Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed founded Newswatch alongside the late Dele Giwa, who was killed exactly 30 years ago today. In this piece to mark the day, the trio laid bare the facts of the assassination of one of Nigeria’s finest journalists and editors. They urge the Muhammadu Buhari government to reopen the matter and ensure that the growing scourge of assassinations in the country is guillotined
October 19 this year marks the 30th anniversary of the gory assassination of Dele Giwa, the first Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch, Nigeria’s path-breaking newsmagazine. Dele’s life was cynically shortened by the novel method of a parcel bomb that was delivered to his house at No. 25 Talabi Street, Ikeja, Lagos on Sunday October 19, 1986 at mid-day.
Since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The matter has continued to be in the laser glare of the public eye. Those who did the dirty job may have thought that killing the famous journalist will be a quick job, quickly done and quickly forgotten. Yes, it was quickly done but obviously not quickly forgotten: thirty years down the road the matter is not dead. It is alive and well and not ready to die any time soon.
However, over the last 15 years or so a man who played a tangential, supervisory role in the matter, Chris Omeben, has been doing his ineffectual best to mislead the public on the matter by playing footsie with the facts. Mr. Omeben, who retired as Deputy Inspector General of Police in 1989, is now the Archbishop of Jesus Families Ministries. He will be 81 years old on October 27 this year.
With a frison of surprise this man has been effing and jeffing apparently championing the cause of his sponsors but his sloppy analysis is not receiving a storm of applause from the public. It is apparent that the public knows that this man is a truth-shredder. While he has the intuitive freedom to lie we have the obligatory duty to put the facts before the public, since he has been pointing accusing fingers in various directions. These include Florence Ita-Giwa, Dele’s ex-wife, Kayode Soyinka, Newswatch London Bureau Chief at the time and Dele’s colleagues, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. His flippant gyration on the matter therefore deserves a multilateral response so that his lies will not be inadvertently validated and the hard-earned reputations of innocent people are not brought down by his swinging axe.
(1) Kayode Soyinka: Kayode Soyinka was the London Bureau Chief of Newswatch. He was in Lagos for an official business and lodged at Dele’s residence. Omeben has sought, vainly, to pin the assassination on him simply because he was in the study together with Dele when the parcel bomb exploded. Omeben says he sent out people to locate him but he could not be found. “We later learnt that he went out of the country through Idi-Iroko.” This is a farrago of lies.
Here are the facts: Kayode was sitting opposite Dele when his son Billy delivered the parcel to his father. When the parcel exploded at Dele’s attempt to open it, Kayode was thrown on the floor. His ears were damaged and he was hospitalised at First Foundation Hospital in Ikeja where Dele was rushed to after the incident. For more than a year Kayode’s ears were dysfunctional.
Mr. Omeben says that Kayode left the room where he and Dele were as soon as Billy Giwa brought in the parcel. He says Kayode stayed out until the parcel exploded. “It was while he was there in an adjacent room that the parcel detonated; the metal partition separating the dining room and the kitchen was destroyed.” Lies! Omeben thinks that since the two men were said to have just had breakfast, the breakfast session was in the dining room. And dining rooms are more often than not near the kitchen. This is pure conjecture. They had their breakfast in the study, not in the dining room and the study was not near the dining room or kitchen.
Kayode was never in hiding. After the bomb explosion which rendered Dele’s residence uninhabitable, Kayode and members of Dele’s family moved into Ray Ekpu’s wing of the building. Dele and Ray lived in this twin duplex. In fact, Kayode was interviewed by several newspapers during the period that he was in Nigeria; he was interviewed by the Police at least twice and he submitted written statements to them; he attended Dele’s burial at Ugbekpe Ekperi in Edo State along with other Newswatch staff.
Mr. Omeben has said that Newswatch directors shielded Kayode from being arrested by the police. This is a lie. Throughout the period of this incident Kayode was available. He was not a fugitive from justice. He was a victim of the dastardly act. If we prevented Kayode from being arrested by the police (and we deny it vehemently) why did the Police not arrest us for obstruction?
If Kayode was considered a suspect in the matter why have the Police not arrested him since then because criminal cases are not time barred? Kayode has come to Nigeria very many times in the past 30 years without the police accosting him. Twice, he contested elections for the governorship of Ogun State, campaigning there for months on each occasion. Why was he not arrested by the Police?
The allegation that Kayode escaped from the country through the NADECO route at Idi Iroko is nonsense. Kayode left Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on British Caledonian Airways accompanied by his wife and children who had to join him in Nigeria when they heard of the incident. This information can be crosschecked with the various authorities at the Murtala Muhammed airport.
Before Kayode left Nigeria on Sunday November 16, 1986 the Police had come the day before, that is Saturday November 15, 1986 asking him to make a statement on his movement between the day of the bomb blast and the time of his discharge from the hospital. He did. But curiously and fully aware that Kayode had left Nigeria the day before the police came on Monday November 17, 1986 to say they had some more questions for Kayode. A letter signed by A. Kaltungo, Deputy Commissioner of Police was delivered to Ray Ekpu. The letter asked Kayode to report to the Police on Wednesday November 19, 1986. Ray replied to the letter that same day informing the police (as if they didn’t know) that Kayode had returned to London. He gave the police Kayode’s London address and phone numbers. It is elementary wisdom that no one could sit in a room where he knew a bomb was going to explode except he is a suicide bomber. And Kayode was not one. He had a wife and children and a flourishing career. His demographics do not fit into a sensible analyst’s silhouette of a suicide bomber.
