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How Dele Giwa was Bombed to Death in 1986

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Dele Giwa death

When Dele Giwa, a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the defunct Newswatch Magazine, was killed on Sunday, October 19, 1986, exactly 33 years ago today, through a parcel bomb in his 25, Talabi Street, off Adeniyi Jones Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos residence, it was a mystery to the nation, especially since the delivery personnel of that parcel was and has not been detected. Giwa’s death remains an enigma!

It was articulately plotted with a very clear mission of terminating him completely. It was a brutal technology method of assassination and a plan well executed. It was a bomb sent in the form of a letter. A kind of death that was unprecedented in the nation’s history.

Early Life and Education

Although without a pint of royal blood, Sunmonu Oladele Giwa was born in a palace – not just a palace but that of the Ooni of Ife, Oba (Sir) Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi, as his father worked there. Of Owan, Edo State origin, Giwa was born on March 16, 1947, to Musa Giwa and Elekiya Ayisat Giwa at Ile-Ife, in the then Western Region of Nigeria.

Dele Giwa had his primary education at Local Authority Modern School, Lagere, Ile-Ife and his secondary education at the Oduduwa College also at Ile-Ife, present-day Osun State. His father had become an employee of the school as a laundryman. In his third year in school, he became the founding editor of the school’s bi-monthly magazine, The Torch.

Although he wanted to become a medical doctor or chemical engineer, his teacher encouraged him to study the English Language. But because his parents were poor, he could not seek admission to higher institutions after he completed his secondary education.

Image of Dele-Giwa
Dele Giwa (March 16, 1947-October 19, 1986).

In 1966, at the age of 19, Dele Giwa worked as a clerk with Barclays Bank for five months and later at the Nigeria Tobacco Company (NTC). Thereafter, he moved to the News Department of the then Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), now Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).

In 1971, he enrolled at the Brooklyn College, New York City, United States of America to study English. After his graduation, he enrolled for a Master’s degree at Fordham University where he also concurrently worked as a Desk Editor with the New York Times until 1979 when he returned home and began work as Features Editor of the Nigerian Daily Times in April 1979. At the Daily Times, he established Art/Life and American File columns. He also wrote Press Snaps and Parallax View columns every week.

In 1980, Chief Moshood Abiola poached him to work for him in his Concord Group of Newspapers he had just set up and was made the pioneer Editor of Sunday Concord. With the Concord, Dele Giwa had just one column, Parallax Snaps, a combination of the two titles under which he wrote in the Daily Times.

In 1984, Giwa, along with Ray Ekpu (former editor of the Sunday Times), Dan Agbese (Editor of New Nigerian Newspaper), and Yakubu Mohammed (Editor of National Concord) founded a news magazine called Newswatch. Dele Giwa became Editor-in-Chief of the magazine and the first edition was distributed to the public on January 28, 1985.

This ushered in the era of real and investigative journalism in Nigeria. Newswatch was a bold and untried venture in Nigerian journalism. The magazine was too hot for the government to handle. It was a magazine that would dig so deep in its gathering of information and published without trepidation that it became a pain in the neck for both the Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida-led military government.

Image of Oba Adeosoji Aderemi
Dele Giwa was born in the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba (Sir) Adesoji Aderemi (pictured), where his father worked.

Barely two years of the launch of Nigeria’s first news magazine, its Editor-in-Chief was gruesomely assassinated with a letter bomb and to date, the real killer is yet to be unraveled and brought to justice.

Why was Dele Giwa killed?

There are many assertions to Giwa’s death on why he was killed. But what I know is that he knew or had information that would implicate some certain powerful people in the country.

On Thursday, October 16, 1986, three days before his death, Dele Giwa was interrogated by officials of the State Security Service (SSS) over a column he wrote on the introduction of the Second-tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM) by Head-of-State General Ibrahim Babangida. 

Giwa had argued in the column that SFEM must succeed, else those in government would be stoned in the streets. Giwa was also questioned by Colonel Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) over his relationship with some people dealing in arms importation.

Image of Ibrahim Babangida
General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, Nigerian Head of State, 1985-1993.

The next day, Friday, October 17, he was invited to the headquarters of the SSS at 15, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. He was accompanied by Ray Ekpu, but Dele Giwa was the only one taken into the director, Ajibola Kunle Togun’s office. There, four allegations were levelled against him.

First, that Newswatch was planning to write another side of the story on Ebitu Ukiwe’s removal as Chief of General Staff to General Babangida.

Second, that Giwa promised to defend Alozie Ogugbuaja, a superintendent of police and spokesman of the Lagos State Police Command, who had accused soldiers of negligence during a students’ riot which took place in early 1986.

