FeaturesUnresolved Murder Cases of Nigerian Journalists

Unresolved Murder Cases of Nigerian Journalists

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March 03, (THEWILL)- Dele Giwa. Bagauda Kaltho. Godwin Agbroko. Bayo Ohu. Tunde Oladepo. Samuel Boyi. Fidelis Ikwuebe. Samuel Famakinwa. Enenche Akogwu. Chinedu Ofoaro. Okezie Amarubem. Bolade Fasasi. Zakaria Isa. Yusuf Mubarak. Eddy Ayo-Ojo. Nathan Dabat. Sunday Bwede. Abayomi Ogundeji. They all have one thing in common. Killed in the line of duty, they are Nigerian journalists whose death remains unresolved decades after their brutal murder, two or three in cold blood right in their living rooms in presence of family members in Lagos. Some of them were rubbed out on the streets by known state actors and unknown non-state actors. For instance, a trigger-happy policeman shot one in the head in Enugu. Boko Haram insurgents ‘wasted’ another for “spying on us for the Nigerian Government.” Two died at different hotels (Kaduna and Maiduguri) – one by an explosive device and the other by poison gas. Ever since the infamous assassination of Giwa, founding Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, by parcel bomb on 19 October 1986, dozens of his colleagues in print, broadcast and online media have been targets of fatal attacks. Reasons for their murder have remained obscure as the cases have been unresolved. Worse still, their killers were never caught or prosecuted. Recently, Media Rights Agenda secured a ruling from a high court judge in Abuja to reopen investigation into the death of some of the journalists. THEWILL considers some of those killed. Michael Jimoh reports…

Nigerian journalists of a certain generation remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when news of Dele Giwa’s brutal murder by a letter-bomb reached them on 19 October 1986. It was a Sunday morning. Some would have been readying for church. Some would have been lounging at home, grateful for the lull from the frenetic feel in newsrooms.

For some senior staff and journalists of THISWEEk magazine, they were playing a Sunday soccer game at a field in University of Lagos Akoka. Kitted in jerseys, trunks and boots, they raced around the pitch, dribbled, feinted, fell, got up, scored goals, missed some and generally flowed with the fun and excitement such moments generate. Thus engaged and passing the ball from one to the other hoping to outwit an opponent, a well-respected and admired colleague of theirs had just been done in by someone who obviously wanted him dead. The footballers didn’t know at the time. Handsets were eons away just as the footballers were distances away from radio or television. They finished their game and repaired to the office only to be told by the receptionist, Loretta, that Dele Giwa had been killed.

Glo

“We all looked at ourselves in shocked disbelief,” Uzor Maxim Uzoatu recalled to THEWILL last Friday. Editor of THISWEEK, Sonala Olumhense and other staff were with Maxim. They all looked at themselves and reacted the way people do when something unthinkable, something unimainable has happened, the way Americans of a certain generation remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on 22 November 1963.

The journalists/ soccer players from THISWEEK could not believe it, more so they had planned to engage staffers of the rival Newswatch magazine in Lagos, which Giwa headed, in a novelty football match. But it was true.

From their office, the journalists made straight for First Foundation Hospital Ikeja where Giwa was rushed after the blast. They met Ray Ekpu whose face was a rictus of anguish. Another Newswatch staff and protégé of Giwa, Dele Olojede was distressed “weeping.” From the hospital, they repaired to Giwa’s home on 25 Talabi Street Ikeja where they saw the damage the bomb blast had done: gaping holes in the walls, windows blasted out and twisted iron bars here and there.

Minister of Information then Prince Tony Momoh was at Giwa’s residence. “We saw him swearing and cursing, promising that the government would get to the bottom of this and fish out the perpetrators,” Maxim recalled to the newspaper.

Painful as it was to report the gruesome and sensational killing of Dele Giwa, editor and staff of THISWEEK were among the first to get the facts and even witness the reaction of a senior government official. So, the assassination of Giwa by letter bomb became the cover for THISWEEK. Of course, the Minister of Information denied ever making such statement when the story was published.

Giwa’s assassination was the first of its kind in the history of journalism in Nigeria. Reasons for the murder was not immediately clear. But soon reports began to emerge of the parcel itself coming “From the Commander-in-Chief” who was none other than military President Ibrahim Babangida. It was not the first time Giwa would receive such parcels from IBB, as confirmed by Dele’s colleague and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch Ray Ekpu.

“The parcel bore the inscription “From the Commander-in-Chief” and since he had received several parcels labelled like that from the then Commander-in-Chief, General Ibrahim Babangida he had no hesitation in opening it,” Ekpu wrote in a syndicated column headlined “Dele Giwa is dead, Dele Giwa is not dead” on 20 February 2024 in some leading Nigerian newspapers. “As he tried to open it the parcel exploded and by the time he was rushed to hospital he was dead, stone dead.”

