By Amma Ogan, 2009
“Twenty-three years on”
It has been twenty years since I last wrote about Dele Giwa.
After his murder, trips to the Alagbon, Ikoyi office of Deputy Inspector General of Police Chris Omeben became a pilgrimage in quest of an answer to, how far? I got to know more about Omeben, the born-again pastor cum policeman, than I did about who killed Dele Giwa.
The first eight months after his death the story from my interview with Omeben was headlined “Investigations into Dele Giwa’s death come to a dead end.” That was published on Sunday June 28th 1987 in The Guardian. Four months later I came back with, “Police retrace steps on Dele Giwa”. That was Sunday October 18th 1987 the eve of the first-year anniversary and a day before State Security Service agents stopped the launching of Born to Run, a book written by two young journalists, Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo and Dele Olojede, on Giwa’s life.
Well before that, a decision by The Guardian to run a campaign, a passport size picture of Giwa’s face with the caption who killed Dele Giwa on the top right-hand corner of its newspapers, everyday until the crime was solved, had yielded a number of death threats. The first were to the editors in the Guardian stable and finally, to the publisher of the paper, threatening to blow up the premises in Isolo. After that, Alex Ibru, the publisher, ended the campaign. According to Omeben too many hands had compromised the letter I handed him. It would be impossible to get any useful clues from fingerprints.
Twenty-three years later the murder remains unsolved, though the answers do continue to multiply.
Gani Fawehini, Giwa’s friend and lawyer who jumped headlong into that case is now dead. Time does weird things to people and the surprising tribute by former president Ibrahim Babangida to the man who could only be politely described as one of his strongest critics, almost leads one to hope that more will be forth coming. But whether that happens or not, it is important to revisit Nigeria in the days before and after a certain innocence was shattered by the horrific nature of the man’s death from a letter bomb that exploded on his lap.
October is Nobel announcements month, Nigeria was euphoric and The Guardian positively ecstatic about Wole Soyinka’s garnering of that honour for literature. It was especially so because the paper’s connections with the literary and academic world were well established. It was a watering hole for the best writers and thinkers. The advent of Giwa into print journalism at that time preceded by others too numerous to mention here, also represented a new fraternity between journalism and the art of writing.
So, it was a weekend whirlwind of celebration and Friday 17th October saw a gathering that included Giwa, Wole Soyinka, and a host of others celebrating in Surulere into the wee hours.
So, the shock of his death, on the following lazy Sunday morning, was a brutal reminder that we were living in dangerous times, more sinisister than we could imagine, with sophisticated and lethal weapons of destruction in the hands of men who had interests to protect. The whispers ranged from drug running to corruption, to state security issues, unknown depths of intrigue. What really froze people into fear was the thought that we had no real idea how high, or low, the stakes were.
There were people in the top echelons of government who were afraid to step out of their houses to make the trip to Oregun to register their condolences at the Newswatch offices of the weekly magazine Giwa founded. Speculation ran high as to what Giwa knew and who wanted him silenced: who was bugging whom, who was keeping tabs.
Bullet pocked bodies dangling from blood dried stakes on a moonlit sandy beach, charred corpses wearing tyre necklaces, swollen faced police suspects, decapitated human parts placed at street corners, these we knew. The macerated stump of a man blown apart by a letter bomb was a new level and a method of assassination that, to the best of my knowledge, has not been repeated in this country.
Giwa had landed back into Nigerian journalism in 1979, like a brand-new cocktail. Brash, knowledgeable and stylish, he brought cool and a different style of glamour to the profession. The makeover of Newswatch, set the industry standard. He wrote with a flourish from his ‘Editorial Suite’, enjoyed the drama of the eyeball-to-eyeball scenes in tense in AFRC (Armed Forces Revolutionary Council) meetings, which he could recreate because he was in the know. Self –determined, he made himself what he was. He was not born into wealth. He liked life and he liked to enjoy it. What you saw was what you got. And he was not great at keeping secrets. If he had a story he had to let it out.
So, who killed him?
Newswatch reported that his last words were “They got me.”
Twenty-three years later the man still has the scoop on us all.