Dele Giwa was also accused of holding discussions with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) to carry out a socialist revolution.

Last, he was also accused of planning to import arms into the country for the “revolution”.

The Gloria Okon Story

In 1984, the Muhammadu Buhari-led military government issued Decree 20 which stated that “any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sell, smoke or inhale the drug known as cocaine or other similar drugs shall be guilty…….and liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad.”

Therefore, on April 22, 1985, a certain Gloria Okon, whose real name was Chinyere, was about to board a Nigeria Airways flight at the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano when she was apprehended and arrested with substances suspected to be heroin which weighed about 57 grammes and other drugs as well as local and foreign currencies.

Gloria Okon was said to be a drug courier for Babangida and his wife. In an exclusive interview with Sahara Reporters published on June 8, 2009, Dr. Taiyemiwo Ogunade described the event thus: 

Gloria Okon is actually Chinyere, that’s her real name. She married Charles ‘Jeff’ Chandler, the fellow who killed (Kaduna) Nzeogwu and was killed a day later. Chinyere, Maryam, and Princess Atta were young friends who hung out together. They all married into the military because the military was a proud and respectable profession then.

Image of Gloria Okon
Gloria Okon, an accused drug peddler who reportedly died in detention in 1985.
Photo Credit: Raphael James

Charles Chandler, who was Tiv, married Chinyere who I think is from Imo State. IBB married Maryam from Asaba and Mamman Vatsa married Princess. So Chinyere became a widow and resorted to trading between the UK and Nigeria. And then she was caught with drugs; Mamman Vatsa was the person who put Chinyere on the next available flight from Kano to London – and then claimed that she was dead by parading a dead woman picked out of the mortuary.

Dele Giwa later found out that she was in London having delivered a baby by another man. He sent a French photographer to the place and they saw Maryam Babangida at the event. Kayode Soyinka brought back the photographs. Dele was sitting across the table from Kayode examining the photos taken of “Gloria Okon” (Chinyere, Richard Chandler’s wife) at the naming ceremony in London. Maryam Babangida was there.”

After the whole ruse, General Muhammadu Buhari, on August 5, 1985, set up a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the arrest and death of Gloria Okon. The report of the investigation was expected to be brought in at the end of the month, but it was a fruitless journey.

It never saw the light of the day as Buhari was toppled by Ibrahim Babangida in a military coup 22 days later on August 27, 1985. So end of the investigation, end of the case.

The Assassination of Dele Giwa

Kayode Soyinka, Newswatch Magazine’s London Bureau Chief, had brought back the photographs a French photographer had taken of Gloria Okon. It was a Sunday morning of October 19, 1986, and were to take their breakfast. They had looked at the pictures and then Billy, Giwa’s first son, came in with a parcel, addressed to his dad, and meant only for him.

It was not a strange thing and it wouldn’t be the first time he would be receiving such. In fact, he had received a phone call from Akilu some 40 minutes before he received the parcel that allegations against him have been dropped and the matter resolved.

Minutes later Dele Giwa was with the letter bomb which was delivered by some unidentified people who gave it to the security man who in turn gave it to Billy for onward transfer to his father.

The only witness to these events, Kayode Soyinka, before the bomb exploded had alleged that the parcel had a label with the seal of the Nigerian President and that it was from the Office of the President. Albeit, neither the security man who got the letter nor Billy who delivered it was able to corroborate Soyinka’s claim.

Image of Kayode Soyinka
Kayode Soyinka (b. December 15, 1957), was the last person to see Giwa alive.
Photo Credit: National Infinity

Dele Giwa was said to have been excited when he received the parcel, that it must be from “Mr. President” referring to the discussions he had with IBB days earlier. He put the parcel on his laps and as he tried to open it, the bomb exploded and blew up his upper legs and badly affected the lower part of his body.

The noise threw Soyinka on the floor by the exit door and became momentarily unconscious, but later regained consciousness. The noise was deafening and everybody came rushing to the scene.

On getting there, his wife and neighbours saw him sprawled on the floor in the pool of his own blood with his charred body. He was rushed to the First Foundation Hospital, Opebi Road, Ikeja, Lagos, and there he breathed his last. While in transit to the hospital, Dele Giwa kept moaning the refrain, “They have got me.” Who he referred to as “they” still remains a riddle to this day.

Who killed Dele Giwa?

