By Ekubi Bassey
He had been killed on the 19th October 1986 two years before I came to Lagos but his murder was spectacular, the first in Nigeria via a mail bomb. It was then a mirage and incredible that a top-notch journalist of Dele’s calibre would be wasted in such a gruesome manner. The common and familiar tabloid cover pages of ‘Who killed Dele Giwa were rife.
Two years later in Lagos, I stumbled on the text written by my kinsman and later my boss, Dr Josef Magnate, he was close to my senior brother, Otosi Bassey and had started the text in that Festac Town apartment. The text, ‘Dele Giwa’ was well celebrated when it came in, in 1987. Especially as it coincided with the time, Gani Fawehenmi was filling a case of senseless killing of Dele Giwa.
He was born on 16th March 1947 in Ife, he was to live for another 39 years. He studied English at Brooklyn College, New York graduating in 1974 before he proceeded to Fordham University for his post-graduate studies completing in 1977. He had become a salable material in the field of journalism before he returned to Nigeria.
Almost immediately after he arrived in Nigeria he got employment with the Newspaper and later with the Concord Newspaper where he served as the Sunday editor. Dele started making waves in the print media via his tantalizing columns and his investigating stories.
In 1984, he and his friends Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded the popular NewsWatch magazine which became the Nigerian identity of print media. Even the government led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) fell over heels in love with it. He granted them an audience in an interview. The first publication was on 28th January 1985.
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Trouble started in 1986 when the junta started seeing him as a de facto figure whose investigative reports are not detrimental to national security. He was thus hated by the big wigs and they would do anything to stop him. He had become torn in the flesh of the new administration because of his criticisms.
In 1985, he wrote on his Parallex Snaps column about the Pogrom of the massacre of some ABU students. In that article, he described the symbolism of death and dissociate himself from the gruesome killings. He never knew that he himself will be cut off in his prime and in 1989, it was described as the changer of the format of print journalism in Nigeria.
On a Sunday morning, he was enjoying a cup of tea with the London bureau correspondence of NewsWatch who had travelled down to spend few days with him. Just then his son, Billy got a parcel of mail from the maiguards. Took it to him, he exclaimed, “This must be from the Commander-in-Chief” as it was inscribed with C-i-C, on opening it, there came a thunderous explosion that quaked the building. Dele was burnt from his lower abdomen and his friend, Kayode Soyinka was deafened from the report, they were rushed to First Foundation Hospital at Ikeja where Dele was pronounced dead after few hours.
He was married to Olufumilayo Olaniyan between 1984-1986. Funmi had earlier advised him to be careful about his investigative journalism, that this is Nigeria, not the US but he was too confident and bold to listen. His children include Billy Giwa, Dele (junior), Ayodele and Aisha.
His celebrated burial at Ugbekpe Ekperi was one filled with sorrow, sadness, regrets and mixed feelings that a machete was pinned at his grave for him to attack his assailants.
Fast forward in 1999, during the Oputa Reconciliatory panel, Gani Fawenhinmi SAN brought up his case and the panel advised it should be taken up so that those culpable would be prosecuted. But sad as it is, 35 years after, the killers of Dele Giwa are yet to be produced.
He died as a hero, one with audacity and gallantry. The Esako, Edo state king of investigative journalism was thus cut down by the unseen forces that be. Rest on brave Dele, the man with the mighty pen.
Ekubi Bassey writes from Abeokuta. He can be reached on: [email protected]