The Dele Giwa Affair

Newswatch was a trailblazing magazine founded in January 1985 by Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. Giwa was its editor-in-chief and chief executive officer. He had left his position as the editor of Moshood Abiola’s Sunday Concord to create Newswatch after one too many editorial battles with his larger than life boss.


Newswatch initially enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Babangida government and was perceived as a slightly right-of-centre publication. In the early days of the magazine, it published positive appraisals of the Babangida government. Giwa was initially considered as a reporter with a close view into the inner workings of the government.

Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria
by Max Siollun


In his early days, Babangida was keen to build friendly bridges with reporters. His trusted confidant and head of the National Security Organisation (NSO), Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed, regularly held briefings with reporters. While he was seeking to expand the government’s network of press contacts, Brigadier Mo- hammed reached out to Giwa on the recommendation of Dr. Stanley Macebuh (managing director of The Guardian newspaper), who identified Giwa as a rising star.

Giwa was so highly regarded that Babangida granted him an interview in the November 1985 issue of Newswatch. Giwa was well-connected, he had access to, and was trusted enough to be grant- ed an interview with the head of state. So what went wrong? How did a famous trailblazing journalist who had worked for the country’s richest man, and who had the ears of the head of national security, end up on bad terms with the government he was courting?

Reporters and newspaper editors did not seem to realise that the government’s regular contact with them served an ulterior purpose. They did not immediately appreciate that the head of national security did not brief them purely for altruistic reasons. The government’s regular contact with members of the press allowed it to observe and monitor the disposition of individual editors from close quarters, and identify critical sections of the press.


Oga, please continue the story ooo. This one is interestingly new for me…

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The Genesis of Giwa’s Troubles

Newswatch’s troubles with the FMG started in 1986 when the Directorate of Mili- tary Intelligence (DMI) summoned Giwa for questioning. The DMI claimed that Giwa had a copy of the Special Military Tribunal judgement in the Vatsa coup case, and that Giwa wanted to publish the judgement in Newswatch.

On September 19, 1986, Giwa was again called in for questioning by the intel- ligence services (this time the State Security Service) (SSS) after publishing a story on the FMG’s introduction of a second-tier foreign exchange market. Giwa was interrogated (in the company of Ray Ekpu) by Lt-Colonel Ajibola Tunde Togun, Deputy Director-General of the SSS. He was also questioned by police officers in- cluding Deputy Inspector-General of Police Victor Pam, Felix Musa, Emmanuel Ngowe, and Lekan Salami.


Friday, October 17, 1986

In October 1986, Giwa was again called in for questioning by the SSS at their headquarters on 15 Awolowo Road in Ikoyi, Lagos. He gave a statement to two senior SSS members named Mrs Aliyu and Adeniyi Jones. Giwa attended with his col- league Ray Ekpu. Ekpu was asked to stand outside while Giwa was ushered into the office of the “security-conscious and gregarious” Lt-Colonel Togun. Giwa was subjected to a barrage of hostile questioning and four serious allegations were made against him, accusing him of:

  • Planning to import arms into Nigeria in order to cause social unrest and
    destabilise the government.

  • Colluding with socialist students’ unions to plan a socialist revolution in Nigeria.

  • Preparing a feature article on the exit of former CGS Ebitu Ukiwe. Togun
    told Giwa he was unhappy with the story since strong ethnic sentiment still shrouded Ukiwe’s controversial exit (See Chapter Seven).

  • Promising to defend Alozie Ogugbuaja, a police superintendent and public relations officer of the Lagos State Police Command who was suspended after some run-ins with the authorities and a statement he made alleging that Nigerian soldiers plan coups because they are idle. Giwa’s telephone had been bugged by the DMI and the DMI intercepted his phone conversations with Ogugbuaja.


The accusations led to a heated exchange of words between Giwa and Togun that deteriorated into a shouting match. Giwa was also questioned on the gunrunning issue by Ismaila Gwarzo (director-general of the SSS) and police officer Zakari Biu, who later became infamous for his brutal exploits during the Abacha regime. Giwa was so shocked by the accusations that he confided his concerns to his colleague Ekpu. He told Ekpu: “If they think this of me then I am not safe. They are only trying to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.” The same day, Giwa also reported the matter to acclaimed human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi.


Saturday October 18, 1986

Giwa’s wife Olufunmilayo (Funmi) received a call from someone in the office of Colonel Halilu Akilu (director of the DMI) who asked for her husband. After being told by Funmi that Giwa was not in, the caller took Giwa’s office number from Funmi. A few minutes later the same caller telephoned again and connected Funmi to Colonel Akilu who asked for Giwa’s home address and a physical description of his house. When Funmi asked why he needed the address, Akilu replied that Babangida’s ADC would come by later to drop off an item for Giwa and that he planned to stop over himself. Funmi had spoken to Akilu on previous occasions and thus knew his voice.