Throughout the tenure of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, under whose watch the cruel murder occurred, the police and other security apparatuses expressed helplessness, repeating their now-familiar refrains of “no fresh leads,” “we have no clues yet, but we are still on it.” The case file of the slain journalist remained open for several years, with the police anticipating information from the public that could lead to the identification of Dele Giwa’s killers.

Image of Dele Giwa's death
Giwa’s charred body on his death-bed.
Photo Credit: Google Images

As Boye Salau wrote: “Ever a wordsmith, Dele was an enchanting prose stylist and a fearless investigative journalist. He was not the type of journalist so enamoured of the meretricious affectation of diplomatese, to call a spade another name. For Dele, a spade is a spade.”

But for the rest of Nigerians, the begging question remains, “Who killed Dele Giwa?”

You can follow me on Twitter @AmazingAyo.

Ahebi Ugbabe: The only Female King in Colonial Nigeria

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Image of Ahebi Ugbabe

Ahebi Ugbabe has been described succinctly by the American-based Nigerian historian Nwando Achebe in her book, The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe, published in 2011 (if you want the book, you’ll have to read this article to the end).

Achebe who trained in oral history, especially West African and female sexual histories, is unarguably an authority one can rely on concerning the life and times of Ahebi Ugbabe. She made it easy for those unfamiliar with Ahebi’s story to catch a glimpse of how she lived, through personal interviews, archives, reports, et cetera.

Therefore, the story of Ahebi Ugbabe that I shall relay in this article is totally dependent on Achebe’s book and I thank her for her efforts in showing light to some hitherto unfamiliar figures in Nigerian history.

Now to her story:

Who was Ahebi Ugbabe?

At a time when the female folks were totally alienated from masculine duties and a society where they were conspicuously marginalised, Ahebi Ugbabe was born at Umuida, Enugu-Ezike, present-day Enugu State, around the year 1880 where she lived with her father, Ugbabe Ayibi and her mother, Anekwu Ameh. Ugbabe’s father was a palm wine tapper and a farmer, while her mother was a farmer as well and an occasional trader. She grew up with two other siblings who were boys.

While growing up, apparently in her teenage years, the family suffered a series of misfortunes. Her parents’ farms lacked yield; her mother’s trade collapsed and illness beset them. In a bid to find out what was wrong with the family, the senior Ugbabe consulted a spiritualist who revealed that the father had offended Ohe, the goddess. The spiritualist, however, said the only solution was that his daughter would be offered in marriage to appease the goddess.

Sex worker cum Businesswoman

Not wanting to suffer for her father’s sins, Ahebi fled to Igala, which is north to Nsukka. To be married to a deity in compensation for her father’s criminality was too much for her to bear. The result of the marriage would make Ugbabe Ayibi an in-law of a goddess, a known penalty in 19th century northern Igboland.

When Ahebi got to Igala, she was very young, without any handwork and education. She was alone. She was on her own.

The young girl then travelled around the Igala area up to the land of the Tapa, looking for work but she couldn’t get one. In the process, she resorted to becoming an autonomous sex worker (a prostitute) and used this work to her advantage, learning to speak diverse languages. In addition to her Igbo tongue, Ahebi could speak Igala, Nupe and Pidgin English.

With the money she made from prostitution, Ahebi Ugbabe then ventured into business which solidified her as a successful foreigner in Igala. She traded in palm oil and horses and was one of the most influential horse traders in the borders of the Igala-Igbo lands.

Her profession, success as a businesswoman, and her linguistic skills would give her access to many people in high authority, including the Attah (king) of Igala and the British colonialists who would later support her to be a warrant chief among her people.

The Return to Enugu

The British colonialists had invaded Enugu and settled there after the discovery of coal in 1909. They were able to exert themselves on the locals with their intimidating attacks.

With her connection with the British Divisional Officer at Igala, Ahebi was able to introduce the colonialists to Enugu-Ezike, showing them unknown routes, so that they could conquer the locals and do away with the traditions that made her flee in the first place. For this, she was able to court the respect and alliance of the British.

Around the year 1918, Ahebi Ugbabe returned home. As a polyglot, it gave her an undue advantage and the ability to lead a united people of Igala and Nupe to her homeland. In fact, she was the only one in her village who could communicate with the colonialists, playing a mediator or spokesperson role between the white man and her people.

The Rise to Power

When Ahebi Ugbabe returned to her village, she was able to displace Ogwu Okegwu, the man the British had put as the village headman. A headman in the British colonial system in Eastern Nigeria was to govern the village under the supervision of a Divisional Officer who was usually British.

This system of government was unpopular among the locals and the headman was usually ceremonial. However, Ahebi’s rise would change everything.