Giwa’s sudden demise rocked the entire Nigeria to its very foundation. At 30, Giwa was clearly one of the fast rising stars of journalism in Nigeria. Ambassador P Dele Cole had talked him into coming to Nigeria from the United States. Giwa had a stint with Daily Times, Sunday Concord which he edited and then a founding member of Newswatch with Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. It was the era of highly cerebral columnists in national papers and magazines millions looked forward to reading every week. The Guardian had more than a fair share: Alade Odunewu, Ken Mackenzie with London Letter on Page 2 of Sunday Guardian, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Edwin Madunagu, Eddie Iroh, Yemi Ogunbiyi and the boss of all bosses Stanley Maceboh. Students and readers avidly followed Giwa’s Parallax Snaps as they did many of the senior writers, columnists in other media organisations. So, to many, his death was like lobotomizing a part of the media he belonged. It was not for nothing that for months after his passing, newspapers and magazines continually asked a question in a black banner: “Who Killed Dele Giwa?”

Nigerians would be asking the same question 10 years later when Bagauda Kaltho died through an explosive device in Kaduna in 1996. TheNews Correspondent in Kaduna at the time, Kaltho went missing before the explosion only for Chairman of the Task Force on Terrorism Hassan Zakari Biu to report that police investigations showed that the journalist was one of the persons who died in the bombing at Durba Hotel Kaduna on 18 January 1996.

Kaltho’s death has a question mark over it till date, with different claims from as many sources. According to the authorities, Kaltho was on a mission to blow up the hotel but miscalculated and got blown to smithereens in the process. Kaltho’s employers told a different story, insisting that because of his strong opposition to and political views against the government of the day, General Sani Abacha’s military dictatorship, the state got rid of TheNews Correspondent in a carefully planned and masterfully executed assassination.

In May of the same year, a journalist with The Guardian Chinedu Ofuaro disappeared without a trace. He’d departed Lagos on 24 May to Obiohuru his hometown in Imo state. He neither got home nor returned to Lagos and has not been seen since then.

Two years after Ofuaro’s disappearance, tragedy struck again at The Guardian. Tunde Oladepo was the newspaper’s Bureau Chief in Abeokuta Ogun state when five masked gunmen raided his home and shot him to death in presence of his wife and children on 26 February 1998. The assassins departed as calmly as they came, removing nothing from the Oladepo household suggesting that it wasn’t a case of armed robbery. They were paid to kill. Till today, nobody knows who’d done it.

Investigators reached the same conclusion after assassins rubbed out Bayo Ohu who was Assistant News Editor of The Guardian. On 20 September 2009 around 6.52 am he personally answered a knock on his door in an apartment he lived somewhere in Egbeda Lagos. Six people in white Jallabiya with matching skull caps and a woman accosted him right there, riddled his body with bullets. One of them added a coup de grace by saying “Olori buruku, oti ku” (the fool is dead) and then zoomed off in their getaway white Toyota Camry after taking Bayo’s laptop and phones. The killers have never been apprehended.

Three years before, assassins waylaid Godwin Agbroko 10 minutes away from his home in Lagos. The senior journalist with a column in THISDAY newspaper where he was also Chairman of the Editorial Board had on that night left his office in Apapa, dropped off a friend and colleague along the way. Alone in his car, they stopped his vehicle and shot him to death and then disappeared into the night. Agbroko’s immediate family had received death threats prior to his killing, and so were naturally apprehensive that he was in mortal danger. When Ruona, his daughter received the much-awaited call that fateful night, she seemed to have suspected that their worst fear had come true.

It was three days to Christmas 22 December 2006 when someone close to the family called Ruona. “Ruona I have something to tell you it’s about your Dad and we are going to have to go to press, so we need to tell you.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?” Ruona stated flatly.

Another member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY was similarly gunned down on a cold, wet night in Lagos. It was around 10.30pm 17 August 2008 and Paul Abayomi Ogundeji was heading home in Dopemu from work in Apapa when he ran into armed robbers in operation. The hard-eyed hoodlums ordered him to stop but Ogundeji refused whereupon they shot him at close range. He died on the spot.

Recalling the unfortunate incident, Editor of THEWILL Olaolu Olusina was a staff of THISDAY then. He had passed the same route with another staff Tokunbo Adedoja after they left office. “I remember calls made to us early in the morning to be sure we were not the THISDAY staff shot on that route.”

An eyewitness said men in police uniform shot and killed the journalist after he refused to stop, adding that after killing him, they got into their vehicle and left the dead man and his KIA SUV behind, removing nothing from the murder scene.

With these carefully orchestrated killings of the supposed watchdogs of the society, the Nigerian Union of Journalists and Media Rights Agenda met on 22 September 2009 and pointedly noted “that journalists have become targets of assassins and aggrieved individuals/groups; that Nigerian journalists now work in an environment where there is no insurance or any form of cover/safety net for the enormous risks they face in the discharge of their duties.” More tellingly, they charged that “the security agencies are either unable, unwilling or incapable of unraveling the rising cases of the killing of journalists.”

In a protest letter sent to IGP Ogbonnaya Onovo at the time, NUJ and MRA requested that a panel of inquiry be set up to “unravel those responsible for the gruesome murder” of the journalists.

