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Dele Giwa’s killers are known, govt not ready to do anything about it – Slain journalist’s associate, Ray Ekpu

Dele Giwa’s killers are known, govt not ready to do anything about it – Slain journalist’s associate, Ray Ekpu

Dele Giwa’s killers are known,  govt not ready to do anything  about it – Slain journalist’s associate, Ray Ekpu image

72-year-old Mr Ray Ekpu was a close associate of the late popular journalist, Dele Giwa, who was murdered in Ikeja, Lagos on October 19, 1986 with a bomb enclosed in a parcel. In this interview with OLADIMEJI RAMON, the veteran journalist recounts the life and times of his friend and the circumstances of his death

When and how did you meet Dele Giwa?

I met him physically in June 1980 but I met him through his writings as far back as 1979; I think that was when he came back from America and started working at Daily Times as Features Editor. I was reading him avidly at that time. In 1979, I was Editor of Nigerian Chronicle in Calabar and I think he started working at Daily Times in 1979. I started reading him and I admired his writing.

What was your first physical meeting like; what impression did he make on you?

In June 1980, we met physically in Calabar when a meeting of the Nigerian Guild of Editors was holding. As the editor of the host newspaper, I interacted closely with all the editors who came and he (Dele Giwa) came to my office and I took him round and showed him our library, which a young man, called Nyaknno Osso, was building for us at the time. We connected very well at that meeting.

Then six months later, I got a job with Daily Times, as the Editor of Sunday Times. So, in November of that year, 1980, I came over to Lagos and started work as Editor of Sunday Times, while he was Editor, Sunday Concord. So, we were meeting. And it wasn’t as if we were not competitors. He told me that he told his staff (at Sunday Concord) that, ‘There was this guy from Calabar that Daily Times just employed as Editor, Sunday Times; so, you guys just have to sit up, so he doesn’t beat us in the competition.’ But I didn’t see my coming to Lagos as coming to compete with the great Dele Giwa. I just thought it was an opportunity for me to show what I could do in a larger space, which was the (Daily) Times at that time. But that did not affect my relationship with Dele Giwa. The relationship actually grew much beyond my expectation. We got really close and each Saturday, if he finished his work earlier, he would come over to my office in Ikeja – both of us worked in Ikeja. If I was the one who finished earlier, I would go over to his office and sit down with him while he completed his work.

Why did he leave his job at New York Times in the US to come to Nigeria? (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

It was Dele Cole and Dr Stanley Macebuh who persuaded him to come back from America. According to the story, Dele Cole sent Dr Macebuh, who had also worked in the New York Times as editorial writer, to bring Dele home. So, he brought him. Stanley Macebuh was, I think, Chairman of the Editorial Board at the Daily Times, while Dr Dele Cole was the Managing Director. It was soon after the Federal Government had taken over the Daily Times and Dr Dele Cole, who was working in the cabinet of the Federal Government, was made the Managing Director. He started bringing staff members from wherever he could find them to build the Daily Times.

For how long was Dele Giwa at Daily Times before he left for Concord?

I am not sure, may be a year plus. (The late) MKO Abiola was just building his newspaper at the time. So, he went everywhere looking for people. I think Dr Doyin Abiola was also in Daily Times, Yakubu Mohammed was at New Nigerian. So, (MKO) Abiola brought people from different places and paid them salaries they could not refuse. So, I don’t think Dele Giwa stayed at the Daily Times for one year or two. He didn’t stay there for long.

Outside the office, what kind of relationship did you two have?

We were very close; we were seeing each other every day or phoning each other. I don’t think there was a day that anyone of us was out of town without communicating. Both of us lived in Ikeja, a short distance from each other. So, we were going to each other’s house and there were also phones in our houses, so, we were seeing every day. The relationship was very close. In fact, the Concord people noticed it and they printed something and pasted on the boards of our offices: Dele Ekpu and Ray Giwa. That was the limit; I have never had a relationship like that with any man. In fact, we were living together at 25 Talabi Street, where the parcel bomb incident occurred. We were occupying two wings of a building. We had to break the fence at the back, so we could walk across to each other’s place. And then I had a big generator and I put it on his side of the building. So, we were both using my generator. And I could walk into his bedroom and take whatever I wanted even if he wasn’t there and his wife would just be looking at me. I would tell her I just wanted to get something from Dele’s bedroom and she wouldn’t stop me.

