Sunday Magazine

35 years after Dele Giwa: 277 journalists killed in 4 years

Thirty five years after the murder of Mr. Dele Giwa, the founding editor of the now defunct Newswatch Magazine, allegedly over a story he was investigating, investigative journalism has grown to scientific level, promoting good governance, though not devoid of greater level of risk, write BIYI ADEGOROYE and CHIJIOKE IREMEKA


•I could have opened the parcel bomb –Soyinka

•Why we embarked on investigative journalism –Ekpu

•He should be immortalized –NUJ Chair


On October 19, 1986, the pioneer editor and one of the founders of Newswatch Magazine, Dele Giwa, was blown off by a parcel bomb in his house, at number 25B, Talabi Street, off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja, in Lagos.


That house is the current office of the New Telegraph, titles. As his charred body was displayed in the media the following day, the consequent shock reverberated in the industry not only in Nigeria but around the world.


While the facts about the perpetrators remain in the realm of imagination, the single incident has redefined investigative journalism 35 years after. It has been said that journalism is the first rough draft of history, but investigative journalism provides facts about people in government and other entities such as corporations, who attempt to keep their often illegal activities secret.


Investigative journalism is, therefore, important towards exposing such actions so that those involved can be held accountable and perhaps, deter others from taking such unprincipled path, thereby promoting social justice and good governance.


For instance, the Watergate scandal of 1974, the Panama Papers of 2016 and the Pandora papers released recently are reference points in transnational investigative reports which chronicle a series of sleek, sharp and corrupt offshore investment activities of serving and former government officials, thereby indicating that they are under watch.


The Pandora Papers, which constitute 2.9 terabytes of data, list a total of 35 current and former national leaders and at least 400 other public officials and 100 billionaires from about 100 countries.

Some notable names on the list include former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair; President Sebastian Pinera of Chile; his Kenyan counterpart, President Uhuru Kenyatta; United Arab Emirates’ Prime Minister and Dubai ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, and sit-tight Gabonese President, Ali Bongo.


But, for their work, investigative reporters have come under threat from multiple sources with the shared aim of stopping information that’s in the public interest from coming to light.


At least, 277 journalists have been murdered while on the job worldwide since 2008, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found in an annual analysis.

The report stated that politicians, political groups, and other powerful actors use violence to silence critical and investigative journalists. According to the annual Global Impunity Index, 83 per cent of those cases did not record successful prosecution of the perpetrators over the ten years.


The data represents those killed between September 1, 2010, and August 31, 2020. “During the 10 year index period ending August 31, 2020, 277 journalists were murdered for their work worldwide and in 83 per cent of those cases, no perpetrators have been successfully prosecuted,” the reports said.


The CPJ report found that corruption, weak institutions, and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations are all factors behind impunity in the countries. It noted that Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan topped 12 worst countries where journalists were singled out for murder and their killers evade justice. CPJ, however, excluded Nigeria from this year’s index, stating that one murder in that country, from 2009, is not included in the decade now under scrutiny.


The organisation had in 2017 ranked Nigeria 11th out of the 12 countries in the world where journalists are slain and the killers go scot free. CPJ said the extremist group Boko Haram and unknown assailants were responsible for the killings.


Meanwhile, according to the report, Somalia with a population of about 15.4 million topped the index with a total of 26 numbers of unresolved murders. War-ravaged countries, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and South Sudan occupy the second, third, fourth, fifth positions on the list with 22, 21, 13, and five journalists killed respectively with impunity. Mexico, Philippines, Brazil, Pakistan, ranked, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth respectively. Bangladesh maintains the 10th position as of its 2017 report, while Russia and India occupied the 11th and 12th positions.


According to the details, the 12 countries account for 80 per cent of the global total of unsolved murders of journalists for the 10-year index period. CPJ explained: “All 12 have featured multiple times since CPJ first compiled the index in 2008, and seven have appeared every year.


CPJ Global Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population, journalists, who were deliberately killed in retaliation for the victim’s work. It excludes journalists killed in combat such as coverage of protests that turn violent.”


The decade was marked by high-profile murders of journalists including Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, killed by Saudi agents in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October. In February, for instance, Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak, was shot death alongside his fiancé, the second murder of a European Union journalist covering corruption in less than six months. In Afghanistan, a suicide bomber targeted a group of reporters, killing nine in a single explosion in April. About 34 journalists were reportedly murdered in 2020 compared to 18 in 2017.


Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom project, which monitors violations against media professionals throughout Europe, recorded 206 cases of investigative journalists in the 35 countries that are in or affiliated with the European Union (EU35) being targeted in their line of work between 1 May 2014 and 31 December 2018.


An additional 77 reports from EU35 showed media workers other than investigative journalists being targeted for their role in reporting on corruption. Under-financing and business models that don’t offer proper support are major problems for investigative journalism in general, but Mapping Media Freedom has also uncovered a litany of methods that have been employed as a direct means to censor journalists, including intimidation (96 instances), defamation (53), laws or court orders curtailing media outlets or workers (48), psychological abuse (35) and blocked access (48).


