When an investigator sounds like he needs to be investigated, it calls into question the integrity of his investigation. Chris Omeben, a former Deputy Inspector-General of Police who investigated the murder of Dele Giwa, the founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch, sounded amateurish as he rationalised the failure of his investigation.
It is 29 years since the colourful high-profile journalist died from injuries inflicted by a parcel bomb he received while having breakfast in his residence in Ikeja, Lagos, on October 19, 1986. He was 39. Omeben, on the eve of his 80th birthday on October 27, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that his efforts to interrogate who he regarded as a “principal suspect” came to naught on account of interference from “high places”.
According to Omeben who was in charge of the Research Department of the Police CID when Giwa was killed: “They said somebody brought a parcel and his son, Billy, received the parcel and took it to his father (Dele Giwa), who was having his breakfast that morning. 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. And as he did so, I heard Soyinka left the table and went to the adjacent room. It was while he was there that the parcel detonated. Dele was injured and eventually died. The metal partition separating the dining room and the kitchen was destroyed. Beyond that, everything in the kitchen was destroyed. If metal could be mangled this way by the bomb, what of human flesh, what happened to Soyinka? Nobody could give me an answer. My conclusion was that Soyinka knew what was coming and he left the room to hide behind the wall.”
He continued: “I took note of all these, went back to conduct an identification parade. We had an identification parade and got people of different physical attributes to be identified by the day watch. 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 because interference now came from high places to protect the man. The man was said to be related to the wife of a governor at that time and as a result of his connection, we came to a dead end on that lead.”
At this point, Omeben’s narrative took a convenient turn that introduced a twist. Who was the military governor whose shadow is still powerful enough to prevent disclosure of his name? Who was his wife? Who was the protected man? The failure of an investigator should not mean a failure of investigation.
He went on: “They resisted till today. Till today, Soyinka never appeared before the police. They started to insinuate that the assassination was masterminded by Babangida, Akilu etc. They said Akilu ought to have been investigated. 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 said they had to invite him to tell him that he was wrong for portraying the country in a bad light in the international press. Akilu insisted that the invitation was not enough to accuse the government of complicity in the assassination of Dele Giwa. He satisfied me with his explanation. Togun also absolved himself with his explanation. The parcel bomb was said to have the Federal Government logo on it, which to me was not enough evidence. It was more of a circumstantial evidence. I can prove it! But for me to satisfy myself, I said please gentlemen, can I have Soyinka? Nobody! Soyinka ran away to London; that was my principal suspect!”
Soyinka’s response makes Omeben’s narrative suspect. A report quoted him as saying: “It is a lie that they have been peddling to protect Babangida, Akilu and Togun through the years. They started it from day one when that incident happened, they changed the story…I was the first person police interviewed on the spot on that day in Lagos. My survival was divine…I was the first person to be interviewed in the hospital where Dele’s body was next door to me. The second interview took place at Newswatch office on Oregun road. He said I ran away from Nigeria, I didn’t run away, I was in Nigeria till Dele was buried; I attended the burial with my wife…After the incident, it was about a month before Dele was buried and I was in the country throughout… So, I didn’t run away.”
It is worth mentioning that there is a third narrative, which is relevant because of its revelatory quality. A 360-page book entitled Honour for Sale, described by the author, Major Debo Bashorun (retd), as “An Insider Account of the Murder of Dele Giwa”, is thought-provoking. Basorun served in the General Ibrahim Babangida regime as Press and Public Affairs Officer (Military Press Secretary) to the Military President of Nigeria between 1985 and 1988.
He dropped a bomb in the prologue to his autobiographical book launched in Lagos in November 2013. He said of the explosive volume: ”It is a laborious attempt at documenting over twenty-one years of a kaleidoscopic but exciting career – a gaudy reminder of the sweet days at the pinnacle of power and how a miscalculation on the part of the powers-that-be led me to uncover the truth that, in concert with his Intelligence Chief, Colonel Haliru Akilu, Babangida has not come clean with the Nigerian people – nay the world – concerning the duo’s roles in the mindless assassination of a foremost Nigerian journalist of his time, Dele Giwa.”
Basorun also said: “I am hopefully looking forward to the day when General Ibrahim Babangida, Colonel Haliru Akilu and myself would be brought before the people’s court to answer all we know pertaining to the cruel murder…” The question is: Will that day ever come?
In 2001, Babangida rigidly refused to appear before the Human Rights Violations Commission, popularly known as the Oputa Panel, concerning the Giwa murder. He betrayed desperation for silence by going to court. With Col Akilu (retd) of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in his regime and Lt. Col. A.K Togun (retd) who was the Deputy Director of the State Security Service (SSS), he obtained an order barring the commission from summoning them to appear before it.
It is puzzling that the three men rejected what was a golden opportunity to prove their innocence. An astounding travesty of justice followed with the reported comment by the commission’s chairman to the effect that while it had powers to issue arrest warrants for the trio, it decided against such a move “in the over-all interest of national reconciliation.”
When the 30th anniversary of Dele Giwa’s murder makes the headlines in 2016, will there be a clarifying narrative? Shouldn’t investigation of the murder be reopened?