saying that Newswatch would employ the suspended police public relations officer Alozie Ogugbuaja. 

Ogugbuaja claims that on October 16, 1986, a bomb was defused by the police bomb squad at his official residence in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos. Ogugbuaja also said that he suspected that his phone might have been bugged because Giwa and Ray Ekpu in one of their telephone conversations with him had indeed promised to employ him in Newswatch if the police dismissed him. 

Ray Ekpu also believed that their houses and phones may have been bugged because he did discuss employing Ogugbuaja in Newswatch with Dele Giwa over the phone only; he said that he found two bugging devices in the cover of two books inside his study. Lt. Col. Togun while questioning Giwa had claimed that he wasn’t aware of the fact that Akilu had already questioned Giwa over the gun running allegations the day before, this was after Giwa had brought it to his attention. 

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 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 had earlier called one of Dele Giwa’s wives to request for his home address. Akilu was alleged to have explained that he only wanted to tell Giwa that the matter had been resolved. Ekpu says Giwa replied to 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. 

About 40 minutes after the telephone conversation with Akilu, a package was delivered to Giwa’s guard while the guard handed it over to Giwa’s son, Billy. (the accounts of which vehicle was used to deliver the package vary). According to Billy, the parcel had the seal of Nigerian Coat of Arms, restricting the letter to the name written on it. 

Billy also said that was not the first time his father would be receiving letters from the government When Giwa received the package from his son, he was with Kayode Soyinka (London Bureau Chief of Newswatch). The package exploded on Dele Giwa’s laps, mortally wounded him and temporarily deafened Soyinka, who had excused himself to the restroom shortly before Giwa was supposed to have attempted opening the package. Giwa was rushed to the hospital where he eventually died from his wounds. 

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 any questions. 

Aikhomu then went on to ask Ismaila Gwarzo, the Director of the SSS and Haliru Akilu to render their accounts of what had transpired between Dele Giwa and their agencies in the recent past. Gwarzo confirmed that the SSS had invited Giwa for questioning over allegations of gun running. Akilu on his part confirmed that he had called Giwa’s home on October 18 to ask for directions to the house so he could stop over to see Giwa while on his way to Kano through Ikeja airport. Akilu also said that he had wanted to visit Giwa at home to “prove a Hausa adage that if you visit someone in his house, you show him you are really a friend.” Ekpu claimed that he remembered Gwarzo saying that the killing was “quite embarrassing” and also that Tony Momoh had described it as “a clear case of assassination”; later he was quoted saying, “a special probe would serve no useful purpose”. Graffiti of the time implied a belief that the SSS had been responsible. 

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. 

He went on to say that he had examined the crime scene and found it suspicious that the toilet adjacent to the blast site which Kayode Soyinka alleged he was occupying when the explosion occurred had also suffered damage from the blast but Soyinka was left unscathed. Omeben described the force of the explosion to have been strong enough to blow out the steel bars over the toilet window (burglary protection), which in his own assessment made Soyinka’s story less convincing. Omeben also claims he requested to interview Dan Agbese, Ray Ekpu and Kayode Soyinka. Of the three, only Agbese turned up, he was later to find out that Soyinka had fled the country. Omeben also recalled that in the course of his investigations, he had cause to interrogate both Haliru Akilu and Tunde Togun. 

According to Omeben Akilu defended Giwa’s invitation to the DMI by saying Giwa was invited to clarify statements he made to a New York daily which had been assessed as having the potential to paint the country in a bad light in the international press. The only known interview Giwa gave to any New York daily was one published eight months earlier in a New York Times story about rising religious nationalism and extremism in Nigeria. On the issue of rising Islamic nationalism, Giwa gave this singular quote in the story, It’s a dangerous, explosive trend,…in the worst case, I see a situation where die-hard Christians and die-hard Moslems are fighting in the streets. Omeben said he was satisfied with the reasons Akilu and Togun gave for inviting Giwa. 

However, Soyinka has come out to reply Omeben and accused him of spreading deliberate falsehood with his comments on him on his involvement with the parcel bomb incident. In an interview he granted The Nation newspaper of Lagos of Saturday, January 19, 2013, Soyinka strongly denied that he ran to the toilet when the bomb exploded. He said he did not know where Omeben got that false information from. When questioned, Soyinka requested to not be required to relive the experience again. 

Omeben also alleged that he was being pressured into naming Babangida and Akilu as suspects when he yet had no evidence linking them to the crime. Some of this pressure led to the formation of a special squad to investigate the case, the squad was headed by Assistant Commissioner of Police Abubakar Tsav. Omeben alleges that the then Inspector General of Police Gambo Jimeta has asked him to leave the case with the Tsav team out of anger at how messy the whole situation was getting.

Omeben also spoke about certain “fixations” in the minds of the general public about the case, in his own words “…There is the tendency for people to make up their minds as to what they want to see or hear. It may not necessarily be the truth and once they are so fixated, every other thing that somebody else would say would not mean anything to them. Dele Giwa’s case suffered such a fixation”. 

In testimony that he gave on July 3, 2001, before the Justice Oputa led Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (HRVIC), 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 averred 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. 

Tsav claims that he handed the case file back to Chris Omeben. Tsav alleged that none of his recommendations were implemented, the case file was never returned to him and there was no evidence that the case was transferred to another officer or agency. Tsav said he believed Giwa was killed because he believed Giwa was in “the way of some powerful forces”. 


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