Fellow Nigerians, today is not one of my happiest days. I'm sorry to start on such a depressing note. But that is the way I usually feel on every October 19, since 1986, when one of Nigeria's finest journalists of all time, Dele Giwa, was blasted into smithereens, by God-knows-who. Dele Giwa and I were brothers who never met, but had our paths steeped in similar upbringing. We were both born in the ancient city of Ile-Ife. Our parents migrated from the old Mid-Western region, now Edo State and settled in Ile-Ife to engage in odd jobs. Though we never met one on one Dele loomed larger than life and we all knew him like the man next door. I studied his life like a textbook, followed his world trajectory, and fantasised regularly about meeting him some day. The other man who had such magnificent effect on me is the one and only Sonala Olumhense who I was privileged to meet and who later gave me the honour of contributing to the birth of Ovation International in London in our exile days.
My God, those gentlemen had such rare gift of the pen. While Dele Giwa was very bubbly and swashbuckling, Sonala was ostensibly reserved and unquestionably cherubic. Dele Giwa was always going to stand out in the crowd. He gave journalism in Nigeria a lease and its practitioners a life. He challenged the stereotype that journalists were poor and scruffy by appearing most of his life like your High Street Banker. Just as Dele was loved by those who idolised him, he was feared by men of power for his ability to expose their foibles and egocentricities in his indomitable style. It was an influential position that made him susceptible to love and hate in almost equal measure. The life of a successful journalist is usually a delicate balance of standing between friends and enemies. And only a thin line separates the two. One negative article is just enough to obliterate 99 positive ones. No one ever remembers to thank you when you write that beautiful story but everyone remember to curse you and your family when you write that one that seems unpalatable.
That is what I call the dilemma of a journalist. My guess is as good as yours. Dele Giwa must have stepped on very powerful but sore toes who felt uncomfortable about his temerity to take on a system that made him who he was. The nation had not attained such level of tolerance to understand the job of a journalist was to write about friends and foes alike. There was always a channel of communication available to the aggrieved. The law courts are essentially there to serve as arbiter and secure rectitude for the victim of yellow journalism in any event.
The problem was not just that Dele died it was the manner of his death. For years, I carried the gory spectre of that bizarre murder in my memory. According to reports at the time, a parcel bomb was delivered at his Ikeja, Lagos home, somewhere off Adeniyi-Jones, in the presence of another accomplished journalist, Kayode Soyinka, now the Publisher of Africa Today. He was luckier to escape with not more than his damaged ear-drums as well as an indefinite sojourn in exile. Dele wasn't that fortunate. He bled to death and his family comprising of an aged mother, relations, wife and children were thrown into perpetual mourning. The whole country was engulfed in utter shock while the outside world marvelled at our ability to settle scores in the most deadly manner under the flimsiest provocation.
At the time of his death, Dele Giwa was the Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine and easily the most celebrated journalist of that period. His former wife, Florence Ita-Giwa, recently told me she fell in love with Dele because of his effervescent style of writing. By the time they met there was no protocol because she was already head-over-heels in love with awesome diction and rhapsodies. They became inseparable from that moment on. Dele was such a debonair writer who brought a lot of razzmatazz into the media industry. He was young, dashing and daring. He was a power-dresser, a fashion icon but above all an intelligent, inspiring writer and analyst.
Dele Giwa's column, Parallax Snaps, was a must read for guys of my generation. It was impossible not to be attracted to the writings of Dele Giwa, Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed, the powerful quartet that founded Newswatch magazine around 1984, shortly after their dramatic exit from Concord newspapers. These were the authentic superstars who titillated us with beautiful prose that dripped with poetic and colourful words. And they lived up to their billing. Newswatch was an instant success and the hottest cake out of the oven. Every issue was a collector's item. It is hoped that under the new management, that glory would be restored no matter how daunting.
I had followed Dele Giwa in particular like a true devotee. He was a pen-god who was worshipped at the altar of investigative journalism, and admired irreverently by the high and mighty and the low and meek. His pen was mighty; in fact, mightier than the sword. He was considered a proponent of fairness and justice in governance. Newswatch was a reader's delight any day. Every week, the magazine went behind the scene to bring us hidden stories that were buried beyond our prying eyes. Newswatch did not just tell stories, its daredevil reporters told it in elegant style. The team was simply awesome: Nosa Igiebor, Dele Omotunde, Onome Osifo-Whiskey, Dare Babarinsa, Dele Olojede, Kola Ilori, May Ellen-Ezekiel and other journalism greats. Kayode Soyinka reported majestically from London. I will never forget his amazing scoops on the Umaru Dikko saga during the Buhari-Idiagbon military era.