Media workers were also physically attacked on 27 occasions and had their property attacked on 28. Civil lawsuits were taken against journalists on 27 occasions, and criminal charges were brought against journalists on 23. The country with the largest share of reports was Italy (40), followed by Hungary (25), Serbia (24), France (19) and Turkey  (18).


“In these five years in Italy, investigative journalism has become increasingly risky, both for journalists themselves and for the media,” Alberto Spampinato, the director of Ossigeno per l’informazione, an Italian press freedom monitor, told Mapping Media Freedom. Violations of media freedom regarding investigative journalists and those reporting on corruption reported to Mapping Media Freedom per annum went from a low in 2014 of 38, to a high of 75 in 2018 (2015: 51; 2016: 61; 2017: 58).


Dele Giwa saga


This goes to explain why life was snuffed out from Dele Giwa, who died 35 years ago at First Foundation, Hospital, Ikeja, owned by late Tosin Ajaiyi, where he was rushed to after a parcel bomb exploded on his lap, yet the government has remained indifferent about the situation even as his colleagues are yet to fight for their profession.


Though both local and international media organisations followed his death yet the family and colleagues are yet to get justice for the murder of the co-founder of Newswatch, Dele Giwa He was killed by a parcel bomb in his home while in his study with Kayode Soyinka, on Sunday October 19, 1986.


The assassination occurred two days after he had been interviewed by State Security Services (SSS) officials. In an off-the-record interview with airport journalists, Lt. Col. A.K. Togun, the Deputy Director of the SSS had claimed that on October 9 Dele Giwa and Alex Ibru had organised a media parley for media executives and the newly created SSS. Togun claimed that it was at this meeting that the SSS and the media executives reached a secret censorship agreement.


Under this agreement, the media was to report any story with potential to embarrass the government to the SSS before they tried to publish the same.


Giwa had been invited by the SSS to their headquarters for the first time on September 19, 1986 after writing an article in which he described the newly introduced Second- Tier Foreign Exchange Market (SFEM) as “God’s experiment” and suggested that if SFEM failed, the people would stone their leaders in the streets. Giwa was interviewed and his statement taken by two SSS operatives.


He was later taken to meet with Lt Col Togun, the deputy director of the agency in his office. Togun is reported to have told Giwa that he found nothing offensive in the story as Giwa had also stated in the same story that he was hopeful that Babangida seemed determined to make SFEM work.


According to Giwa’s neighbour and colleague, Ray Ekpu, on October 16, 1986, Giwa had been questioned over the telephone by Col Halilu Akilu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) over an allegation that Dele had been heard speaking to some people about arms importation.


SSS officials reportedly summoned Giwa  to their headquarters again on October 16, 1986, and on the next day Ekpu accompanied him to the SSS headquarters for the interview.


Lt. Col Togun accused Giwa and Newswatch of planning to write the “other side” of the story on Ebitu Ukiwe who was removed as Chief of the General Staff to General Babangida.


The magazine had published a cover story titled, “Power Games: Ukiwe loses out”, in its edition of October 20 which was on sale on October 13, 1986. Togun also accused Giwa of plotting with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and students to carry out a socialist revolution.


Giwa was also accused of saying that Newswatch would employ the suspended police public relations officer Alozie Ogugbuaja. Ogugbuaja claims that on October 16, 1986, a bomb was defused by the police bomb squad at his official residence in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos.


Ogugbuaja also said that he suspected that his phone might have been bugged because Giwa and Ray Ekpu in one of their telephone conversations with him had indeed promised to employ him in Newswatch if the police dismissed him.


Ray Ekpu also believed that their houses and phones may have been bugged because he did discuss employing Ogugbuaja in Newswatch with Dele Giwa over the phone only; he said that he found two bugging devices in the cover of two books inside his study.


Lt. Col. Togun while questioning Giwa had claimed that he wasn’t aware of the fact that Akilu had already questioned Giwa over the gun running allegations the day before, this was after Giwa had brought it to his attention.


Giwa reported the interrogations to his friend Prince Tony Momoh who was then the Minister of Communications, Giwa had told Momoh that he feared for his life because of the weight of the accusations levelled against him. According to Ekpu, Momoh “dismissed it as a joke and said the security men just wanted to rattle him”; Momoh promised to look into the matter.


On Saturday October 18, Giwa also spoke to Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, the Chief of General Staff who said he was familiar with the matter and also promised to look into it. Later on October 18, a day before the bombing, a staff of the DMI had phoned Giwa’s house and asked for his office phone number from his wife Funmi.


This same person from the DMI later called back to say he couldn’t reach Giwa at the office and then put Col Akilu on the line. Ekpu alleges that Akilu asked Giwa’s wife for driving directions to the house and when she asked him why he needed the directions he explained that he wanted to stop by the house on his way to Kano and he wasn’t very familiar with Ikeja, he also offered that the President’s ADC had something for Giwa, probably an invitation.


According to Ekpu, this didn’t come as a surprise because Giwa had received advance copies of some of the President’s speeches in the past through Akilu. On the morning of October 19, Giwa phoned Akilu to ask why he had been calling his house the previous day. Akilu had earlier called one of Dele Giwa’s wife to request for his home address. Akilu was alleged to have explained that he only wanted to tell Giwa that the matter had been resolved.


