Dele Giwa was a Nigerian journalist and co-founder of Newswatch magazine, whose death by letter bomb in 1986 rocked the nation.
Sumonu Oladele “Baines” Giwa was born on March 16, 1947 to Musa and Ayi Elekia Giwa (both from Ugbekpe-Ekperi, Bendel State, in what is now Edo State) in Ile-Ife, Ife Central LGA, Osun State. Musa was a laundry man in the Ooni of Ife’s palace, while Elekia stayed at home and sold a few items to complement her husband’s meager income. Dele lost a younger sister due to illness at birth and as the oldest of six children, Dele was very protective of his siblings.
In 1950, at the age of three, Dele was enrolled in a Koranic preparatory school in Ile-Ife where he was considered outstanding. In 1955, he was enrolled at the Ansar-Udeen Primary School in Ile-Ife, from which he would run back and forth to continue his Koranic education at the preparatory school. In 1960, Dele began attending the Local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-Ife, and moved out of his parents’ home to stay with one of his father’s clients. In January 1964, Dele was admitted into Oduduwa College after passing the entrance examination. His father worked as a laundry man at the college and had a percentage of his monthly pay deducted to pay for Dele’s school fees. He was academically brilliant, especially in English language, English literature, and Bible knowledge. He was promoted to form two after passing his first term examination brilliantly four months after being enrolled at the college.
While he was at Oduduwa College, he was the editor of the school newsletter, The Torch. He was known for being brash and vocal in his articles, and this got him in trouble. In 1967, around the birth of his first son, he gave himself the nickname “Baines”, after then American President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He left Oduduwa College as Baines Oladele Giwa. He worked as a clerk at Union Bank, and later as in the administration department at Nigeria Tobacco Company (NTC). It was the next job as a news assistant at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) that strengthened his dream of becoming a journalist.
In 1971, Dele enrolled at Brooklyn College (part of the City University of New York – CUNY). Because of a lack of funds he had to drop out completely in 1972, but was able to return after getting a job at Chase Manhattan Bank. He graduated from Brooklyn College and enrolled in a Public Communication master’s degree programme at Fordham University (also in New York).
In 1974, while getting his Master’s Degree at Fordham, Dele Giwa joined the prestigious New York Times after a meeting with its Metropolitan desk editor during which he pointed out a grammatical error in one of their articles. Impressed by his boldness and bluntness, the editor and Giwa began to talk – about themselves, journalism, and the newspaper. Dele expressed his interest in working there, and was hired on the spot. He worked there for four and a half years: first as a news clerk, then as a news assistant in the United Nations bureau. While he was there, he met Dr Patrick Dele Cole – then the managing director of the Nigerian Daily Times – who wanted him to come back to Nigeria and be the editor of the newspaper. In 1978, a year after he met Cole, Dele accepted his offer, and officially began work as the features editor of the Daily Times in April 1979.
While at the Daily Times, he established a number of columns: Page 7, Art/Life, andAmerican File. He also wrote two columns a week (Press Snaps and Parallax View).
In 1980, Giwa became the editor of the Sunday Concord, the Sunday edition of the National Concord, which was founded by Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola – the millionaire businessman and rival to Ibrahim Babangida in the annulled 1993 elections – and worked there for four and a half years. Unlike at the Daily Times, Giwa had one column which he namedParallax Snaps, a combination of the two titles under which he wrote in the Times.
In 1982, Giwa wrote articles that attacked top officials of the Shagari government. This resulted in him being arrested by the Lagos State police. Abiola bailed him out, and hired Gani Fawehinmi as Giwa’s lawyer. Giwa was arrested again in February 1983 for publishing letters between Sunday Adewusi and Richard Akinjide – the Inspector General of Police and the Federal Attorney General and Minister of Justice at the time, respectively – which stated that they wanted Giwa prosecuted. While in detention, he met several people who would later say that he had a huge impact on their lives.
In 1984, Giwa and fellow journalists Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded a news magazine calledNewswatch. The first edition was distributed on January 28, 1985. Giwa, the editor-in-chief, had overall responsibility for all editorial matters. He personally edited the cover stories of the magazine and went through all of its opinion columns.
While Giwa was at Oduduwa College, he had his first son, Billy, in 1967. Giwa was married three times. In April 1974, he married Ann, an African-American nurse. They had their first son, Dele Jr, in July of the same year. A couple of years later their second son, Tunde, was born. In 1981, two years after moving back to Nigeria to work at the Daily Times, his first daughter, Olufunmilayo, was born. In the same year, he met and married his second wife, Florence Ita. They were married for ten months.
He met his third wife, Olufunmilayo Olaniyan, at the National Concord (where he was working before he left to startNewswatch) and they got married on July 10, 1984. They had their only child, Ayodele Aisha, in February 1985.
In the days leading to his death, Giwa was falsely accused of trying to radicalise Nigeria and looking for ways to destabilise it, as well as of possibly publishing stories on the removal of government officials. At this point, he started to fear for his life and that of his family.
On Sunday October 19, 1986, Giwa was working in his study with fellow journalist and friend, Newswatch’s London bureau chief Kayode Soyinka, when he received a parcel with a “confidential” stamp and the Nigerian coat-of-arms and “from the Commander-in-Chief” printed on the corner. The parcel was a bomb and exploded as Giwa opened it. Soyinka lost consciousness, and Giwa’s wife – who had just put their daughter Aisha to sleep upstairs – had to get Giwa out of the smoke. His legs had been crushed and cut off in the explosion. He was rushed to hospital where, after many attempts to save his life, he died.
An investigation ensued with Newswatch calling for the suspension of the security officials linked to the killing. Nine months after Giwa’s death, the police said that all their leads had been exhausted and that they could not find any suspects. Years later, his death is still remembered by many.
After his death, Newswatch was not the same. Relations between the magazine and the government hit an all-time low and the articles it published were poor and unimaginative. By April 1987, the magazine was essentially dead. It was banned for publishing what seemed to be a harmless government White Paper. On May 8, 2011, 51% of the shares of Newswatch Communications Limited were purchased by Global Media Mirror Ltd, publishers of the National Mirror.
- Dele Giwa Wikipedia article
- Newswatch Wikipedia article
- Olojede, Dele and Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo. Born to Run: The Story of Dele Giwa. Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd, 1987. Print.