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 have 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 in Ile-Ife, 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.
In 1966, at the age of 19, Giwa worked as a clerk with Barclays Bank for 5 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, 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.
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, Giwa was interrogated by officials of the State Security Service (SSS) over a column he wrote on the introduction of 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.
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 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.
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.
Lastly, 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 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.
“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.”
Read the full interview here.
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.
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 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.
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 Giwa 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, he kept moaning the refrain, “They have got me.” Who he referred to as “they” still remains a riddle till today.
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, like Vladimir and Estragon Waiting for the Godot, anticipating information from the public that could lead to the identification of Dele Giwa’s killers.
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?”
Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.