Kayode Soyinka [Newswatch’s London Bureau Chief] was present when this conversation took place and he confirmed that he heard Funmi describing Giwa’s house to Akilu, and asking whether Akilu was going to visit. Akilu later claimed at a press conference two days later, that he wanted to visit Giwa “to prove a Hausa adage that if you visit someone in his house, you show him you are really a friend” (he never did visit).


Sunday October 19, 1986

Akilu had a separate 10-minute telephone conversation with Giwa in the morn- ing, during which he assured Giwa that the gunrunning allegation had been dropped. This conversation took place 40 minutes before the arrival of two un- scheduled visitors to Giwa’s house. That same morning Giwa’s security guard Mallam Musa Ladan had left to go to the market but asked his neighbour Mallam Musa Zibo to keep watch while he was away.

At around 11:00 am two men in a white Peugeot 504 saloon car arrived outside Giwa’s house. One of them was wear- ing a white suit and the other was wearing a black suit. The man wearing the white suit left the car and handed a parcel in a brown hand stitched and padded envelope to Mallam Zibo. After confirming that Giwa was in, he asked Zibo to give the parcel to Giwa. Having handed over the parcel, the two men drove off without waiting to confirm that Giwa had received it.


Giwa’s 19-year-old son Billy collected the parcel from Zibo. Billy said that the parcel was heavy and bore a white sticker with Dele Giwa’s name and address writ- ten on it. The sticker also bore the Nigerian coat of arms and an inscription “From the office of the C-in-C”. It was also marked “secret and confidential” and warned that it should only be opened by the addressee. Having received a similar parcel in the past for his father from the president, Billy handed the parcel to his father Dele who was in his study with his colleague Kayode Soyinka. Billy went back to the living room to join his stepmother Funmi.

According to Soyinka, when Giwa received the parcel he commented: “This must be from the president”. As Giwa opened the parcel a huge explosion ripped through his study, badly wounding both him and Soyinka. The force of the blast threw Soyinka across the study and impaired his hearing for five years. The study was engulfed in flames. The heat from the explosion was so intense that it burned some of Giwa’s clothing onto his skin. With the help of sympathisers, Giwa was bundled into a Volkswagen car - still alive but critically wounded. He was driven to First Foundation Hospital (10km away) in Ikeja where he died from his injuries. He was buried at his ancestral vil- lage Ugbekpe-Ekperi (near Auchi) in Edo State on November 8, 1986.


Investigations Promised

The CGS Rear-Admiral Aikhomu, and Minister of Information Tony Momoh promised an investigation. Aikhomu promised that “we shall leave no stone un- turned in our efforts to find the truth.” Assistant Commissioner of Police Abubakar Tsav was placed in charge of the investigation. The police interrogated and took statements from several people close to Giwa including his exwife Florence Ita- Giwa and a Mr. G. Coumantaros (chairman of Nigerian Flour Mills Limited) who had threatened legal action against Giwa for publishing articles criticising his com- pany. At one point Musa Zibo (the man who handed the parcel to Giwa’s son Billy) picked out Florence Ita-Giwa’s driver Olufemi Olukaye as the man who gave him
the parcel. However Olukaye was discharged after interrogation and a search of his house failed to find any incriminating evidence. The police accepted it was a case of mistaken identity. Tsav’s attempts to interrogate Akilu, Togun and Gwarzo hit a dead end.

Tsav later said: It was therefore desirable that Colonel A.K. Togun, who was the second in command at the SSS, and Colonel Akilu, who was the DMI, make statements giving their own version of the story. They did not submit themselves for in- terrogation let alone write statements to the police. Throughout my investi- gation, I was unable to reach Colonels H. Akilu and A.K. Togun for interro- gation in view of the positions they held… Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo who was the director-general of the SSS could not be reached or interrogated for the same reason. They were untouchable.


Tsav filed a report to his boss and CID leader Deputy Inspector-General of Police Chris Omeben, recommending that Akilu and Togun be interrogated, and their residences and offices be searched. Soon thereafter, Tsav was withdrawn from the case and posted to Benin to investigate an armed robbery case. However, human rights lawyer Gani Fawehinmi¹⁰ refused to let the matter die. In November 1986, Fawehinmi applied to Lagos State’s Director of Public Prosecutions James Oduneye, for a private prosecution of Akilu and Togun for murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Gani Fawehinmi

The matter lingered in the court system with appeals and counter-appeals. It went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Fawe- hinmi’s application was eventually granted in 1987 and a prosecution ordered. When the matter returned to the Hight Court, Akilu and Togun did not appear and the case was dismissed. In between, Akilu and Togun launched a successful defamation action against Fawehinmi, as a result of which Fawehinmi was ordered to pay N6 million compensation to them. Fawehinmi was arrested and imprisoned several times.


