By Dare Babarinsa
October 19 was the 30th anniversary of Dele Giwa’s assassination. For us who were with him at Newswatch magazine, it was the day the world changed. Giwa was the pioneer Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive of Newswatch. He was larger than life and larger than journalism. Henry Kissinger, former American Secretary of State, writing about President Charles De Gaulle of France, said the charisma of the French president was so great that when he enters a room, the centre of gravity shifts. So it was with Giwa. How could anyone who has ever met him, forget his arresting personality and the magnetism of his presence?
It is mere happenstance that my book, One Day and A Story, is coming on the 30th anniversary of Giwa’s death. The book, which is my reminiscences of my Newswatch years, has been ready for at least 10 years. I only hope the book would again re-awake the debate about who killed Dele Giwa and why? Each regime since the assassination had made promises to unravel the matter, but eight governments later, the truth remains elusive like Giwa’s ghost.
What would have been the fate of Nigerian journalism if Giwa had not happened among us? He was one of the several American trained journalists attracted to the old Daily Times by the venerable Dr. Dele Cole. Dr Cole, now a consultant to The Guardian editorial board, was drafted by the Federal Military Government to manage the newspaper empire after the legendary Babatunde Jose was removed from office by the military regime of General Murtala Muhammed. Jose was the newspaper genius who turned the conservative Daily Times, founded in 1926 by some businessmen, including Sir Adeyemo Alakija, into an empire.
After the coup that toppled General Yakubu Gowon in 1975, some of the top editors of the newspaper revolted and petitioned the new strongman, General Muhammed who simply seized the paper for the Federal Government. It was the government that drafted Cole, a top civil servant at Doddan Barrack, to manage the Daily Times.
It was Cole who brought Giwa and his intellectual soul mate, Dr Stanley Macebuh, to the Daily Times. Macebuh was to emerge later as the first managing director of The Guardian. I first met Giwa when he was the feature editor of the Daily Times at the Times office on Kakawa Street, Lagos.
I was taken to his office by my friend, Waheed Olagunju, now the acting Managing Director of the Bank of Industry. Olagunju was my roommate at the University of Lagos where we shared a large room nicknamed Angola in El-Kanemi Hall. That was the beginning of my relationship with Giwa who was destined to have a long influence on my career and that of many of my colleagues and contemporaries.
As the features editor of the Daily Times, he revolutionised the feature pages of the paper, bringing in such innovations as the Page Seven feature pages. It was part of that innovation that he made me to pioneer the writing of the column, Campus News, in the old Daily Times. By the time he became the editor of the new Sunday Concord in 1981, Giwa had become a celebrity journalist, much a news reporter as well as a news maker.
A corps of reporters was already developing around him and he became the leader of a new kind of journalism. Among the new members were the likes of Richard Ikiebe, Amman Ogan, Mike Awoyinfa and May Ellen-Ezekiel.
Though Nigerian noticed Giwa when he was in Kakawa, he was to blossom as the editor of the Sunday Concord founded by that incomparable philanthropist and politician, Chief M.K.O Abiola. It was in Concord that Giwa found his bearing, creating a Sunday paper that re-defined journalism. He was the one who introduced the Concord magazine, a pull-out inside the paper that focused on a major topic of interest.
His team did not rely on those of us working with the National Concord, including those of us working in the states. Though I filed a lot of stories on the 1983 bloody riots in Ondo State in the aftermath of that year controversial elections, Giwa still dispatched a team of Sunday Concord reporters, led by Mike Awoyinfa, to do a story for the Sunday Concord magazine. He did not ask me to do it.
He found his destiny when he and three other top journalists founded the Newswatch magazine. The other three, Ray Ekpu, Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Concord Group and former Editor of the Sunday Times, Yakubu Mohammed, former editor of the National Concord and Dan Agbese, former Editor of the New Nigerian.
The quartet was a formidable one and it soon proved its mettle when the Newswatch hit the newsstand in 1985. It was Mohammed, along with Dayo Onibile, our former News Editor at the Concord, who invited me and Wale Oladepo, my late friend, to join the Newswatch team.
Newswatch was a great place to practice journalism. We had four of the greatest journalists under one roof and commanding the troops into battle. Then one day, our life changed. In those days, there was no mobile phone and telephone was a luxury meant for the rich. October 19, 1986 was a Sunday.
After service, I had gone to the office, as was the practice among us staff of Newswatch, to pick up my copy of the magazine. I was accompanied there by my friend and neighbour, Paul Okomayin, a banker and accountant. We got to the office at 62 Oregun Road, and met an eerie scene.
“Giwa had been bombed!”
A lady from Newbreed, another magazine founded by Chris Okolie, was telling me. She sensed my incomprehension.
“Giwa had been bombed! He is dead!”
Thirty years later, we are still asking who killed Dele Giwa? Thirty years after the tragedy, the world has moved on, but the question remained unanswered. Giwa is now a free spirit. His prodigious capacity, his love of life, his tenacity, his capacity to love and his fearlessness have followed him to the land of the Dead.
Can his spirit see this world where we worry about the exchange rate, the kidnappers and the return of the Chibok girls? Does his spirit now know the answer to the question that continues to taunt us: Who killed Dele Giwa?
Occasionally, now I drive pass 62, Oregun Road, Ikeja, and the premises where we expended the energy of youth and sow the seed of future endeavours. I remember always Giwa lying in state in front of that building with throngs of Lagosians waiting patiently to file pass his body. There was Wole Soyinka, grim-faced, numbed into silence. Giwa was in a dark suit, with a white shirt and tie as if the mortician was preparing him for a wedding feast. How we wept!
I have found out many times since then that tears cannot wake the dead. Then later an Okada airline, donated by Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, carried Giwa’s body to Benin on the final journey to Ugbekpe Ekperi. After all these years, has Giwa’s ghost grow old in the land of the Dead? Does the ghost worry about Who Killed Dele Giwa? Or are some of the killers already with him?
The world has changed since then with so many unresolved murders on the national score card. Even a sitting Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige, was assassinated in the sanctuary of his home. General Muhammed Shuwa, a Civil War hero and divisional commander, was assassinated. Even whole villages in Kaduna, Plateau, Benue and other states have been sacked by rampaging gun men. Yet after all these years of bloodletting and unresolved murders, I do not know of any other person who has been killed with a parcel bomb apart from Giwa.
Can the dead rest in peace when the killers have not been brought to justice? After the burial in Ugbekpe and the red soil of Edo was piled on Giwa’s body, we travelled back to Lagos. Local priests prayed and cursed admists the wailings and the sober faces and the dropping of heads and the starring into the vast distance. Thirty years down the road, are we ever going to find the answer to who killed Dele Giwa?
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