In a biographical book on Ibrahim Babangida, former self-styled military president, there is a deafening hush on Dele Giwa’s murder, even 27 years after
It is now 27 years after and a lot of water has since passed under the bridge. Dele Giwa, founding editor-in-chief/chief executive officer of Newswatch magazine, Nigeria’s first weekly news magazine, was murdered through the instrumentality of a parcel bomb at his Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos home on October 19, 1986.
The murder shocked and horrified Nigerians for a number of reasons. It was the first time a Nigerian journalist would be so assassinated in Nigeria. Not only that, it was also the first time a journalist would be assassinated with a parcel bomb in the country. Immediately after the murder, accusing fingers started pointing in the direction of the then military administration led by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB.
The circumstances leading to Giwa’s murder at that time left many people with no option but to finger the military administration of the day. To start with, three days before the late journalist received the killer letter, he was invited by Colonel Kunle Togun, then Deputy Director of the State Security Services, SSS, and confronted with certain allegations bordering on trying to undermine the military government of the day. The allegations levelled against him were so serious that he decided to take the matter far more seriously. He reported the matter to the then Tony Momoh, minister of information, and Lt. Col Haliru Akilu, director of Military Intelligence. He also involved his lawyer, late Gani Fawehinmi, and urged him to engage the SSS and the inspector-general of police over concerns he had for his safety.
Matters became far more curious when on the night before he was killed Akilu was said to have called the telephone line of Giwa’s home. He spoke with Funmi, Giwa’s wife. Akilu, according to Funmi, asked for the Giwas’ home address because he was hoping to stop over on his way to Kano the following day. On the morning he was killed, Giwa in fact returned Akilu’s call and was assured by Akilu that the concern he had earlier raised about his questioning by the SSS had been “settled.”
Unfortunately, not long after that conversation, Giwa was murdered by a parcel bomb said to have been delivered by two men in a Peugeot saloon car. The parcel was also said to have borne the inscription, “From the Office of C-in-C.” The rest, as they say, is history.
However, as the nation marks 27 years of Giwa’s memorial, something happened that should ordinarily excite Fawehinmi even in his grave. Were he to be alive, Fawehinmi would probably be one of the first few persons to grab a copy of Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, a biography of the former dictator. Fawehinmi’s attention would probably have been secured for a number of reasons. To start with, the biography was written by Dan Agbese, a former colleague of Giwa at Newswatch. Secondly, the 433-page book released in October, the month of Giwa’s remembrance, also did a very good job of trying to unmask the mystery called IBB while chronicling for posterity the events and controversies that surrounded the former dictators’ reign as military head of state. Above all, Fawehinmi’s interest would also have been tickled by the fact that the senior journalist and former colleague of Giwa’s who wrote IBB’s biography not only had access to the former dictator in the course of putting together facts for the book but also interacted closely with Akilu in the course of writing the book.
However, reading through the biography, Fawehinmi would probably have been disappointed. Although it dealt with a lot of issues and controversies that dogged the Babangida years as military head of state, the book was surprisingly scanty about the Giwa saga. The biography only mentioned Giwa in pages 181, 207 and 354 to 357. Of these few mentions, the ones recorded in pages 354 to 357 were perhaps the longest but they only merely repeated the type of information that had been in the public domain about the dastardly murder of the author’s colleague.
Now, that may be particularly disappointing for an average reader of the book who may also have read in the acknowledgement page how much of a help the author said Akilu was in the course of working on the biography. In Agbese’s words: “Akilu offered me every assistance in my research into the life and times of Babangida. He granted me interviews and even helped me meet some other people who knew Babangida well and who are willing to talk about those things the public never knew about him.”
Beyond that, Agbese also acknowledged how Akilu helped read through the manuscript. “He read it with a fine toothcomb. I am truly amazed by the intellectual rigour and meticulousness he brought to bear on the manuscript. He has a head full of all the facts and dates. He crosschecked information for me and helped in filling up gaps in the narrative.”
Much as there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Akilu assisting with the facts in the biography and there is nothing directly linking the retired brigadier-general with the murder of Giwa, it is particularly noteworthy that the author did not deem it fit to seize the opportunities presented by the “interviews” he said Akilu granted him to pursue the question of what really happened to Giwa. If he did, there is really nothing in the book to make that clear to the average reader.
This same observation is also applicable to the author’s interactions with Babangida in the course of researching for the book. “Babangida gave me all the help I needed to make this a complete story of his life and his times in office. He granted me four interviews – three before he left office and one after he left. Our first interview was at his new office in Aso Rock, Abuja, not long after he moved into the new federal capital; our second was in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he was attending a summit of heads of state of OAU; the third, which I thought was the final one, was in his office in Abuja. The fourth was in his Minna, Hilltop home in Niger State,” Agbese wrote.
In all of these interactions, some of which from the author’s account happened at a time the late Fawehinmi was still busy fighting a 23-year-long legal battle trying to unravel the mysteries behind Giwa’s death, it is curious that the question of what really happened to Giwa appeared not to have been properly addressed. Again, if it was, the biography did not reflect such efforts, nor did it state whether such materials were being reserved for another publication probably devoted to Giwa’s case.
Indeed, in spite of the fact that the book has been described as the most comprehensive account of Babangida’s life, omissions such as the ones bordering on the circumstances surrounding Giwa’s death, would have gravely disappointed the late Fawehinmi, were he to read through a copy of Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria. Fawehinmi, if he were to be alive, would probably have, in his legal activist style, headed for the court seeking an injunction against the publication of the book. Trust Gani. He was so committed to the Giwa course.