Dele Giwa: 33 Years Of Unresolved Riddle

At about 11.40am on Sunday, 19th of October, 1986, Dele Giwa, Editor-In-Chief and Chief Executive of Newswatch Magazine was having late breakfast in his office with Kayode Soynka, the magazine’s London bureau chief. A man on motorbike rode to the gates of Giwa’s residence at 25, Talabi Street, Ikeja and handed over a parcel to one of the security guards. The guard gave the bulky envelope to Billy, Dele’s 19-year old son then. Billy took the parcel to his father who took it.

“Who brought this?” Giwa asked as he examined the parcel. On top was written “From the Office of the “C-in-C” and addressed to Chief Dele Giwa. Giwa, smiling, suspended his meal and said to Soyinka: “This must be from the President”. Placing the parcel on his lap and trying to open it with his right hand, there was a deafening explosion. It was a bomb! Stunned, Dele Giwa involuntarily threw the object out of the window but another devastating explosion occurred. The house shook and smoke filled the room. Soyinka was thrown to the floor. A fire started busting the concrete wall, smashing the table and mangling the typewriter. Dele Giwa’s lower body was blown to pieces. Funmi, Giwa’s wife and Billy heard the explosion and rushed into the smoke-filled room and saw a helpless Giwa crouched in a corner. His skin was peeling on the ground. From his waist to his feet was totally mangled as if he was run over by a heavy duty truck. He groaned faintly “Won ti pa mi”; meaning “They’ve killed me”. Funmi screamed dragging Giwa on the floor which was now painted red by his own blood. There were bits of flesh and pieces of bones scattered all over the study. Attracted by the explosion, neighbours soon hurried to the scene and later rushed him to First Foundation Hospital in Ikeja.

When the vehicle that brought Giwa drove into the premises, it started raining amid flashes of thunder. There was pandemonium. Tosin Ajayi, the medical Director came in with other six doctors, assisted by dozen of nurses who fought frantically to save his life but Giwa was now in severe shock after losing so much blood. The skin was peeling from the burns. His lower trunk was gone with the flesh and bones held only by a flat sheet of skin. Ironically, he was alert and talking. He was not the one to give up easily. Calling his doctor, he said: “Tosin, do something to save me. I won’t die. I don’t want to die. My leg is paining me. I want to lie on my side. I’m feeling uncomfortable. Don’t let me die. I won’t die”. After about ten minutes, Giwa started gasping. Ajayi tapped him on the shoulder: “Dele! Dele! I am here”. Giwa opened his mouth and with a super human effort said his last words: “Tosin, they got me”. And the man died giving up the ghost at about 12:20. The Sun indeed set at noon! The news of the assassination spread round the city of Lagos and beyond within few hours. The news hit the newsrooms of the nation’s media houses like wildfire shocking Nigerians beyond belief. The first of close associates to hear the news started arriving and allowed into the premises. One of them was Ray Ekpu, the magazine’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief. Hordes of newsmen from various media besieged the first Foundation Hospital Complex, prowling for breaking news. Ekpu walking as if he himself was partially bombed came out and watched obliviously. When someone said: “Uncle Ray”, he jolted back to life and in a voice choked with emotions said: “Friends, you will soon be allowed to see him. But he is dead”. Journalists were later directed to the Treatment room to have glimpse of Giwa’s mangled corpse.

And tributes started pouring in:

The then military Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) sent a letter of condolence to the Nigerian Union of Journalists with glowing tributes to Dele Giwa. Before this time Dele Giwa had been interrogated by Col. A.K Togun, the Director of the SSS with the following allegation: (1) that security forces understood that Newswatch was planning another story on Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; (2) that Newswatch had promised to defend suspended Police Superintendent Alozie Ogbugbuaja and to offer him a job if the government fired him; (3) that Giwa was holding discussion with NLC, ASUU and students with a view to destabilising the country and bringing about a socialist revolution. At a press briefing called at the instance of the then Chief of General Staff (cgs), Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, all press photographers were asked to leave. Foreign media men and Nigerians representing foreign media were also asked to leave. Yussuf Mamman, Press Secretary to Aikhomu later said during the briefing that most of what would be said at the briefing should be considered “off record”. He said no question would be entertained by the CGS. Aikhomu then introduced Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and Ismaila Gwarzo, the Director of the then SSS and said the two men would render their own account of what happened in the recent past. Gwarzo confirmed that he had been ‘interviewing’ Giwa on some allegations including gun running and Akilu confirmed that he had telephone Giwa’s House and asked for and obtained the residential address from Giwa’s wife a day before the tragedy. And that on the day Giwa died, he had talked to him for about ten minutes.
Akilu traced his recent contact with Giwa to September 19, precisely one month before the tragedy and one month after he wrote a column on SFEM which was considered too hard on government. Thereafter, Akilu said he and Giwa became friends and exchanged phone numbers. On October 17, Akilu said Giwa called his house repeatedly to find out why the SSS was looking for him again. When Akilu told the reason, it was the gun running accusation that shocked Giwa most. At a point Giwa was said to have shouted at the top of his voice: “Look o! These people want to kill me”. On Saturday, Akilu said he phone Giwa’s house again and unable to get obtained the residential address from the wife “with the hope of stopping over at the place on his (Akilu’s) way to Kano to show him that “he is really a friend”

On Sunday about 40 minutes before the tragedy, Giwa called Akilu who assured him that “the matter has been settled”. Akilu, at the press briefing concluded his testimony: “I am a trained man. If there were any sinister motives, I could not have told Giwa’s wife my name. I could have asked someone else to tell me his address. I couldn’t have been stupid enough to tell the wife that I’m the one phoning. Gwarzo said he found the death of Dele Giwa “quite embarrassing”. He admitted that he invited Giwa for interrogation three days before the sad incident. He said Giwa was quite upset and suggested that his adversaries might be responsible for the allegation. Prince Tony Momoh, the then Information Minister told journalists that Giwa’s death was a clear case of assassination. Aikhomu who disallowed questions promised a full scale investigation into the matter. Said he: “A good government has no alternative but to carry out investigation into such a matter. We shall leave no stone unturned in our efforts to find the truth”. Chief Segun Osoba, then of the Daily Times told Aikhomu that one of the easiest ways to know who killed Dele Giwa is for the SSS and the DMI to get hold of those who misinformed them that Giwa was importing arms to destabilize the government.

Thirty years after, Dele Giwa’s assassination has become one of the most high profile cold cases in the country, rivaled perhaps by the assassination of Federal Minister of Justice for Nigeria, Chief Bola Ige in December 2001. There have been several attempts to find who sent the parcel bomb to Dele Giwa but they have all disappeared in the midst of conspiracy theories and stonewall blockades. A 1993 story from TELL Magazine claims that the late human rights activist and lawyer Gani Fawehinmi “filed at least 32 cases and made 315 court appearances on the Dele Giwa issue.” General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) refused to testify before a national human rights commission about the Giwa murder. Babangida, Hakilu and Togun went to court and obtained an order restraining the commission from summoning them to appear before it. The Chairman of the Commission commented that the commission had the power to issue arrest warrants for the trio but decided against this “in the over-all interest of national reconciliation”. Thirty three years on, the mystery behind the killing of Dele Giwa was yet to be unraveled. The question “who killed Dele Giwa?” reminds us that ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’

– Editor

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