Twenty five years ago, in October 1986 to be precise, the clouds went dark for the whole nation. It was as though the heavens had lost an angel. Once there was a voice, but now only lost memories. It was a day that will be etched on the minds of all Nigerians—the day we lost Dele Giwa, a son, a father, a brother, a husband and, to most of us, a dedicated journalist. Dele Giwa, dead and gone, his stories and struggles will always live on.
Dele Giwa, with his characteristic Afro and moustache, an appearance so classic it became his own. He was the son of a washer man but, with hard work and courage, he rose from abstruseness to celebrity.
Dele Giwa was born on 16th
March 1947 to a poor family; his family worked in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. He attended local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-lfe. When his father moved to Oduduwa College, Ile-Ife as a washer man, he gained admission into that school.
After a well patterned adolescence and early adulthood in Nigeria, Dele Giwa left for the United States of America for higher education. He studied English and Communication Arts at the University of Brooklyn and graduated cum laude with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees respectively. He came into lime light when he was employed as a journalist with the reputed New York Times and, just as the clock ticks, he became a brand to be reckoned with in the world of journalism.
In 1976, Dele Giwa returned to Nigeria on invitation to work with the Daily Times Group, then Africa’s most reputed newspaper. He outstripped at the Daily Times and by the early 1980s the business magnate turned politician—late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola—invited him to join in starting the Concord Group of Newspapers. He was an editor with the Sunday Concord. With his gifted hands the paper rose to its pinnacle. Dele Giwa grew to become a household name in Nigeria. Instability and variance soured the relationship between Dele Giwa and his employer. Before long he vacated and became part of the quartet (with Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, and Yakubu Mohammed) that founded Newswatch in 1984, the first news magazine solely owned by journalists in post-independence Nigeria. The first edition was distributed on January 28, 1985. Newswatch inspired and redefined Nigerian journalism. Giwa’s first wife was Florence Ita Giwa, a former Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and an Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Dele Giwa savoured journalism. He lived for journalism. His crave for professional excellence and wholeness defined Newswatch magazine, of which he was the founding Editor-in-Chief/Chief Executive. Newswatch was not just a new publication; it was a bold and unseasoned venture in Nigerian journalism. The quartet, together, took Nigerian journalism to its peak and bestowed respectability on the profession. He had a wonderful career in journalism that came with its own dash. The genre of his write ups and articles was unique. He was an audacious and committed investigative journalist. Having had a chunk of what it feels like to be poor, Dele Giwa saw journalism as an instrument for social reclamation. He took on the authorities with his pen through his column. He was against those who decelerated Nigeria’s growth and imposed a regime of socio-economic inequity on the people. He was a thorn in the flesh of bungling rulers and for that he suffered frequent harassments, including detention by government during the first few months of the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida who rose to power in August 1985. Later, Newswatch took a more uncongenial view of the Babangida regime.
Dele Giwa relished journalism, and it brought him fame and fortune. He enjoyed the fame and the connection that came with it, which made him become too close to power. Dele Giwa held dear and prided himself on his close relationships with men in power; a factor which made sensitive state secrets accessible to him. The powers that be had thought that he knew too much, and that was dangerous. He had to leave and not live to reveal what he knew. Days to his death, he was physically and psychologically harassed by Nigeria’s topmost security chiefs (on the 17th
of October 1986). They accused him of gun-running and plotting a socialist revolution.
On a beautiful Sunday, 19th October 1986, Dele Giwa was in his house on Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos, about to eat a meal with his London Bureau Chief, Kayode Soyinka, when his son, Billy, brought in a large brown envelope addressed to him and carrying what seemed to be the official government seal. As Dele attempted to open the parcel, which he believed had come from the office of the Nigerian president, it blew up. It was a parcel bomb. Dele’s lower half was almost detached from his body. The government’s coat of arms appeared on the outside of the package delivered to his home, according to Nigerian press reports
The country was aghast by the cruelty of the killing. Nigeria did not have a history of murdering journalists. We were working under the military government; there had been no previous killings of journalists. The murder cast a chill on the journalistic odyssey.
After Giwa’s death, the late activist Gani Fawehinmi was inexorable. He pursued the killers of Dele Giwa as far as the Oputa Panel in 2000. Till this day, the police have not been able to answer the question that made the headlines 25 years ago: Who Killed Dele Giwa?
The pain of losing Dele so early and so cruelly remains fresh on the minds of writers, journalists, and Nigerians as a whole. Dele Giwa lived life to its fullest even though it was cut short at the youthful age of 39.
Dele Giwa’s spirit lives, it will never die, it will never be forgotten. It is found in poetry, books, essays he wrote and those written about him as tributes. 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.
Dele Giwa is more than a memory.
By Eru Kobe Godwin
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This article was first published on 19th October 2011 and updated on July 1st, 2012 at 6:54 am