The death of the renowned journalist, Dele Giwa, remains a mystery till date. On October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa died after opening a parcel bomb at his residence in Lagos state.
The assassination of Dele Giwa has become one of the most high profile cold cases in the country, rivalled perhaps by the assassination of Federal Minister of Justice for Nigeria, Bola Ige in December 2001.
Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa was born on March 16, 1947. He came from a very humble background. His poor family worked in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, who was the then Ooni of Ife.
He first attended Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-Ife, and moved to Oduduwa College when his father secured a job as a laundryman there.
For his higher education, the young Giwa earned an admission to study English at Brooklyn College. He graduated in 1977 and later enrolled for a graduate program at Fordham University.
He would get solid journalism experience working as a news assistant for the New York Times. After four years, he moved back to Nigeria and secured a job with Daily Times.
In 1984, he co-founded Newswatch with fellow journalists Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. The first edition of the weekly news magazine came out a year later. Dele Giwa was known to be an ardent lover of truth.
The IBB years
On August 27, 1985, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida came into power after a coup that ousted the Buhari/ Idiagbon’s regime.
Newswatch had a favourable view of the military ruler within the first year of his administration. 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.
Giwa married an American nurse in 1974. His second marriage, to Florence Ita Giwa, lasted 10 months. He later married Olufunmilayo Olaniyan on 10 July 1984, and they were married until his death in 1986.
On Sunday, October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa’s guard received a parcel at their home at number 25B Talabi Street off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos and it was delivered to him in his study with Mr Kayode Soyinka, the London bureau chief of Newswatch.
According to several reports, an envelope was on the parcel and written on it was “From the Office of the C-in-C” (commander-in-chief)” with instructions that only the addressee should open it.
Dele Giwa tried to open the parcel and the bomb went off.
The explosion of the bomb severely injured Dele Giwa while Mr Kayode Soyinka, a colleague of Dele Giwa who was present during the bomb blast, was temporarily deafened. Giwa was taken to First Foundation Medical Centre, Opebi, Ikeja where he passed away around noon from injuries he sustained from the blast.
The assassination occurred two days after he had been interviewed by the State Security Service (SSS) officials. In an off-the-record interview with airport journalists, Lt. Col. A.K Togun, the Deputy Director of the State Security Service SSS had claimed that on 9 October 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 the potential to embarrass the government to the SSS before they tried to publish the same.
According to Giwa’s neighbour and colleague, Ray Ekpu, on 16 October 1986, Giwa had been questioned over the telephone by Col 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 16 October 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.
Togun also accused Giwa of planning to import arms into the country and of claiming to have promised that Newswatch would employ the suspended police public relations officer Alozie Ogugbuaja.
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 18 October 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, 18 October, 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, 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 19 October, 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 says 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.
About 40 minutes after the telephone conversation with Akilu, a package was delivered to Giwa’s guard. When Giwa received the package, he was with Kayode Soyinka the London Bureau Chief of Newswatch.
Investigation, Litigation and Controversy
On 20th October, 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 18 October 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.”
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 that Soyinka had fled the country.
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.
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.
In testimony that he gave on 3 July 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.
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 said he believed Giwa was killed because he believed Giwa was in “the way of some powerful forces”.
In 2001, General Ibrahim Babangida refused to testify before a national human rights commission about the Giwa murder. Babangida, Akilu 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”.
General Ibrahim Babaginda Interview on “who killed Dele Giwa?”
Responding to inquiries on who killed renowned journalist, Dele Giwa who died from a parcel bomb blast, Babangida said, “A Bomb”.
When asked in the interview on who sent the bomb, he replied:
“Would you ever think somebody could sit and ask a soldier or anybody, go and kill that man?”
Upon the interviewer’s response that “It depends….”, IBB was quoted to have replied:
“It depends on who? If what you hear about other African leaders is anything to go by, you are right to believe that it could happen because of what happened in the case of the Mobutu (President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and later Zaire from 1965 to 1997) of this world. But there is also one human being who believes in God, who believes you cannot take away life, who believes that God forbids you to do that, who believes that God created you equally. Somebody of that nature cannot, in all fairness order the execution or killing of another person.”
When he was pressed on his relationship with late Dele Giwa, Babangida replied: “We were friends. Very soon, somebody is going to accuse me of saying he is my friend. I knew him very closely. I have correspondence between him and me. But that is not enough for you to believe that we were friends. What is enough is that I took a bomb and killed him.”
When The Interview countered that “There was a general feeling that he knew a lot of military guys and knew more than he was supposed to know….”, IBB cut in……
”That he knew we were dealing in drugs and Gloria Okon. Somebody should have come out with it by now. He must have left some manuscripts.”
When he was asked if he suppressed the investigation, the former president replied,
“There was a report on that investigation if you may be interested to know.”
On the interviewer’s remark that witnesses in the investigation were apparently hidden, Babangida replied,
“No. Most of what you guys talked about were fictitious. Even one of the persons you guys said was involved does not seem to exist. Gloria Okon; she does not seem to be in existence.
And then you came out with, what is the name of the other girl who was supposed to be my wife’s friend? She was in prison or something; you came out with that one. There is virtually no truth in it all. People are not very good at putting stories together to make it look credible. They only make it look fantastic.
If you are dealing with an idiot, of course you can do anything. But you deal with a man who thinks, a man who tries to rationalise”.
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.”
In 2008 along with other activists such as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Ken Saro Wiwa, the Government of Nigeria named a street in the New Federal Capital Abuja after Dele Giwa.
The question “who killed Dele Giwa?” remains unanswered.