Dele Giwa, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine was assassinated right in his residence after receiving a bomb-laced letter purportedly sent from the presidency during the former head of state’s regime, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
He was at the dining table with Kayode Soyinka, Newswatch’s former Bureau Chief in London, taking their breakfast at the deceased’s residence located at 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos, when Billy, his first son handed the parcel to him, saying it was delivered by some unknown.
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After his death at 39, the killers remain unknown to date. His death, unfortunately, marked the death of Newswatch magazine which was co-founded by the deceased with Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese — the trio are still alive.
‘THEY GOT ME’
“They have got me”
These were the words of Giwa when he was being taken to the hospital when he later died from injuries sustained after the bomb tore him off.
Some minutes before the letter was delivered to him, Col. Halilu Akilu, the then Director of Military Intelligence had phoned Fumi, Giwa’s wife asking for directions to their house, according to Rodney Ciboh in his book titled: Mass Media in Nigeria: Perspectives on Growth and Development.
Akilu further convinced Funmi that the “ADC wants to drop an invitation or something like that,” Ciboh added.
Apart from the suspicious phone call, there are a number of events that further probe the involvement of the military government in the assassination of the dare-devil journalist.
Four days before he was killed, A.K Togun, the Chief of State Security Service (SSS) had invited Giwa to his office where he was allegedly accused of various offences including gun-running, plotting a socialist revolution with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Nigeria Labour Union (NLC) and National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) among other offences.
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According to Ciboh, Giwa denied all the allegations and wrote to Gani Fawehinmi, his lawyer asking him to take up the allegations levelled against him.
Subsequently, the SSS boss and Akilu, the director of military Intelligence would later admit to their complicities in Giwa’s death. The duo accused Giwa of “blackmailing a seal secret agreement,” Ciboh documents. “A Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission set up in 2001 and headed by Justice Oputa indicted the Babangida regime, the top security chiefs in its reports… but the killers have not been found.”
GLORIA OKON, MARYAM BABANGIDA, BUBA MARWA AND OTHERS IN THE PICTURE
General Muhammadu Buhari, in 1984 passed Decree 20, stating: “any person who, without lawful authority deals in, sells, smokes or inhales the drug known as cocaine or other similar drugs shall be guilty…, liable on conviction to suffer death sentence by firing squad.”
A year after, Gloria Okon, who reportedly was a drug courier for Babangida and his wife, Maryam, was caught with drugs and some currencies at Aminu Kano International Airport, kano. her way to London.
In an interview dated June 8, Dr. Taiyemiwo Ogunade told The Nation:
“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 the princess. So Chinyere became a widow and resorted to trading between 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.
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“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. And then a letter parcel was delivered to him and he said excitedly that it must be from “Mr. President” referring to the discussions he had with IBB days earlier. The bomb exploded and severed his lower abdomen; he died a few hours later.”
On August 5, 1985, Buhari set up a panel to investigate Okon’s story but the fact-finding mission never saw the light of the day as Babangida toppled Buhari’s government 22 days after, according to HistoryVille.
In a subsequent chat with SaharaReporters, Ogunade revealed the role of the former military administrator of Lagos State, Buba Marwa in the assassination of Giwa.
He said soldiers loyal to the slain General Mamman Vatsa identified Marwa as the person who delivered the parcel bomb that killed Giwa. He said the revelation came from a confidential discussion he had with one of the military boys who came to the City University of New York (CUNY) to press the college to train Nigerian military officials in “Peace and Conflict Resolution”. He said that Vatsa gave a four-hour-long testimony to the military tribunal that tried and later sentenced him to death for a phantom coup plot against former military dictator, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, according to SaharaReporters.
Ogunade said: “I believe that Buba Marwa did it. Some Mamman Vatsa boys told the full story in New York during a visit to my college to lobby our college to accept to train Nigerian military officers. Ambassador Olusola was on that entourage. [My informant] told me Dele Giwa was killed because he was in possession of a tape containing Vatsa’s testimony before the military tribunal.
“For four hours, Vatsa requested to tell the full story about how the Babangida regime was operating and his knowledge of the workings of IBB’s mind. He pointed out that after Halilu Akilu and Col. A.K Togun of the military intelligence prepared the parcel it was handed over to Buba Marwa to deliver to Dele Giwa. Marwa is a well–known “IBB boy”. But I was the one who gave Dele Giwa the tape…“
WHAT KILLED GIWA STILL HAUNTS NIGERIAN JOURNALISTS
The relationship between the Nigerian government and agents of its fourth realm continues to be stiff just like we had it in the military era.
According to a report by Premium Times, Nigeria is ranked 129/180 by Reporters Without Borders in its chart on the safety of journalists. According to RSF, ‘’Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often watched, attacked, arbitrarily arrested and even killed.’’
Between 2019 to 2022, there were 54 arrests, 69 physical attacks, 16 denials of access, 17 threats, 16 harassments, 11 equipment damages and seizures and one missing person — all targeted at Nigerian journalists.
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Within the period under review, 112 attacks on Nigerian journalists were engineered by state actors, 16 by non-state actors, 16 by thugs/hoodlums and five by political thugs. Eighteen were categorised unknown and 12 cases were referenced to others (gunmen, kidnappers and civilians).
For many of us doing adversarial journalism, October 19, 1986, remains a reference point to draw the line between what we do and what the powers that be want us to do.
The timeline and pattern of these attacks could be seen here.