Ekpu says Giwa replied to Akilu that it wasn’t over and that he had already informed his lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi to follow up on the matter. Akilu then told Giwa that there was no need for that, that it wasn’t a matter for lawyers and that he should consider the matter resolved.


About 40 minutes after the telephone conversation with Akilu, a package was delivered to Giwa’s guard while the guard handed it over to Giwa’s son, Billy. (the accounts of which vehicle was used to deliver the package vary).


According to Billy, the parcel had the seal of the Nigerian Coat of Arms, restricting the letter to the name written on it. Billy also said that was not the first time his father will be receiving letters from the government When Giwa received the package from his son, he was with Kayode Soyinka (London Bureau Chief of Newswatch).


The package exploded on Dele Giwa’s laps, mortally wounding him and temporarily deafening Soyinka, who had excused himself to the rest room shortly before Giwa was supposed to have attempted opening the package. Giwa was rushed to the hospital where he eventually died from his wounds.


Kayode Soyinka, a former London Bureau Chief of Newswatch, who was present when Dele Giwa, Co-founder of the magazine, was bombed to death in 1986, has said that he was extremely lucky to have survived.


Giwa was killed by a letter bomb while having breakfast with Soyinka at his residence then located at 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos, in 1986. The journalist, who died at the age of 39 was known for exposing corrupt and illegal dealings of the government and this earned him recognition.


The assassination occurred two days after he had been questioned by officials of the State Security Service. The Newswatch editor had just written an article on Second-tier Foreign Exchange Market, a Central Bank of Nigeria policy introduced at the time before the incident occurred.


Although, Mohammed Buba Marwa, a former military governor of Lagos State, has been accused of being the courier of the bomb, no one had been convicted for Giwa’s murder 35 years after. In his book titled: ‘Born Into Journalism, Memoir of A Newspaper Reporter, By Kayode Soyinka,’ the Publisher and Editorin- Chief of Africa Today Magazine, said Giwa’s death will continue to be a scar on Nigeria’s conscience.


He said: “During my time at Newswatch, a horrific incident, unique to Nigeria occurred on 19 October 1986. It was the gruesome murder of Dele Giwa. I miraculously survived the attack. “I was on an official visit to Nigeria from London.


As usual, I was staying with Giwa at his Lagos home, which was then on 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja. That was when a parcel bomb was sent to him. The deadly package was delivered to him by his unsuspecting son, Billy, in his study, where we were having our breakfast.”


Rebirth of investigative journalism

In 2015, a Ghanaian journalist, Anas Aremayaw Anas, led a group of other journalists and published an earth-shaking expose on widespread high level corruption in the Ghanaian judiciary. He secretly recorded unsuspecting high court judges, magistrates adjudicating on serious cases like murder, robbery and their accomplices collecting bribes.


The recording was produced into a film titled: “Ghana in the Eyes of God” and was watched by a record-breaking crowd of 6,500 people at the Accra International Conference Centre on September 23, 2015.


The report led to the suspension of 34 judges and magistrates, some of whom were even arraigned in courts – a case of judges in the dock. In 2017, the horrendous human rights abuse and genocide leading to the massacre of 10 Rohemian Muslims in Mymmiar was investigated and reported by two correspondents of the British News agency, Reuters.


The investigative report revealed that the Rohingya Muslims, men and boys in Rahknine State were not only killed by seven soldiers, but over 100,000 relations of the victims were forced to migrate to Bangladesh. However, the genocide attracted international condemnations culminating in the conviction and sentencing of the seven soldiers in the law court.


Similarly, many organisations have been at the vanguard of promoting investigative journalism practices, by either instituting awards for it or sponsoring investigative stories in the print and electronic media in Nigeria and abroad.


Since 2010, the duo of Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME) and the Nigerian Media Merit Awards (NMMA), have instituted awards for the best investigative works in the print and electronic categories, and they go with cash rewards.


While the NMMA has the Alex Ibru Prize for Investigative Reporter of the Year Award, the DAME has Investigative Reporter of the Year Award.


Similarly, other organisations like the Cable Network News, (CNN), the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, (WCIJ), and the International Centre for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) have either instituted awards for this cause or sponsored investigations into some national or global issues.


Reminiscing on the event, Ekpu, in an interview with Sunday Telegraph said investigative journalism has always been there, but Newswatch elevated it to a high level in order to strike a difference from daily newspapers, as a niche for the news magazine.


Acknowledging that Giwa’s death remains a watershed in the history of Nigerian media, he commended the current level of investigative journalism in Nigeria and globally, because it promotes good governance, transparency and accountability.


Adeleye Ajayi, Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists, Lagos chapter, described Dele Giwa as a hero of Nigerian journalism, who should be immortalised for his journalistic instinct, vision, commitment, courage and boldness as a trail blazer in that genre of journalism.


“It is unfortunate that his killers have not been unmasked and punished. We should have the Dele Giwa Award for Investigative Journalism, just like we have the Wole Soyinka Centre right now. We should learn from history in order to better the past,” he said.




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