Dele Giwa: 20 years After

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Dele Giwa: 20 Years After
 

By

 

Sunny Awhefeada

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, October 23, 2006

 

Sunday October 19, 1986 was like any other day in the somnolence of Evwreni countryside. The tall rubber trees that seemed to form an impregnable fortress round our dwellings stood where they were, firm and stolid, but occasionally swaying to the lulling breeze that usually blew now and then. The cassava vegetation, shrubs and tall elephant grass also must have rustled. It was October, the season when the sun shines with a lulling and enchanting caress in the morning and gradually metamorphoses into a haunting intensity at noon. We went about our domestic and farm chores as we prepared for the new school week. Then, Evwreni was nature and nature was Evwreni. The ambience was almost edenic.

 

But somewhere in Lagos, at 25 Talabi street Ikeja, the atmosphere was an agonising contrast with the idyllic Evwreni scenario. At 25 Talabi Street, there was wailing, lamentation, grief, confusion and other indices that the fiends of hell were visiting. A substantial part of the house that bore number 25 had been shattered and charred by a bomb explosion. A television set, louvers, chairs, a table, breakfast set and other domestic appurtenances were blown apart and charred. In the midst of that midday Armageddon was also the bruised and bloodied body of Sumonu Oladele Giwa, style-named Dele Giwa. In the throes of indescribable pain, Dele Giwa moaned agonizingly and sustained the refrain "they have got me!". Dele Giwa was at home having a late breakfast with a colleague, Kayode Soyinka when a postman brought a parcel addressed to him. The parcel was delivered to his eldest son, Billy; then 19 years old. Billy handed the parcel over to his father. The latter looked the parcel over and commented "this must be from the president", because it bore the seal of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Dele Giwa tried to open the parcel and lo, it emitted a deafening and deadly explosion! The parcel was a letter bomb meant to blow Dele Giwa out of existence. The bomb badly lacerated Dele Giwa's body, but he didn't die immediately. He was rushed to the hospital and he sustained the refrain'they have got me!". He gave up the ghost.

 

Dele Giwa was, at the time of his death, the editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine, Nigeria's, and probably Africa's, most prestigious news magazine. The son of a washerman, Dele Giwa, through dint of hardwork, grit and courage rose from obscurity to celebrity. After a chequered adolescence and early adulthood in Nigeria, he left for the United States of America in search of the proverbial golden fleece. He studied English and Communication Arts at the University of Brooklyn and achieved the rainbow tinted dream when he bagged the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees respectively. His star shone when he was employed as a journalist with the prestigious New York Times and he left no one in doubt that he was a journalistic thoroughbred. He soon became a highflier.

 

In 1976, he returned to Nigeria on invitation to work with the Daily Times group, then Africa's most prestigious newspaper. He excelled at Daily Times and by the early 1980s the business mogul turned politician, Late Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola invited him to join in starting the Concord Group of Newspapers. Dele Giwa edited the Sunday Concord and the paper became an instant hit. At the Concord, Dele Giwa's image was larger than life just as he was gradually becoming a household name in Nigeria. Soon, disagreement crept into the relationship between Dele Giwa and his employer, Bashorun Abiola. He soon resigned and became part of the quartet that founded Newswatch the first news magazine solely owned by journalists in post-independence Nigeria.

Dele Giwa's journalism career was exciting and it reads like the stuff of which fairy tales are made. He was an enchanting prose stylist and a fearless and committed investigative journalist. He represented the best of his chosen profession. Dele Giwa took on the authorities, his pen through his column PARALAX SNAP flayed those twerps who retarded Nigeria's growth and foisted a regime of socio-economic inequity on the people. He was a thorn in the flesh of incompetent rulers and for that he suffered frequent harassments including detention by government. Having known what it was to be poor, Dele Giwa saw journalism as a tool for social reformation. Dele Giwa loved life and lived it to the full even though his life was cut short at youthful 39. He loved women and wine. He was also debonair. He loved excellence too. He, together with Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed took Nigerian journalism to avant gardist heights and conferred respectability on the profession. The emergence of their brainchild Newswatch revolutionised, repositioned and redefined Nigerian journalism. The quartet mentored a generation of intrepid journalists who are today maestros in every sense of the word. Dele Giwa loved journalism which brought him fame and fortune. He enjoyed the fame and its attendant connections which made him to be too close to power. His breathtaking biography Born to Run written by Dele Olojede and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo points to the fact that Dele Giwa cherished and prided his romance with men of power; a factor which made sensitive state secrets accessible to him. This was his undoing. The powers that be had thought that Dele Giwa knew too much, and that was dangerous. He had to leave and not live to reveal what he knew.

 

Dele Giwa's death was by no means fortuitous. He saw it coming. Days to his earthshaking exit, he was physically and psychologically harassed by Nigeria's topmost security chiefs. They accused him of gun-running and plotting a socialist revolution. Dele Giwa had asked his attorney, Chief Gani Fawehinmi to sue the security chiefs before death was delivered to him through the parcel bomb. After Giwa's death, Fawehinmi was unrelenting. He pursued the killers of Dele Giwa as far as to the Oputa Panel in 2000. Unto this day, the police have not been able to answer the question that made the headlines 20 years ago "Who Killed Dele Giwa?"

 

Dele Giwa's death signaled Nigeria's descent into the Hobbessian state of terror where life was short, nasty and brutish. Since then there have been scores and scores of murders whose causes remained unresolved. But Giwa's spirit is resilient, it will not die. It lives in poems, books, essays he wrote and those written about him as tributes. Dele Giwa shall never be forgotten. This was the theme of the madrigal by school pupils at Ugbekpe-Ekperi, Dele Giwa's native soil and final resting place 20 years ago. In a tune reminiscent of "Beast of England" in George Orwell's Animal Farm the pupils had sang:

In Nigeria, West Africa

There was once a journalist

On the 19 of October

When they killed our journalist

Dele Giwa, Dele Giwa

Dele Giwa you are gone

Dele Giwa, our journalist

We shall never forget you!

 

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Awhefeada teaches literature at the Delta State University, Abraka.

 

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