Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dele Giwa: Lingering Echoes Of A Murder

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
“Now, I think no riches can compare with being alive…”
      Achilles, Homer’s Iliad.

“One life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.” – Dele Giwa
*Dele Giwa 
Death is one appointment which every being must keep. And as we know, appointments can either be brought forward or moved to a later date or cancelled altogether. In the matter of life and death, any changes in appointment schedules should be the exclusive prerogative of the Creator. No man, therefore, has any right to arrogate to himself the role of bringing forward any other person’s appointment with death. In fact, it is abominable to even use one’s hands to hasten one’s own appointment with death. Laws of God and man hold such actions highly condemnable. So, suicide bombers and their sponsors, supporters and cheer-leaders should, therefore, get it into their heads that they have no mandate whatsoever from the Creator of man to either take their own lives or that of another, no matter the beliefs that fire their unholy zeal and action.

Death, however, is unavoidable, though loathsome. There is hardly anyone that wishes to die. Not even the most valiant of men would embrace death so willingly. Even those people who had been compelled by very harsh, unbearable circumstances to wish for death have had to shudder, cringe and shrink back when the icy hands of death sought to grip their throats. Deep down the heart of every man and every woman, and beyond the facade of all apparent fearlessness and bravery, lie this cold loathing and resentment for death. The survival instinct is there and also the desire to avoid danger and death, and the longing to postpone one’s date with death, temporarily at least, if not forever, hence the struggle and fight at many a deathbeds.

Indeed, Dele Giwa, the founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine was not praying for death. He loved life, was full of life, and wanted to make the best out of life. But on Sunday, October 19, 1986, as he had a late breakfast in his study in the company of Kayode Soyinka, the magazine’s London Bureau Chief, a parcel was handed to him.  On it was written: “From the Commander-in-Chief”. “This must be from the president”, Dele Giwa reportedly exclaimed.

But unknown to him, contained in that seemingly innocuous parcel, pleasantly sealed, is the agent of brutal death, intent on accomplishing the abominable mission of hastening his appointment with death. Conceived by man, prepared by man, sent by man, and delivered by man, this lethal instrument had only one mission: to bomb out the precious life of Dele Giwa. And it did precisely that with chilling exactitude, tearing his flesh, wasting his blood, talent, usefulness to his himself, his family, Newswatch magazine, Nigerian journalism and the Nigerian nation. 

Dele Giwa had written in the Sunday Concord of June 8, 1980 that “Death looks for a happy home where it can turn happiness into grief and ensure that for days the household will have nothing to discuss but the blow of death.”

Dele Giwa was the pioneer editor of Sunday Concord.  By writing this, he unwittingly wrote his own elegy.

“They got me!” That was Giwa’s last words at First Foundation Hospital, Ikeja where Dr. Tosin Ajayi and his other doctors battled to see how they could save his life. Earlier, on their way to the hospital, Giwa was saying to his wife in Yoruba, “Nwon ti pa mi”, meaning: “They have killed me.”

Who are these “they” that were so heartless, so senseless, so fiendish and irremediably inhuman? How can a human being elect to do such a horrifying damage to another person? Giwa’s flesh was shattered, with some pieces (some of which were discovered many days later) scattered about his study. The autopsy report performed by pathologists at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said that Giwa suffered from “multiple blast injuries with 25 percent burns, mutilated thighs with fractures of femoral bones and avulsion of femoral vessels”.

This is indeed horrible. The first reaction would be to ask like Banquo in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth whether we have “eaten on the insane root that takes reason prisoner?”

Indeed Dele Giwa died a most harrowing, slow, excruciating death. The damage on his body was massive. The picture of his shattered body which Chief Gani Fawehinmi displayed during the sittings of the Oputa Panel could pass as a horror picture of the crudest type, showing man (his killer) at his basest, most bestial and fiendish worst.

“They have killed me”, Giwa moaned in an indescribable pain, begging Dr. Ajayi to do all within his power to save him. Who are these “they”? Who are these cowardly, bestial lot, these direct descendants of Cain? For thirty-one years now, they have been hiding, afraid of the inevitable fall-out of their satanic deed, haunted and tormented by their dirty, murky, slimy conscience. 

Giwa’s death plunged Nigeria into a clearly unprecedented, monumental grief and fear, maybe due to the manner of the killing that was totally novel in this part of the globe at that time. The public outcry and loud condemnation was deafening.

He had written some months earlier that “One Life Taken In Cold Blood Is As Gruesome As Millions Lost In A Pogrom.” The reaction that followed his death vindicated the truism this saying.

 A lot of accusing fingers pointed towards the government of the day. It was believed that only a special panel could unravel the mystery that seemed to attend the gory affair and unearth the unseen hands that perpetrated the murder.  Newswatch board of directors had called for a three-man judicial commission of enquiry headed by a retired judge of high repute, with an archbishop and an Imam, to probe the murder. But the General Ibrahim Babangida government insisted that the police only should investigate the murder. 

