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 through 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 34 years after.
Soyinka said he still carries the effect of that incident till date.
In his book titled ‘Born Into Journalism, Memoir Of A Newspaper Reporter By Kayode Soyinka’, the Publisher and Editor-in-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.
“He took a quick look at the parcel and handed it over to me to see. I held it in my hand, looked at it, and handed it back to him. When he took it back from me. He said, “This must be from the President.” The padded envelope, just slightly bigger than A4 in size, had marks that suggested it had been sent “from the cabinet office” in Lagos. It was addressed to “Chief Dele Giwa” – Though he was not a chief and with the instruction printed on it that it must be opened by the addressee only.
“Dele thought the envelope contained some documents which may help Newswatch with some stories. As he readjusted his chair and tried to tear the envelope open from the top left-hand corner, the envelope exploded. It was a huge and horrific explosion. There was a big ball of fire. Dele absorbed the shock and most of the impact of the massive explosion on his body, as he was the person who held the envelope and had tried to open it. I was saved by the huge mahogany L-shaped table on which we were eating.
“That table was so strong with a thickly padded lower part that it absorbed the impact of the explosion that would have affected me directly. Still, the explosion was powerful enough to lift me from my chair and threw me on the front of the door to the study. Dele Giwa was in deep shock. He was still alive, as helpers rushed in and helped to carefully drag him out of the rubbles of the explosion. He was rushed to First Foundation Hospital in Opebi, Owens by a close friend of ours, Dr Tosin Ajayi.
“I could have opened the parcel myself when Dele passed it to me to take a look at it. When he tried to open it and the explosion occurred. I was shocked that parcel bombing could happen in Nigeria. We had never had such an experience of eliminating someone in such a dastardly manner in our history before. The thought of what our country was turning into was running through my mind even as I reeled from the shock. My hearing was impaired. I could not hear when people talked to me no matter how close they were to my ears.
“The power of the explosion had blocked my hearing and there was a continuous noise inside my ears, it was very irritating and I endured it for over five years. I was hospitalised in Nigeria, I was occupying the room next to where Dele’s dead body lay. When I returned to the UK and got my ears thoroughly checked at my local hospital, it was discovered that the eardrums in my ears were perforated. The doctor told me there was not much that could be done, that the perforation would heal by itself with time. I couldn’t complain because my situation would have been worse if the blast had claimed my life like it had claimed Dele’s.
“It confirmed to me how ruthless people can be, especially to stay in power at all cost – they can kill for that! I said it at the time that if the killers of Dele Giwa were not found and brought to justice, similar attacks would occur. I have been proven right. Unfortunately, several key figures including a former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria – the chief law officer of the country – Bola Ige – was assassinated in his own house in Ibadan in December 2001. No one has been arrested, let alone convicted for his assassination up till this day. Colleagues at Newswatch were completely shocked and confused by the incident.”