On October 19, 1986, precisely 30 years ago, Dele Giwa, a frontline, intelligent and enterprising journalist, trained in the United States of America, was assassinated through a letter bomb, the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria.
Giwa was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine; a magazine which blazed the trail of journalistic revolution in Nigeria. The sad incident took place during the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida.
Prior to this incident, Nigeria was largely an innocent nation at peace with herself. Apart from the brutal civil war that lasted for 30 months under Gen. Yakubu Gowon to keep Nigeria one, the nation had not witnessed such a brutal high-tech elimination of a Nigerian citizen, during peace time. It was an incident that shook the nation and its effect reverberated around the world. This death by letter bomb could actually be regarded as the precursor to the modern-day bombings from terrorists that have become almost a part of our daily life experience in the nation. This writer also lost a childhood friend, Rasaq Kazeem (a.k.a Gomero), to the second Nyanya bombing that occurred near Abuja a few years ago. The President himself narrowly survived being bombed at Abuja before ascending office.
The circumstances surrounding the assassination were so peculiar and striking. The Tell Magazine of August 31, 1992, pages 27 -28 gave the following account of the incident: “…many people see the assassination of Dele Giwa as an intimidation of the press. In September, 1986, Giwa wrote in his column that proponents of SAP stood the risk of being stoned in the public if the programme failed. The security agents questioned him for that write-up. He was later invited by the State Security Services for another round of questioning. This time, he was accused of gun-running, meeting with leftist groups to foment a socialist revolution and planning to do another story on the removal of Ebitu Ukiwe as Chief of General Staff. Three days after his encounter with the SSS, he was killed by a parcel bomb delivered at his residence. The press went to town on the circumstances surrounding the death of Giwa…”
All the historic efforts made by the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi to seek redress on the assassination of Giwa, his client, in his attempts to bring the alleged culprits to answer to the law met with monumental obstacles. The powers that be frustrated all the efforts made by the legal icon to ensure that justice was done in respect of the matter and blocked all his efforts to bring the murderers to book. In the Giwa saga, it appears that justice was not only delayed but apparently, denied.
The pertinent question to pose at this juncture is: Could it be said that the Giwa case had finally been closed and cannot be reopened? The answer to that question should clearly be that the case is still open and until finally addressed to its logical conclusion by the Nigerian state, it is a debt which the state owed not only to the Giwa family but more importantly, to the victim of the crime and to the society. It should be noted that the assassination was a crime against the state, no matter the calibre of the perpetrators. Time does not run against the state in respect of criminal offences.
In other words, there is no statute of limitation preventing the state from reopening the matter. The paramount factor that should be of concern to us is the need to uphold justice at all times. Therefore, put in another way, has “justice” been done in respect of this grievous crime? The answer is a capital NO.
Justice has been judicially interpreted in the case of PAM & ANOR vs. MOHAMMED & ANOR (2008) 5-6 S. C. (PT 1) where the apex court defined “justice” as follows: “Justice, that elusive and generic expression, is the cynosure or fulcrum of the administration of justice because it is the aim of the administration of justice to obtain it. Justice, which means in its simplistic content, quality of being just, fair play and fairness, possessing an element of egalitarianism in its functional content, must be done in a case. As a matter of law, the main hire of a judge is to do justice to parties”.
Furthermore, in the same vein, Fola Ojo, a columnist with The PUNCH, writing under the title, “The jackleg judge”, observes appropriately as follows: “…Nigerians in public service, and indeed all of us everywhere, must never forget the Law of Retribution. He who cheats another man will pay for his misdeed. For every crime committed, there must be a punishment. For every wrongdoing, there will be a consequence. The deeds of every man, sooner or later will be appropriately rewarded. The Law of Retribution exempts no one…” (The PUNCH, Friday, October 14, 2016).
Justice is a critical element of development. A nation that has no regard for justice cannot survive in the comity of civilised nations. In advanced countries of the world, unresolved crimes are painstakingly pursued as much as 30 or 40 years to get to the root in order to apportion justice to citizens to promote social equilibrium. And upon discovering the truth, appropriate sanctions are consequently imposed on the culprit of crime. For instance, if the murder of Mohammed Yusuf, the original leader of Boko Haram, under police custody, had been appropriately redressed, the society would have been saved from the monumental catastrophe that the sect subsequently unleashed on the society, for which innocent lives were lost and innocent schoolchildren in Chibok became victims of societal injustice and disequilibrium.
I dare say that all the many problems and abnormalities of present day Nigeria are the consequence of un-redressed injustice of yesteryears, Giwa’s own, inclusive.
I therefore seize the opportunity of the 30th anniversary of the gruesome murder of Giwa to appeal to the Muhammadu Buhari administration to reopen the case file, more so, that all the dramatis personae involved in the matter, both the accused persons and the investigators, are still very much alive. It is very important to send a clear message to the world that, in this part of the world, we also have respect for the sanctity of human life and that no human being, no matter how big, either in rank, wealth or influence is greater than the law of the land. This government is hereby enjoined to give justice to the Dele Giwa family, so that his spirit can finally rest in peace. Where there is the will, there must be a way.
Ojogbede, a Lagos based legal practitioner, wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org