I was the one who introduced his wife, Funmi, to him. I had met Funmi in the master’s programme at UNILAG. I went back in 1982 to do my master’s in Mass Communication, while I was Editor of Sunday Times. I met Funmi in the class of 1982 and Dele hadn’t got a wife at that time. He had already divorced Florence Ita-Giwa. So, Dele got married to Funmi and I was the best man at the wedding.

What do you think he admired about you and you about him that made your relationship that strong?

I think we had what one can call shared values. Both of us were passionate about journalism. Both of us were passionate about good writing and style (of writing). So, for us, journalism was not just a question of matters, it was also a question of manner. It wasn’t just a question of substance; it was also a question of style. Both of us had that philosophy that journalism, for it to be successful, has to combine substance and style. We shared that philosophy. You get the facts, you get the logic but you must write it well. And I think both of us are very passionate about human beings.  We shared that philosophy of being compassionate, trying to help people whenever we could and I think that was a very important string in our relationship apart from the journalism part. He was ready to sacrifice, to do anything for people. He had a deep sense of justice; a deep sense of what is right and what is wrong and I think I also have that. These, I believe, were the defining features of our relationship.

Did he have any habit that you had reservations about?

Both of us loved going to  the nightclub, both of us drank. They used to say we loved cognac. Of course, we were young people and we were enjoying our lives. We used to go to the old Niteshift on Opebi Road, which was established by our friend, Ken Olumese. Those were the habits that people were talking about. But that wasn’t at the expense our job. We worked hard and we played hard.

Was there something that Dele Giwa used to do that you did not approve of?

I don’t know. Both of us were smokers, so, I don’t know what I could upbraid him about. There wasn’t; I can’t say. Maybe I was too close to him to observe the vices that other people might have observed.

 What about you; was there a habit that you had that Dele Giwa complained about?

I don’t know; if you know, just mention (it) (laughs).

But I wasn’t there.

I probably think that I am too blunt and that is from my mother. But Dele Giwa was blunt too. That is the weakness that I have and I haven’t been able to change and I haven’t even tried hard enough to change. I believe that if I say it the way it is, you will understand where I stand and that has got me into trouble a few times with people and government.

So, Dele Giwa did not have any issue with the fact that you are blunt.

He was blunt like me; he was smoking like me; he was drinking like me; he was partying like me. So, I don’t know if they are good or bad habits but those were things that young people in those days were doing in Lagos. And maybe the girls were coming round too because we both dressed well and we had a few kobo in our pockets. At that time, journalism was good, we were well paid; I don’t know the situation now.

You said he drank and smoked. What was his regular drink and what brand of cigarette did he smoke?

 Do I even remember anymore? (Laughs) I can’t remember the brand. We used to bring this cigarette from the UK; we would buy rolls of it and bring to Nigeria. But we also smoked some Nigerian brands. I don’t remember, it’s been many years ago (laughs).

He grew a unique moustache. Who was his barber? Did he visit the barbershop or the barber visited him?

I don’t know (laughs); how will I remember that? I can’t remember.

You said he had a deep sense of justice, just like you. If the victim of that explosion were someone else rather than him, do you think Dele Giwa would have unravelled the murder and uncovered the killer, given his pedigree as an investigative journalist?

I don’t know how he would have unravelled the murder other than how it has been unravelled already. It’s been unravelled already and we’ve said that at several press conferences, we’ve published it. We went to Oputa panel in Abuja, we made presentations. So, the killers are known; it is just that government doesn’t want to do anything about it. Even Oputa panel said the (Ibrahim) Babangida’s government was culpable – it was prima facie culpable; but there has to be further investigation of the matter. A man who investigated it, the former CP of Lagos State, was there at Oputa panel in Abuja and he gave his own view of what he found. He asked for the government to allow him to interview some of the people whose names we mentioned, the government did not allow him to interview them. So, what more investigation could anybody do? The killers are there and known. The Oputa panel was definite, it wasn’t dancing around the issue. So, it is not a question of whether Dele Giwa would have found the killers. We found the killers and we said so in no unmistaken terms over the years. The people were subpoenaed to appear at Oputa panel. The sitting President at that time, President Olusegun Obasanjo, appeared before the panel to answer whatever questions. Some people rather went to court and asked the court to stop them from appearing. So, by logic, if somebody accuses you of murder, will you be running away from it? Wouldn’t you say let me go and clear my name? But these were people who were accused of assassination and then they ran away instead of wanting to clear their good names. Is that not how it is done? So, what more evidence do you need?

