ago, on October 19, 1986, the sun quite suddenly set at noon. In the brutal
darkness, we lost Dele Giwa, just two short years after he and I, along with two
other professional journalists, launched Nigeria’s first newsmagazine,Newswatch.
It was in 1977 in New York that the managing editor of The New
York Times introduced me, a graduate student in journalism at Columbia University, to a Nigerian
journalist distinguished by his Afro and moustache, a man named Dele Giwa. Dele, pictured above, was a dedicated journalist. He loved journalism. He lived for journalism. His
passion for professional excellence and integrity defined Newswatch
magazine, of which he was the founding editor-in-chief/chief executive. Newswatch
was not just a new publication. It was a bold and untried venture in Nigerian
journalism. If Time and Newsweek pioneered the newsmagazine in
the United States, Newswatch
blazed that trail in Nigeria.
On that October Sunday, I was on leave in London when my wife
called me at about 6 p.m. to say Dele had been killed.
Dele was planning to go on vacation with his family after my return to Nigeria that
week. It was not to be.
Dele was home on Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos,
about to eat a meal with our London
bureau chief Kayode Soyinka when his son, Billy, brought in a large brown
envelope addressed to him and carrying what seemed to be the official government
seal. Two men in a Peugeot had delivered the parcel to Dele’s home. As Dele
attempted to open the parcel, which he believed had come from the office of the
Nigerian president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, it blew up. It was a parcel bomb. Dele’s
lower half was almost severed from his body.
The news shattered the national euphoria
following the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to Nigerian writer Wole
Soyinka that October. The country was shocked by the cruelty of the killing
and the instrument of death. Nigeria
did not have a history of murdering journalists. We were working under the
military government, but while the military man might shave your head, break a
bottle off it, or rough you up, there had been no killings of journalists.
Investigations by Dele’s
lawyer, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the lone campaigner for justice in the
case, revealed that a security agent, Lt. Col Ajibola Kunle Togun, interrogated
Dele two days before, and had falsely accused him of gun-running and planning
to destabilize the government. Dele was so disturbed by the allegations that he
called Col. Haliru Akilu, director of military intelligence, to complain. According
to the investigations, the same Akilu called Giwa’s wife to ask for directions
to the house on the eve of his murder. The government announced that a judicial
commission of inquiry would be set up, but in the end the commission never came
to be. We passed every tip we received to the police
and we repeatedly sought information about their investigations but at no time
did they inform us of any breakthrough. We brought the case
Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, but Babaginda and the
security agents involved in Giwa’s interrogation refused
to testify. Dele’s killers are probably walking the streets as free men but, we
hope, with a throbbing conscience.
The murder cast a chill on the journalistic
odyssey that Dele, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and I set out on as publishers of
a pioneering newsmagazine whose circulation peaked at 150,000. The four of us
had made names individually as editors and columnists of national dailies and
weeklies and Newswatch
became the first publication born out of the partnership of journalists in the
country’s history. Dele was part of the driving force in meeting the challenges
and the bar we set for ourselves. His mantra: Newswatch is all we have; we must give it all we have
We had no choice but to press on despite the
was banned for
six months in 1987 by the Babangida administration for the grave offense of
doing what all good and serious publications must do—put the interests of the
public and the nation above the narrow interests of the few men in the
corridors of power. The magazine’s offense was that it had violated the
Official Secrets Act by running stories revealing the recommendations of a
presidential commission devising a unique political system for the country. At
the time of the publication, there was no law forbidding the press from
publishing a public document even if that document had not been officially
released to the public. Three times the editors of the magazine were detained.
Each time that we were tempted to wallow in
self-pity and despair, we remembered Dele’s mantra: Newswatch is all we have; we must give it all we have
got. In its first quarter century, Newswatch has become
the most decorated publication in Nigeria, having won more than 90
professional awards locally and internationally. And the best credit to Dele’s
legacy is that the magazine is today a journalistic institution in Nigeria.
The pain of losing Dele so early and so cruelly
remains fresh for us. It stabs us each time we see his empty space in the
office and know that that space will never be occupied again. The pain stabs us
each time we see images of his handsome face and remember his mangled body. And
when we remember,
as we often do, that the man who delighted in sartorial elegance and loved life
has been reduced to a memory, our eyes cannot but well up in tears.
Nonetheless, Dele lives on the pages of Born To Run,
a book published by journalists Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo and Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist Dele Olojede on the first anniversary of his murder.
We are soldiering on, in our own way, expanding
the frontiers of press freedom even as we bear the burden of official
intolerance and the fickleness of the Nigerian public. What we’ve given to the magazine is our sweat. What Dele gave
to it was his life.Dan
Agbese is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Newswatch.
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