Image of Nwando Achebe Ahebi Ugbabe Book Cover
Nwando Achebe’s book which detailed the interesting story of Ahebi Ugbabe, the only female king of colonial Nigeria.

Okegwu did not have Ahebi’s linguistic abilities and as I had written earlier, she was the only one who could communicate in English with the colonialists in her whole village.

Therefore, barely months after returning from exile in 1918, the British appointed Ahebi as a warrant chief; the only woman in colonial Nigeria to be appointed thus. It was permissible to the colonialists because Ahebi had helped them in conquering her village.

As expected, the male chiefs resisted Ahebi’s appointment, especially as she was a woman. But their dissent voices were subdued because of the British support to Ahebi. As a result, to consolidate her power, she alienated them from the affairs of the state.

As time went on, Ahebi did not care and she did the unprecedented and unbearable! Achebe described it as an ife di egwu (thing of great incredulity). She wanted to become a king, not an Eze nwanyi, to bring her people to total subjection. She was ready to transform from a woman to a man and her government to a powerful female-based system mirroring that of the Queen of England. In the midst of all these, the British turned a blind eye to her atrocities as they felt the colonial machine system is still functioning.

The Female Leopard

As it was anomalous for a woman to be king in Igboland, Ahebi travelled to Igalaland where she held her coronation. She was crowned by the Attah of Igala amidst great celebrations. For a woman to be king was not strange to the Igala people as they once had a woman as a king around the 1500s. As a matter of fact, she was their first Attah.

So, the Igala people honoured the new king and sang many songs enhancing Ahebi’s kingly qualities. They did these for days.

Back home in Enugu-Ezike, the locals were sad and angry with Ahebi, and they sang negative songs about her. But as a king and warrant chief, she wanted to be respected by her people and intimidated them with stories that struck fear into their hearts. This worked well and the people tagged her an Agamega (a female leopard).

The Beginning of the End

Well entrenched in her reign, King Ahebi Ugbabe began to hold court cases in her palace while making money from the services. Women who had also been abused by their husbands escaped to Ahebi’s palace who then became their “female husband”. Ahebi married wives for herself and for her two brothers by paying their “bride price”. She then looked for men who had intercourse with these wives and claimed the “paternity” of the children they bore. She assumed the role of a man and named the children after herself.

Ahebi also bought slaves and had many female workers who were of great help to the British colonial officers in Enugu-Ezike.

The king also hosted a school in her palace to teach the people after some Roman Catholic missionaries visited Enugu-Ezike in the 1930s and informed the warrant chiefs to establish schools in order to educate the locals.

With time, many of the people became sick and tired of Ahebi’s autocratic rule. They also condemned her sacrilegious ways where she refused to consult with the chiefs, received bribes and took other men’s wives by force.

The next step she took really made the people turned against her and made her do another unimaginable thing in the land.

The First and Last King

Ahebi Ugbabe wanted to become a full man. Thus, she unveiled her masked spirit which was called Ekpe Ahebi. In the Igbo society, it was a taboo for a woman to have control over a masked spirit. She was not in a position to create one and this was the highest form of crime.

Nevertheless, Ahebi nearly had her way after the masked spirits had concluded their performances with a bow. When it was her turn, the male elders escorted the masked spirit, kept it away and destroyed it. Ahebi’s chalice had reached the brim with the locals. They wanted her out. They wanted a return to the sanity that Enugu-Ezike had always been known for traditionally.

As expected, the king was not happy with the elders and she ordered them to court. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a grave mistake. They argued before the Resident Officer at Onitsha that Ahebi had no right to create a masked spirit as she was a woman. Ahebi had thought she would win the case easily but after everything she had done for the British, they betrayed her. The colonialists had no use for her anymore because Enugu-Ezike and the villages were now in their control.

The Resident Officer supported the elders’ claim that Ahebi had passed her boundaries as a warrant chief and that she was just an ordinary woman who was not fit to be king. As a result, the people of Enugu-Ezike and the elders decided that no ruler would ever rule the community, regardless of gender.

This made King Ahebi Ugbabe, the first and last ruler of Enugu-Ezike. Although she remained king until she died in 1948, her respect and awe had dissipated compared to the early years of her reign.

With the fear that her people might not accord her a rightful burial, she performed her own funeral rites in 1946, two years before her death.

Wow! Thanks for reading till the end. You can get the book here. You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for interesting historical videos.

Sources

Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Bloomington-Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.

Averill Earls and Sarah Handley-Cousins (2018). Transcript of King Ahebi Ugbabe: The Nigerian Female King.

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