For every crime there must be a motive. Why would Kayode want to kill his Editor-in-Chief? If he killed Dele he would never have become the next Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. He would have had to kill Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed, Soji Akinrinade, Nosa Igiebor, Dele Omotunde, Onome Osifo Whisky and a few other senior editorial staff to get to the Editor-in-Chief’s chair.
It is curious that a policeman who retired as a Deputy Inspector General of Police does not know that a murder allegation does not expire and that even if Kayode lives in London, Interpol could have got him to come to Nigeria and answer for the alleged crime if the Nigeria Police had concrete information on his involvement.
(2) Newswatch Directors: Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. Mr. Omeben has alleged a couple of times that there was boardroom politics in Newswatch where the board members would want to eliminate themselves. The external board members of Newswatch were all successful businessmen who only invested in Newswatch because we the executive directors – Ray, Dan, Yakubu – were their friends. There was nothing for them to fight for in Newswatch.
But Mr. Omeben has mentioned the three of us a few times by name making allegations or insinuations that tend to give the impression that we were suspects in the case. This is a most uncharitable, wicked and despicable piece of defamation. In the first place, we never had any crisis of notable dimension that could have warranted the existence of a plot to kill our friend and business partner. If we killed Dele what would we get? His Newswatch shares? We have our own. His wife? We have our own. His children? We have our own. The position of Editor-in-Chief? Most unlikely for four reasons: (a) Each of the four of us had been editor of a newspaper or two before we came together so the editorial chair did not offer such an overwhelming attraction for any of us to harbour the thought of physically eliminating our friend and business partner (b) All the four of us were on the same salary and allowances. No one earned higher and no one earned lower than the other. (c) The positions in Newswatch at its inception were determined by Ray and Yakubu. Both of them decided that since Dele and Dan were unfairly treated in their last offices in Concord and New Nigerian, it was wise to assert our confidence in the two of them by offering them the positions of Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director respectively. Ray and Yakubu opted to be called Executive Editors. It was not a mark of anybody’s superiority or inferiority because we all took active part in the editorial activities of the magazine and had equal shares (15 percent) in the company. It was meant to be a confidence booster for the two men. (d) The three of us believe in the inviolability of friendship. We see it as a bank account to which you must continue to make deposits so that it can grow. It is a sacred relationship, a present of unquantifiable value that you must give to yourself. So our world view does not include killing your friend for whatever reason. No reason is good enough for “friend-ticide.” A lot of people ask us what is the magic behind our strong relationship of almost 40 years. The answer: friendship. We retired from Newswatch on May 5, 2011 but we are still together today, why? Friendship.
Since that fateful day of October 19, 1986 our lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, had made every effort, using the mechanism of the courts from High Court to the Supreme Court to bring the suspects to justice. At every turn that resolute and indefatigable fighter was harassed, assaulted, charged to court on trumped up charges so as to kill the matter.
Every effort was made by the Babangida government to kill the magazine and render us jobless by the proscription of the magazine in April 1987 on spurious charges. Our corporate and personal accounts were frozen. We continued to pursue the assassination issue with as much vigour as we could. On September 11, 1987 we wrote a letter to the then Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Muhammahu Gambo, reminding him about the Dele Giwa matter. We never got even the courtesy of a response from Alhaji Gambo. We also appeared at the Oputa panel with Chief Fawehinmi in Lagos and Abuja in pursuit of justice.
Worthy of note is the fact that Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, the investigating Police Officer, had testified at the Oputa panel on July 3, 2001 in Abuja. He told the panel that in his interim report he had recommended that Col. Halilu Akilu and Lt. Col. A.K.Togun should be made available for interrogation and voice identification. He also recommended that their special privileges should be withdrawn so that a search could be conducted in their offices and residences for items of evidential value. The case file was submitted to Mr. Omeben. He never returned the case file to Mr. Tsav, nor did he reassign the case to someone else. He simply sat on the matter until he retired.
Since his retirement Mr. Omeben has been claiming that we had very powerful links in government so we were able to block the investigation. This view is quite flattering but it is patently false. We had no such influence otherwise we would have blocked the proscription of the magazine, our serial detentions for spurious reasons, the freezing of our accounts. Mr. Omeben’s words are aflame with dishonesty. He is evidently a truth shredder who works as an echo chamber of his sponsors. But truth is like pregnancy: you can’t hide it for too long.
During the Oputa panel deliberations in 2001 Ibrahim Babangida, Akilu and Togun went to court and obtained an order restraining the Commission from summoning them to appear before it. Justice Oputa said that the Commission had the power to issue arrest warrants for the trio but decided against this “in the interest of national reconciliation.”
Murder is a criminal matter. Isn’t it curious, therefore, that people who are accused of murder should seek to run away from the opportunity to clear their “good names.” We would have thought they would embrace such an opportunity warmly instead of engaging in legal gymnastics.
However, the panel in its report stated: “As for the case of Dele Giwa we are of the view that beyond the legal technicalities that some of the key witnesses clung to, the federal government should be encouraged to reopen this case for proper investigation.” It stated further: “On General Ibrahim Babangida, we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and the two security chiefs, Brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Col. A.K.Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be reopened for further investigation in the public interest.”
We urge the Buhari government to reopen the matter and ensure that the growing scourge of assassinations in the country is guillotined.