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Thirty-two years after, mystery of Dele Giwa’s death remains unsolved


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THIRTY-two years ago, the landscape of journalism in Nigeria was thrown into disarray when the death of prolific Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa was announced on October 19, 1986. With his pen, he spoke the minds of the masses by investigating and revealing the dirty hidden truth about the dictatorial military government in power which made him a target for assassination by the Ibrahim Babangida government.

However, his premature death denied the country the contributions of one of its finest accountability journalist.

Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa (popularly known as Dele Giwa) was born on 16 March 1947 in Ile-Ife, Osun State. Dele Giwa had his higher education in the United States at the Brooklyn College in 1977 and later enrolled for a graduate programme at Fordham University. Before returning to Nigeria from America he had worked as a News Assistant with the New York Times. He would go on to hone his craft in the defunct National Concord and the Daily Times newspapers both based in Lagos.

Following his exit from the National Concord Newspaper, alongside Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbese, Giwa co-founded the pioneering investigative magazine Newswatch that introduced a whistleblowing journalism, speaking truth to power without compromise at the expense of their safety.

He died at the age of 39 as a result of injuries he sustained via a letter bomb he received on the 19th of October 1986 in his home at 25 Talabi Street, Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, Lagos.

The 2017 report on the Global Impunity index ranks Nigeria 11th on a global scale where journalists have been killed with complete impunity in the past decade using indicators adopted by the Committee to Protect Journalists CPJ.

For this index, CPJ examined journalist murder that occurred between September 1, 2007, and August 31, 2017, that has remained unsolved.

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“Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on this index. CPJ defines murder as a deliberate attack against a specific journalist in relation to the victim’s work,” the report said.

Richard  Akinola, a social commentator who spoke to The ICIR reporter said, unlike other African countries Nigeria has made significant progress in the freedom of expression of its citizens.

“Nigerians enjoy the freedom of expression compared to other nations in the continent but more needs to be done. Section 39 of the Nigerian constitution states it in black and white which empowers citizens to speak up and article 9 of the African Charter for human rights which is enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria gives citizens the legal backing.”

“But press freedom is restricted by the law from the provisions of Section 52 of the constitution which gives leaders a leeway in suppressing the press,” he said.

On immortalizing the late Dele Giwa, he suggested that young journalists should follow the path of the deceased journalist who was known for speaking the truth to power.

“Dele Giwa’s legacy can only be sustained if younger journalists begin to speak the truth to the government without bias. Investigative journalism which is the hallmark of good journalism is fast fading away apart from some few media houses in the country that are actively involved in investigations,” he stated.

“Though, the challenges facing these media houses are numerous I believe with capacity building and funding they will hold their head high among their peers,” he concluded.

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Here is what Dele Olojede, one of the Giwa’s colleagues and mentees said about his boss in a radio interview conducted by Feyi Fawehinmi in 2017:

“Well, I remember the day clearly. Sunday, October 19, 1986. I had gone to play squash, I believe with Soji Akinrinade, who was also a colleague at NewsWatch at the time. I returned to my apartment in Oregun, which was not very far from the office, only to find all these messages waiting for me that something terrible had happened to Dele (Giwa). So I rushed over to his (Giwa’s) house, by which time they had taken him to the hospital in Opebi, and then rushed to the hospital from there and found him on this gunny. He was already dead by then, covered with a tarp. I pulled the thing open and saw him there stark naked, with his torso completely blasted apart! What I remember most about that day was somehow this image of his left wrist, where his watch had been.
The skin where the watch had been was preserved when every other thing was burnt. So you could see the image of the watch on his skin. I remember seeing that and I remember being extremely angry that day. I believe I was (the one) who drafted the official NewsWatch statement to the press, which probably accounted for this particular harshness and directness where I basically accused Babangida’s government of being behind the murder. So the next morning, they sent soldiers to NewsWatch offices and shut us down.”
Dele Olojede.

Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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