Can you recall how exactly that bombing incident happened? Where were you?

I was in Surulere. That morning I spoke to him (Dele Giwa). I told you we lived in the same building. I spoke to him at about 9 o’clock and I told him I was going to Surulere with my wife to see some relations. And he said to me, “I hope you remember we have a meeting at 12 or 1(pm)?” That day was a Sunday. I said, “Yes, we would be back (before then).” So, on coming back around 11am, around Allen Avenue/Obafemi Awolowo roundabout, I saw Kayode Soyinka, who was then our London correspondent, who arrived the day before and was staying in Dele’s apartment. I saw him (Soyinka) in a long night wear – white and blue stripped, long night wear – walking like a madman, aimlessly. I saw blood spatter on his night wear. I said, “Kayode, where are you going to? What’s happening?” He said, “Dele has been bombed! Dele has been bombed!” I didn’t get the meaning of what he was saying – Dele had been bombed; bombed how? Was he at the war front? I didn’t get it but he kept saying, “Dele has been bombed.” I said, “What do you mean? Okay, enter into the car.” He came in, I was driving, my wife was sitting by my side. We went to No. 25 Talabi Street. I saw a huge crowd outside. I enquired, they said, “Oh, a parcel bomb exploded. Dele has been taken to First Foundation Hospital,” owned by Dr Tosin Ajayi – that was the hospital we were using at the time. I told my wife to get down, so I could go to the hospital. As I started the car and moved, I hit one car; I was just nervous, struggling to get there quickly and see what I could do. So, one lady came to me and said, “Mr Ekpu, I’m sure that you cannot drive now. Can I drive you to wherever you want to go to?” I said I wanted to go to First Foundation Hospital. So, she took over my car and drove me there. I met the nurses, I met Dr Tosin Ajayi and Tosin took me to where he (Dele Giwa) was. His eyes were wide open; I could see a lot of blood at the mid-section of his body; he was covered with a white cloth. His eyes were wide open, so I hit him and called him, “Dele! Dele! See me, I am here! Dele, this is Ray!” and Tosin Ajayi said, “He’s dead already. We certified him dead.” So, I broke down, I cried and cried and cried like a baby. Then I gathered myself and started making calls to the Directors (of Newswatch), his friends. They came to the hospital. I called the staff, they came. We drafted a statement and released to the public. That was how we handled it. It’s not a situation that one can sit down and describe. Somebody who was healthy, I left him in the morning, he spoke to me, he wasn’t coughing, he wasn’t stammering, then only for me to come back a few hours later and he was dead, by some parcel – a parcel becomes a killer of my dear friend, oh my God. How was I going to handle the challenge facing us?

The challenge was not Newswatch, it was the challenge of facing the consequences of his death because one, we needed to find out who did it and would they sit back and let us do it or they would come after us? People said to me at that time, “You better go abroad and practise; you are next because they know that what he knew you know; they will come after you.” I said, “Me? I’m not going anywhere. We went round and brought all these people to come and work with us (at Newswatch), I would then run away because I am afraid for my life! I am not going to go away. If I go away, what will happen to what has happened? Nothing will move; no, I’m not going away. If they want to kill me, so be it, but I leave my life in the hands of God Almighty.”

That was the major challenge. It wasn’t even Newswatch because we were courageous enough to pick up the pieces that same week. People never thought Newswatch would come out, it was devastating. People were coming every day and crying in our office from Monday to Friday, everyday, we were receiving visitors. The police were coming, public members were coming, university people, people from different countries, people from different states, men, women, young people, they were all trooping into our office at No. 62 Oregun Road. On Friday, I then said to my colleagues, “We shut the gate; we must produce the paper. That is what we must achieve, the paper must come out in spite of the fact that we are in mourning.” So, we closed the gate on Friday, no receiving of anybody. We locked the gate and I collected the keys. We produced the magazine, it came out on Sunday. We met that challenge head-on with the help of God.

Were you under pressure by your family to flee the country?

