When the sun set in Nigeria: Dele Giwa’s awful murder

By Dan Agbese on October 20, 2009 4:23 PM ET

(Photo courtesy Next)Twenty-three years 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.

Fawehinmi at a human rights commission hearing. (Next)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 before Nigeria's 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 got. 

We had no choice but to press on despite the odds. Newswatch 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.


That was quite a touching piece in honour of such a honourable personality described therein. The only thing Nigeria can do today is to ensure that Dele's wishese, in terms of the aspiration of the founders of Newswatch,are kept alight.

What a brutal murder? they killed him but his legacy lives on...we salute you Dele!

It was General IBB Babangida that killed the innocent soul.

Dele memory still remain fresh in our mind,his death has caused a very big vaccum in journalism in Nigeria.

Dan just woke up from his slumber. Why has he kept silent all this while. God will judge them all.

It's very sad, his killer/killers are very inhuman. Their days are coming, they must dance to their tune.

Sarata Jabbi Dibba October 23, 2009 9:27:46 AM ET

AFrican jkournalists shouled set up a day to mark the brutalities committed against AFrican journalsits on the continent. It should be an occasion for us to rededicate ourselves to fight agaisnt the persecution of journalists on the continent. We must remind the people, if not the leaders, that we shall not give up thez struggle for the freedom of the press on the conitnent.

Sometimes some of us working for the press in Africa are tempted to quite,but that will just be like leaving your dear colleagues behind to be wiped off.The above story is just a tip of a very large ice burg yet to be uncovered. I have been brutalized many times on one occasion my self and a colleague njaru Philip where attacked by a battalion of about 15 rapid police in Buea Cameroon for introducing our seves as journalists in a bus.THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

I spoke with Dele on the telephone from the UK the day before he died I believe. I had a message for Kayode who had travelled, about a British TV program. Dele had challenged Saleh Jambo to sue him and Newswatch as Dele had published a story about Jambo. I have been interviewed but never has my information been taken seriously. There is more but it is all such a long time ago and I need to look up my papers from then to go further. I remember being interviewed by John Olu whose last name I cannot remember without checking my old papers.
Peter Turtill

Posting that message caused me to look up some old notes I made. I haven't been involved with any overseas stuff since I became disabled 10 years ago so much is hidden in the depths of time. I was notified of Dele's death the next day by the British Special Branch, Fidel Odum of Concord and Saleh Jambo's man in London who appeared to be gloating. I tried every day to contact Kayode Soyinka but each time I was told he was still in Nigeria until 17th November when we spoke and he told me the Police had quizzed him about me. I don't know what Police as I never asked and it was difficult talking with him because he couldn't hear very well. Newswatch never told the truth but I kept quiet as Gani was so strong about who killed Dele. I was in regular contact with Newswatch and Concord but Newswatch never ever printed the full details of what Dele knew. A major British Arms company was involved as were the Special Branch and it was the British Special Branch who finally warned me off and they did scare me. For the record I believe Kayode Soyinka is innocent but he was extremely frightened and clearly followed orders about the truth. I believe the explosion was intended to kill Kayode too so it is hardly surprising he was sticking to the tale Newswatch pushed. The chap who interviewed me for two days at the High Commision in London was Kolawole John Olu
who appeared to be respected by George Dove Edwin the HC. This crime should have been cleared up long ago but it is all so International and Political. Britain has dirty hands here I believe.
Peter Turtill

It was indeed a black sunday, October 19, 1986, as Hawa Buba Ahmed of NTA, Lagos, broke the news of Dele Giwa's murder throuh Parcel bomb at 12 noon that day.
Following the news was another death of President Samora Mashel of Mozambique, via a plane crash believed to have been ploted by the then Southern African apartheid govt of Piet Botha. It was indeed a black day for Africa, and a day I will never forget.
I used to pass through Talabi Street everyday on my way to work at ACME Rd each day. I keep remembering Dele each moment I get to Talabi street and usually feel bad.
Babangida did so much evil to humanity. His pain is just begining while Dele Giwa will always be remembered for being a gentleman.

The final destination for all humans is to meet your maker.Babangida has forgotten about it,but to the memories of Mr Giwas family it will always be fresh. To those who are disciples of evil,remember that God almighty will render justice.
What i want Nigerians to remember is that Evil has no religion or ethnicity,it is a shape shifter.It can take any form it chooses.All the tribes in Nigeria are not all good and by the same token all of them are not evil.It is just a few rotten fishhead that will kill all the others, if we let them.Always speek the truth if you see injustice is being committed.

I am so glad that Dele Giwa is not forgotten. I will never forget him and the shock of his death.

We always read Newswatch and Dele was such a brilliant and brave journalist.

Nigeria deserves a better Gov.

Unfortunately, you had the Brits do the dirty on you and you are stuck with islamists in power and in control of the oil.

But, there is always hope and as new generations come up, there will be new hope.

God Bless you all.

We indeed have lost a hero,a man of dignity,courage,a respect man,a man who fought a just cause 4 dis country,a man of intellectuallity,a great,a man who has left a profound,lastin legacy dat we all we live 2 remember.MAY UR GENTLE SOUL REST IN D BOSSOM OF UR LORD JESUS CHRIST AMEN.am on my tears as am writin dis,i just cant bear it coz dis kind of man a is a rear genus.

It's kind of fresh seeing Dele in this way, well, no justice in Nigeria because by now those that killed dele should have been apprehended. IBB killed him all Nigerian knows this but he is still interested in becoming president. Woe on IBB and his family.

Dele Giwa was murdered on October 19 1986. Ibrahim Babangida,Halilu Akilu,and Kunle TOgun killed Dele Giwa.If they have nothing to hide they shouid have appeared at the Oputa panel.Justice delayed is justice denied in the interest of justice and fair play,i can not bring myself to believe that the government did not prosecute,
Ibrahim Babangida, Halilu Akilu
and Kunle Togun
For the murder of Dele Giwa and for the atrocities they have committed,they can run,but they can not hide,when the time comes nemesis will catch up on the three of them. Dele Giwa had said in 1984: No evil deed can go unpunished,any evil done by man to man will be redressed,if not now,then certainly later,if not by man then certainly by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary. Death and Destiny Newatch cover story in the February 17,1986 edition,Dele Giwa had said But don't let us miss the point of this discourse: that good men, men of purpose, who are true heroes, do get cut down in the mid stream on their way to achieving greatness.
Ibrahim Babangida, Halilu Akilu and Kunle Togun cut Dele Giwa's Iife short. Dele Giwa wrote about the Ahmadu Bello university crisis in his column on june 16 1986 titled:
Don't Forget Them he said: One Iife taken in coId bIood is as gruesome as miIIions Iost in a pogrom.
His Iife was taken in coId bIood by Babangida,Akilu and Togun.
Died on Active Service,press snaps. DaiIy times juIy 1979. DeIe Giwa had said Every journalist be it in Akure or some where in the soviet union,shouId feeI concerned at the wanton kiIIing of any journaIist in the worId.

This is an act of man inhumanity to man.my believe is that Uncle Dele came for a purpose,whether completed or not is best known to The Almighty.IBB & his cohorts shall die a terrible death & they'l never b remembered.Uncle Dele died honourably.Uncle Dele's resting now & i'm sure his killers are not at rest.God has judged.

Touching, very moving...well told...just like yesterday!

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