Today in history is the day erstwhile journalist, vibrant editor and publisher of the renowned Newswatch Magazine, Sumonu Oladele ‘Baines’ Giwa was assassinated in 1986. Today makes it exactly 31 years that the fearless pen user was killed by a letter bomb.
Dele Giwa, as he was popularly referred to, was born in Ile-Ife to poor parents who were working in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the then Ooni of Ife, on March 16, 1947. He attended Local Authority Modern School in Lagers, Ile-Ife and later got admission into the Oduduwa College, also in Ile-Ife when his father moved there as a laundryman.
He travelled to the US for his higher education and bagged a BA in English from Brooklyn College in 1977 and did a graduate programme at Fordham University.
After graduation, he worked with the New York Times as a news assistant for four years before relocating to Nigeria. In Nigeria, he worked with Daily Times and later founded Newswatch Magazine in 1984 alongside fellow journalists Dan Egbese, Ray Ekpu and Yakubu Mohammed. The first edition of the magazine was distributed on January 28, 1985.
He was first married to an American nurse in 1974. He also married former lawmaker, Senator Florence Ita Giwa and the marriage lasted just ten months. He later married Olufunmilayo Olaniyi who was with him until death, on July 10, 1984. He had five children before his untimely death on October 19, 1986. His children include Billy Giwa, Funmilayo Dele-Giwa, Ayodele Aishat Giwa, Tunde Giwa and Dele Giwa, Jnr.
The events that led to his eventual assassination under The General Ibrahim Babangida led regime are shady as there are still speculations on who actually delivered the parcel and the vehicle used in delivering it.
Dele Giwa was first invited for interrogation by the State Security Service (SSS) officials on September 19, 1986, following an article he wrote about the newly introduced Second-Tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM).
According to his friend and colleague, Ray Ekpu, Dele Giwa got a call from Col Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence on October 16, 1986, questioning him over an allegation that he (Dele Giwa) was heard speaking about arms importation with some people. The SSS officials reportedly summoned him to their headquarters again for questioning which he obliged to on October 17, 1986, accompanied by his colleague, Ekpu. It was said that Lt. Col Togun accused Dele Giwa and his agency, Newswatch of planning to write the “other side” of the story on Ebitu Ukiwe who was removed as Chief of the General staff to the then head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida. Newswatch had published a cover story titled, “Power Games: Ukiwe loses out”, in its edition of 20 October which was on sale on 13 October 1986.
Giwa was also accused of conniving with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the students to carry out a ‘Socialist revolution’. He was also accused of saying that Newswatch would employ the suspended Police Public Relations Officer, Alozie Ogugbuaja. Giwa reportedly narrated his ordeal in the hands of SSS to his friend, the then Minister of Communication, Tony Momoh saying he feared for his life because of the weight of the allegations levelled against him.
Later on, 18 October, a day before the bombing, a staff of the DMI had called Giwa’s house and asked for his office phone number from his wife, Funmi. This same person from the DMI later called back to say he couldn’t reach Giwa at the office and then put Col Akilu on the line.
Ray Ekpu alleges that Akilu asked Giwa’s wife for driving directions to the house and when she asked him why he needed the directions he reportedly said that he wanted to stop by the house on his way to Kano and he wasn’t very familiar with Ikeja. He also offered that the President’s ADC had something for Giwa, which probably might be an invitation. According to Ekpu, was not surprising as Giwa had received advance copies of some of the President’s speeches in the past through Akilu.
On 19 October, Giwa put a call through to Akilu to verify why he called his home the previous day, Akilu was alleged to have explained that he only wanted to tell Giwa that the matter had been resolved.
Ekpu says Giwa replied Akilu that it wasn’t over and that he had already informed his lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi to follow up on the matter. Akilu then told Giwa that there was no need for that, that it wasn’t a matter for lawyers and that he should consider the matter resolved.
At about 40 minutes after the telephone conversation with Akilu, a package was delivered to Giwa’s guard. When Giwa received the package, he was with Kayode Soyinka (London Bureau Chief of Newswatch). The package exploded, mortally wounded Giwa and temporarily deafening Soyinka, who had excused himself to the restroom shortly before Giwa opened the delivered package. Giwa was rushed to the hospital where he eventually died from his wounds.
Later in 2009, in an interview with the Nation newspaper, Dr Ogunade Taiyemiwo alleged that the letter that killed the renowned journalist was delivered by Muhammed Buba Marwa.