Some members of my family thought I should leave, some friends thought I should leave, but my immediate family didn’t see it in that light. They thought that I owed the company a responsibility, I owed Dele a great responsibility to stay and face it. They were praying for me and fasting and so on but I didn’t entertain that thought anyway that leaving the country was an option. If you leave the country, the people who are looking for you, can’t they find you in whichever country you are? Even when we got the International Editor of the Year award in May 1987, we went to New York to receive the award; they sent some people after us in New York. They could have done whatever they wanted. So, it didn’t follow that if you left the country, you were free. They had people everywhere.

How did Dele Giwa’s parents take his death at that time?

His father had already died, only his mother was left. His mother was there in the village in Edo State. But his two brothers and two sisters were around; then his son, Billy, who was 17 at the time, was also around. His other children, two boys that he had in America with his American wife, were in America.

The news of his killing went viral. What was the mood of the nation at that time?

The name (Dele Giwa) seemed to have stuck out because of the kind of character he was and the method of his killing. As of that time, we had never heard of a parcel bomb incident. That was the first and the only one so far and that changed the lifestyle of Nigerians at the time, in terms of how we received letters and parcels. At that time, many organisations had to buy metal detectors, to use in checking their letters. Those who did not buy metal detectors would leave the opening of letters to their messengers and secretaries, so that if there was a bomb, the bosses would not be the ones to be dealt with. But some people who didn’t want their personal letters to be opened, they tell their secretaries, “Open the letter and just put it in the file.” And everywhere you were, you saw people using metal detectors to check their mails and so on. And of course, the people in the post office had to also buy metal detectors to check mails that they were receiving. It was a different lifestyle that that incident imposed on Nigerians, in terms of communication.

What is the most profound moment you had with him that you often recall?

I don’t know whether one can describe this as profound. But let me put it this way – whenever we sat down to discuss journalism, that was when we were all at our best. Not just the two of us; four of us. We would have a robust argument, robust discussion. That was at the preparatory level of forming the company (Newswatch) and thinking of what type of publication we wanted. Those were the real profound moments because each of us had to do his own research, check round the world, look at the best newspapers, best magazines and we wanted the best for our own publication. The profound moments, the moments to remember, were those moments that we sat down to have a forensic battle on what a news magazine, an African news magazine should look like. It was a battle of ideas. Those were the moments when your adrenaline as a professional was pumped. One enjoyed that more than going to have a drink at the nightclub and dancing and so on. Those were the profound moments. Journalism was interesting because, for us, it was a forensic encounter with reality.

Did Dele Giwa share any future aspiration that he had with you before he died?

What aspiration? Like wanting to be a politician or something?

Something like that, whatever.

No, no, no. He wanted to be a professional journalist all his life. That was all he wanted, nothing else.

Some said his relationship with the military government was too close for comfort.  Do you agree?

What do they know? You can’t be a journalist of significance covering public affairs and not get close to decision makers. That would be wrong. There are people who say you have to be far away from decision makers so that they do not corrupt you. But how much information can you get if you are too far away? If you are perhaps too close, you can be co-opted or softened. It is a matter of balancing. What is the right balance? In your every day decision, that will keep coming. For us, it was staying not too close, not too far away, but somewhere in the middle.

Was there any lesson that his killing taught you?

Oh well, you know the practice of professional journalism in Africa is made more dangerous because of the quality or lack of good governance in Africa, Nigeria included. So, every journalist, who practises in Nigeria, whether under the military or civilian government, is in trouble. He must gird his loins, he must be sure of his facts, he must be sure of his materials, he must be sure that there is no mistake. Even in civilian government, haven’t you seen them arrest journalists? Arrest photographers, collect their cameras and break them? Haven’t you seen them go to newspaper houses to carry computers and arrest people? So, for me, as a journalist, you must have at the back of your mind the worst case scenario all the time. Many journalists have been killed since then. For some, nobody can locate who did the deed and why. I have been detained six times, but they couldn’t convict me.

Has the government honoured Dele Giwa’s memory?

Which government? No government has; we didn’t expect any government to honour him but we’ve done our own bit, here and there. We brought out some books dedicated to him. I am actually working on a compilation of his articles, which we hope we can bring out later this year to honour him, so that the young people who are just coming into journalism can also learn something about his style of writing and so on.

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