Public skepticism grew. The Guardian editorial of October 28, 1986 disagreed with the Babangida government’s position. The police have been signally inept in solving much simpler crimes, and the public is justifiably unimpressed by their investigative ability and seriousness... The government has very little choice but to appoint a special prosecutor... (which) will be a dramatic demonstration by government that it has nothing to hide, and is as interested in discovering Giwa’s assassins as the public is...”, the paper said.

A year after, when the police predictably “caught” no one and “found” nothing, Ray Ekpu, Newswatch’s then new editor-in-chief in a letter to the police reminded them that any murder which remained unsolved spells added insecurity to the living.

While he lived, Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, vowed to catch Giwa’s killers. But his attempt to dock Babangida’s two security chiefs, Halilu Akilu and A.K. Togun, brought him into direct confrontation with the General Ibrahim Babangida government which made no pretence of its intention not to allow any probe more penetrating than the unserious, shallow, perfunctory thing the police was doing. Indeed, Babangida and his men appeared miffed that Gani was intent on finding Giwa’s murderers, and so punished him dearly for it. He suffered persecution upon persecution. But Gani remained undaunted. When Babangida’s rule expired, Gani took his matter to Oputa Panel, although, nothing could be said to have come out of that effort too.  

And the question Nigerians are still not tired of asking is: Who killed Dele Giwa? Who is such a devil that would make a fellow human being pass through such a harrowing, painful, horrifying tunnel to death? It is indeed instructive that Gani never stopped accusing the same people he had been accusing since 1986. Why was no serious effort deployed by those men to seek to clear their names? WAS IT A GOAT THAT WAS KILLED? Who owns Nigeria, by the way? Who knows who will be the next target? Can anybody bear to imagine himself or herself undergo what Dele Giwa experienced before he stopped breathing? Have we lost all sense of humanity, all sense of fellow-feeling?

One of those Gani pointed accusing fingers at, Col. A. K. Togun, Babanbida’s former Security Chief, gave an interview in which he sought to state his own side of the story. This is how Newswatch edition of November 10, 1986 reported an interesting encounter he had with reporters. 

“Ten days after he interrogated Giwa, Togun surfaced at the local terminal of Murtala Mohammed International Airport Ikeja, on Monday, October 27, 1986.  He told journalists at the airport that the press was ‘shouting for a crucifixion’ without hearing the other side of the story.  He said that at a seminar on security organized in Lagos, October 9, for media executives and the security agencies, a compromise was struck that editors would inform the SSS of any story they consider damaging to the government interests, and the security service would then decide what to do about it.  ‘I mean we came to a real agreement and one person cannot just come out and blackmail us.  I am an expert in blackmail’, he said.  He then illustrated his point by saying thus: ‘If a motorcycle man suddenly dashed in front of a car and the driver kills that motorcycle man, another motorcycle man who was there would not say that the motorcycle man that dashed in front of the car was wrong.  He would say the driver deliberately killed him, not knowing that he killed himself’… Togun sternly warned the journalists that he would deal with them if their newspapers published the accounts of their encounter with him and if he lost his job in the process.  ‘If you allow them to take away my uniform ... I will deal with you people and go to any length to even the score with you,’ he warned, but added that ‘Dele was my friend’”.

When asked what he thought about Col. Togun’s revelations during his Airport encounter with reporters, the then Deputy Inspector General of police Mr. Chris Omeban said that the police does not go into proverbs. Yet, the same Omeban has been all over the place crying that Newswatch top shots frustrated his efforts to catch Giwa’s killers. How exactly did they do that? He is yet to make that very clear. But the impression out there, however, remains that the police found no one because they were searching for no one.  Late Gani put it this way: the police has failed to find Giwa’s killers because they know the killers.  Their greater energy was instead invested in persecuting those sincerely searching for Giwa’s killers.   

It is not yet late to reopen Giwa’s file and devote sincere effort to unmask his killers. Thirty-one years is hardly sufficient to cosign such a gory event into pre-history.  

It is most heart-rending that Justice Chukwudifo Oputa (rtd), Chairman of the Human Rights Investigations Panel (otherwise called Oputa Panel), shouted himself hoarse demanding that those who were accused of having a hand in Dele Giwa’s gruesome murder should appear before it to clear their names, but they chose to stay away.  And nothing happened. The search for Giwa’s killers seems to have died with Gani Fawehinmi and later the Newswatch magazine. But should that be the case when the Nigerian media still exists and ought to realize that helping to solve Giwa’s murder is one effective way of sending a clear warning to those who would seek to silence its voice any day that they would have no hiding place.

It is not also late in the day to reopen inquiry into the assassinations of several other Nigerians whose eliminations have equally remained crimson riddles in our polity and whose blood still cry daily for vengeance against their brutish murderers and against the conspiracy of silence of an unfeeling nation. Indeed, all murderers must not continue to be allowed to circulate within the boundaries of civilized ambiance. 

No matter what happens, they should always realize that they are not hidden from the all-seeing eyes of God, because as George Lamming says in his classic novel, In The Castle Of My Skin, “God can see the blackest ant on the blackest piece of coal on the blackest night.”

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