When the Oputa panel was inaugurated in 2000, Fawehinmi petitioned it to summon Babangida, Akilu and Togun. All three refused to appear but were repre- sented by their counsel, Clement Akpamgbo (who was the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General in Babangida’s government). They managed to obtain a High Court Order restraining the panel from summoning them (their counsel for the High Court Order was the esteemed Chief Rotimi Williams (SAN)). Nonetheless, Fawehinmi emotionally appeared before the panel with a photograph of Giwa’s mutilated corpse and declared “This is what Babangida did. This is what Akilu did. This is what Togun did.”

Fawehinmi alleged that Giwa was murdered as he was working on a sensational story linking a drug courier named Gloria Okon with the wives of senior military officers. Fawehinmi claimed the bombing was a warning to Newswatch editors to drop the story. Okon had been arrested in 1985 at Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano, in possession of several kilograms of cocaine, while trying to board a flight to Europe. Okon later died mysteriously in police custody.

The Buhari regime then in power appointed a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the matter under the Judge Cannice Ubbanonu, but Buhari was overthrown before the judicial commission could submit its report. The report was eventually submitted to Buhari’s successor Babangida in September 1985 – within one month after Buhari’s overthrow. It is not known what became of the report. However, the year before the Oputa panel, Newswatch’s editorial staff and management denied planning to pub- lish a story on Gloria Okon. Newswatch’s deputy CEO Yakubu Mohammed said that “To the best of my knowledge, Dele Giwa was not involved in the investigation of the Gloria Okon story”.


Mohammed admitted that during an editorial meeting, a Newswatch reporter named Bose Lasaki had suggested running a story on Okon, regarding a rumour that Okon did not really die but was secretly flown abroad. Mohammed however said that the story was dropped and never published for lack of substance, as “there was no story in it”.¹² When asked to comment on Okon’s case, the normally frank retired army officer and former Emir of Gwandu, Mustapha Jokolo, retreated and replied:

I don’t know. Ask people who investigated Gloria Okon; who were the people behind it and what happened. But I don’t know. I don’t want to go missing too… Don’t bring me into that, please. This is too hot to handle. It’s too hot to handle.

So who killed Giwa? Fawehinmi and many members of the public believe that the government and its security agencies were responsible. However this belief re- quires an examination of whether experienced military intelligence officers trained in the arts of evasion and subterfuge, would be naïve enough to telephone their victim and ask him for his address before killing him, then send him a parcel bomb with a return address label indicating who sent the parcel. Akilu himself later said:

I am a trained man. If there were any sinister motives, I could have asked someone else to tell me his address. I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to phone the wife two times and keep telling her that I am the one phoning.


There are further curious twists to the saga that may or may not have merit. In an interview in the October 23, 1993 edition of Tell magazine, one Edmund Kechukwu Onyema claimed that he was an accessory to Giwa’s death. Onyema alleged that he was a former DMI operative and that after Giwa’s death, he and others involved in it were promised new identities if they left the army. Onyema claimed that he was dismissed after refusing to leave the army. Newswatch also subsequently received an anonymous handwritten confession (dated November 3, 1986) from a police officer who also claimed to be an accessory to Giwa’s murder.

The letter identified two police officers at a police station in Ilupeju who supposedly knew Giwa’s killers. Despite the fact that most of the principal witnesses and government ministers at the time are still alive, Giwa’s murder remains unsolved. However it was a water- shed moment for relations between the Nigerian government and people. For the first time, Nigerians became scared of their own government.

The End


hmmmn! So up till now, there is no conclusive evidence pointing who killed Giwa. There are many pieces that is boggling like how come his gateman went to the market the day the parcel was delivered (The gateman was hausa). What happened to the investigations of the C-in-C?.. Akilu is the key to unravel this…


we can strike this one out, probably just a coincidence & gateman being Hausa matters little

I think he was most likely murdered by participants in the drug trade, he was an investigative journalists and perhaps the same participants used Akilu to intimidate him.

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I’ve always heard Dele Giwa was killed by a letter bomb, it’s good to finally know the story behind the letter bomb.


I thought the same thing, about the gate man going to the market on that fateful day

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Akilu and others could probably have been the culprits. Trained or not, they knew that the government was a militarily run one. So they could have called and asked for address
And they know that nothing would come out of it.

Whatever happened to Billy and Funmi?

I always thought Florence is the wife of Giwa not knowing she is an EX. Sentiments aside, I have never liked that woman. I see her with them Babaginda and I was always angry.mtcheew.


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I’m remembering uni days :blush:

Mass Comm students do you remember this story? Cc @tayo @Drew

@Tayo, we covered this in one of Esiri’s courses.

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