Everything was going well for Newswatch, or so it seemed. The dream of the founding fathers of the magazine evaporated one hot afternoon as the powerhouse of the organisation was inflicted with the most iniquitous brutishness ever experienced in our vengeful society. Neither the exact motives nor the particular identity of the perpetrators has ever come to light. At the very best, all we got were conspiracy theories and circumstantial evidence but there was nothing conclusive till this day. A private prosecutor, Gani Fawehinmi, who took it upon himself to unravel the mystery and jigsaw, met brick-walls at every turn. The labyrinth of esoteric cases he filed at different junctures died with Gani without recording any major success or victory.
One could easily have concluded that such a dastardly act occurred because we were living at that time under the jackboots of the military who knew no other way to persuade its critics than shutting up their mouths through cold blooded murder. Its microphone was the gun-nose and the loudspeaker was the barrel. The military knew no other way to offer superior logic and simply did not bother. And we all prayed and hoped that the evil cup would pass over us. Unfortunately, not much has changed.
Even in the democratic dispensation that we have supposedly enjoyed these past 15 years or so the curse of unsolved extra-judicial cold-blooded murders of our critics and activists continues unabated.
More journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty under the civilian dispensation in our strange country. The list is painfully long enough. The politicians and their cronies are getting more and more intolerant. Power has become a matter of life and death. I doubt if that was the purpose of fighting for democracy. What I find sadder is that there is a new crop of young people who are being brainwashed and indoctrinated by desperate politicians to cause mayhem and confusion all over the place. It has become almost impossible to have decent conversation and cerebral debates without resorting to vulgarities and vitriolic attacks. This trend can't continue. If it does, it will certainly portend great dangers for the future of our nation and has the likelihood and potential of descending us all into anarchy.
As we remember Dele Giwa today, let's try to have sober reflections and reach the decision that all disagreements of whatever ilk can be resolved through peaceful, gentlemanly means.
Of Tony Uranta And His Tricksters
I stumbled on an interesting post on Facebook the other day. It was a link to an outburst that was credited to a Niger Delta activist and ally of our dear President, Tony Ipriye Uranta. I was shocked to read his unequivocal indictment of President Goodluck Jonathan who he accused of surrounding himself with a kitchen cabinet that was incapable of helping him to deliver on his promises to the good people of Nigeria. He described those cabinet members as nothing but rogues and tricksters.
We must thank God for bountiful mercies. I don't know what sparked Tony's anger but it must have been a result of acute frustration about the way the ship of State was floundering aimlessly with the country almost bleeding to death. The manner public officers are splashing scarce resources on luxury items as if all there is to being in power is to indulge in reckless fun should be a cause for concern.
There is nothing new in what Tony said. The only surprise is that he spoke in the way he did. He merely gave fillip to what we've always known and written about. It is reassuring that someone close to the seat of power could be that bold as to tell it as it is. If an outsider had uttered those words, the world won't hear the last of it. Accusations and allegations about the writer's motive rather than a robust critique of the substance and the presentation of a veritable defence on behalf of the Presidency would have been the order of the day from the President's stalwarts. Fortunately, this is coming from a close friend of theirs. They can't in good conscience accuse Tony of working for some disgruntled Governors or opposition parties. Although, in retrospect, I won't be surprised if they do, especially if there has been a parting of ways.
I know it will not go down well with some of Tony's friends who continue to behave as if there is no tomorrow. I pray the President would heed Tony's candid advice and appreciate the fact that it is only those who love him genuinely that would tell him what others are shying away from saying. The sum total of the rising cries of patriots is that our nation is in a bad shape and the President's policies are now working or even helping. It is about time that the President reviews not only the positions of those he has entrusted with assisting him in managing the affairs of state but also the principles and policies that his government is implementing. The groans, pain and anger of our people has become incessant and is fast rising tom a crescendo. Something must be done before something gives. The President must understand that when the chips are down, the soldiers of fortune will move on effortlessly to other suitors. He will be left stranded in the sea and will be left to drown like a lonely sailor whose ship has sunk without any life rafts or vests.
We have seen it all before. We pray not to see it again for President Jonathan's sake.