Several fascinating things happened in Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election. For me, among the most significant was the support offered to the eventual winner, Muhammadu Buhari by two journalists he sent to jail as military head of state.
Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, by the selflessness and eloquence of their action, contributed to the historic victory of Nigeria’s current leader.
There is now a golden opportunity for Buhari, who claims to be a reformed democrat, to pay back the industry he once combated: he should re-open the Dele Giwa investigation, and identify the killers of a fine journalist in his prime.
There is no better time. Mr. Giwa was killed 29 years ago, in October 1986. Later that month, another Nigerian, one Chris Omeben, turned 50. He was a Deputy Inspector-General of Police.
For some reason, Mr. Omeben, now retired and in the twilight of his life, recently told the News Agency of Nigeria how he had been unable to find a suspect in Giwa’s murder.
Actually, that is not completely correct: he had had two men in mind. The first was a suspect arrived at in a roundabout kind of investigation. “We had an identification parade and got people of different physical attributes to be identified by [Mr. Giwa’s] day watch,” Mr. Omeben said.
“Eventually, when one of those paraded was said to bear a resemblance to the person that delivered the bomb, in spite of my insistence to have the man quizzed, we could not.”
Why? “Because interference now came from high places to protect the man,” the DIG revealed.
Note: Mr. Omeben knew the suspect who had “delivered the bomb.” He didn’t interrogate him because powerful forces—“high places—dissuaded him.
The problem is that Mr. Omeben did not dwell on those powerful forces that were shielding his prime suspect. He needed a fall guy.
Mr. Soyinka was the London correspondent of Newswatch, Giwa’s journal. Also of Nigerian nationality, he did not lack reasons to be in Nigeria quite often, and on the day of the murder, he happened to have been staying with his Editor-in-Chief.
They were sharing the delights of Funmi Giwa’s breakfast fare when the parcel bomb arrived.
“On the breakfast table was a man called Kayode Soyinka, he was there; Dele was there and then the son Billy handed over the parcel,” our Sherlock Holmes said.
“And as he did so, I heard Soyinka left the table and went to the adjacent room.”
You heard Sherlock right: “Heard.”
Sherlock’s entire case against Soyinka is somehow built around that word: “Heard,” as in hearsay. Soyinka mercifully outlived the big blast, but according to Sherlock, who claims to have been unable to interview the journalist, Soyinka is guilty of something because of the very fact that he lived.
Remember: Sherlock “heard” that Soyinka had survived because he slipped into an adjacent room. But from whom had he “heard”? Not the man who was slain; and certainly not the person whom he did not interrogate, and those were the only persons in the room.
Sherlock, in the manner of Louis XIV, who thought he was the French State, seemed to believe he was the Nigeria Police Force. Soyinka has always said, and he has evidence, that he was interviewed twice by the police, including at the First Foundation Hospital on the day of the murder.
But Sherlock discounts those interviews apparently because—being the police force—he didn’t get the personal chance to convert his prime suspect to murderer.
And so: from “I heard,” Sherlock declared: “My conclusion was that Soyinka knew what was coming and he left the room to hide behind the wall.”
Hopefully, this is not the way that real crime investigation is still being undertaken in the Nigeria Police, as that would explain why murders are rarely solved within Nigeria.
Until Giwa’s murder, the only Nigerians who had reason to know anything about explosives were the military and security agencies. How would Soyinka have known what wall to hide behind, and at what moment?
Mr. Omeben, 80 last month, casually dismisses the failure of the police to explore obvious military suspects. The problem was, and is, that the police have always had some kind of a priori procedural understanding that military personnel are never suspects.
As a result, in the Giwa murder the police found convenient excuses to avoid public interest in anyone hiding in a military uniform, a point Sherlock glosses over. To examine the tone of Mr. Omeben’s tale is to come to the sad conclusion that had he laid hands on Soyinka, he would have pinned a murder charge on him.
“Because interference now came from high places to protect the man…” Who was the man who was being shielded? And why was the police afraid of “high places” in the pursuit of the cause of law?
Who constituted “high places,” if that was indeed true, but General Ibrahim Babangida and his inner circle at that time? Let it be remembered that Babangida has since 1986 been popularly believed to be behind Giwa’s murder.
Sherlock had that one covered: “They started to insinuate that the assassination was masterminded by Babangida, Akilu etc…As a matter of fact, I had interrogated Akilu and he told me that yes they had invited Dele Giwa some few days before the assassination over a negative statement he made about Nigeria in a New York newspaper…He satisfied me with his explanation…Togun also absolved himself with his own explanation…”
It is shameful to think that these half-baked conjectures comprised, or was considered to be policing, and were officially sufficient in explaining Giwa’s murder. In real time, it is basically an investigation that—Lagos traffic and all and in an era pre-dating cell phones—any self-respecting journalist would have completed in one day. His editor would still have had him all over town through the night, digging for authentic information.
DIG Omeben’s 30-year old report—or lamentation—is a national embarrassment. It explains why there is so much impunity in Nigeria, and confirms that the police are sadly the principal impediment to the maintenance of law and order.
This is where President Buhari comes in. With one presidential order, he can resolve this 30-year old murder case, and set the police on its way to being a true and independent crime-fighting institution.
By ensuring that the Dele Giwa murder is finally and competently investigated and bringing to justice those responsible for it, he can confirm his commitment to the rule of law and to a free press, and bury forever the pesky ghost of Decree 4.