Independently, the management staff of Newswatch had made the same request after Giwa was assassinated in 1986, a point made clear by Ekpu in his syndicated report on 20 February 2024.

“Since then we have fought many battles to get justice for Dele,” Ekpu wrote. “Fawehinmi asked the Attorney General of Lagos State to prosecute Akilu and Togun. No luck. Fawehinmi got the approval of the Supreme Court to act as a private prosecutor.

“The security forces harassed him endlessly sometimes sending helicopters to hover over his office. Newswatch was proscribed six months after Dele’s death so that we would not continue the pursuit of justice for Dele. We were detained and our accounts and those of the company frozen. We appeared with Fawehinmi at the Oputa panel set up by the President Olusegun Obasanjo government in 2001. Babangida, Akilu and Togun got a court injunction to prevent the panel from inviting them to appear at the panel. We, Dele’s colleagues made presentation at the Oputa panel in Lagos and Abuja. In its report the panel said “As for the case of Dele Giwa we are of the view that beyond the legal technicalities that some of the key witnesses clung to, the Federal Government should be encouraged to reopen this case for proper investigation.” It stated further “On General Ibrahim Babangida we are of the view that there is evidence to suggest that he and the two security chiefs, Brigadier General Halilu Akilu and Col. A.K. Togun are accountable for the death of Dele Giwa by letter bomb. We recommend that this case be reopened for further investigation in the public interest.”

“Since then nothing has been done by the authorities. Neither the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua nor that of President Goodluck Jonathan nor that of President Muhammadu Buhari had bothered to do anything about the matter. In this matter all the relevant documents are available: Fawehinmi’s presentation, Newswatch Directors’ submission and the report of the Investigating Police Officer, Abubakar Tsav. None of the past governments looked in the direction of reopening this matter.”

In the intervening years, state actors and assassins have continued to take laws into their hands killing journalists on duty just on a whim. Publisher of NewsService magazine in Enugu state Okezie Amaruben was shot by a policeman on 28 August 1998 in Enugu. In what Fela would have called power show, a team of police officers had stormed a printer’s office on College Road Off Edinburgh Road in the “Coal City.” Amaruben had gone to the same place to collect a job the printer was doing for him. With some of the apprentices already arrested by the highhanded police officers, they mistook Amaruben for the printer who had escaped. In the process, one of the officers calmly put his service pistol to the journalist’s head and then pulled the trigger. Amaruben died on the spot.

Bolade Fasisi a female journalist and active member of the National Association of Women Journalists was killed by unknown gunmen at Ibadan on 31 March 1999. Known affectionately by colleagues as Iya Oyo, Fasasi was trailed to Ibadan where she she was killed. Reason? The treasurer of NUJ was eliminated, say those in the know, over Lagos NUJ’s crisis “bordering on fraudulent withdrawals of huge sums of money from the union’s account.” As Olusina suggests, those who killed her are walking free today. Fasasi is the only female journalist so far who has joined the list of media practitioners murdered by unknown assassins.

Though the killers of Nathan Dabat, Deputy Editor and Sunday Bwede, reporter of Light Bearer published by the Church of Christ in Nigeria are pretty much known, they have escaped prosecution since their killing on 24 April 2010. They were ambushed and murdered after religious and ethnic clashes convulsed Nasarawa Gwong Jos for much of that year. Their mangled bodies were left at the Jos University Teaching Hospital where church authorities found them the following day.

On 22 October 2011, a cameraman with NTA Zakariya Isa was surprised by members of the Islamic sect Boko Haram at his residence in Maiduguri Borno state. They demanded to see him and when he appeared, one of the members reportedly pulled out an AK 47 from beneath his robes and shot the cameraman in the head and chest.

Enenche Akogwu of Channels Television was also killed by Boko Haram members on 20 January 2012, so with Ikechukwu Udendu gunmen killed on his way home from Onitsha to Ogidi where he lived on 12 January 2013. Udendu was editor of Anambra News a monthly publication owned and published by his senior brother Chukwulozie Udendu. Also, unidentified gunmen killed Famous Giobaro on 16 April 2017 at his residence on INEC Road Kpasia in Yenagoa. Giobaro was a desk editor with the Bayelsa state-owned Glory FM 97.1.

Such has been the spate of wanton killing of Nigerian journalists prompting MRA to, once again, take the matter to the courts in 2021. This time it was the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over the failure of the Federal Government of Nigeria “to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of the murders of 11 journalists killed between 1998 and 2019, and is asking the court to direct the Government to pay the families of each of the journalists N10 million as reparation.”

Filed on the NGO’s behalf by Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Darlington Onyekwere, along with Ms. Chioma Nwaodike, Ms. Obioma Okonkwo and Mr. Sideeq Rabiu, MRA claimed that despite “the Nigerian government’s obligations under various domestic, regional and international instruments, it has failed, refused, neglected and/or omitted to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish the killers of the journalists who were murdered while exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and of the press or under circumstances connected to the exercise of these rights.”

Just last week, precisely on 16 February, 2024, MRA won a major legal victory in its battle against impunity for attacks against journalists. How was this so? In a newsletter published by MRA, it obtained judgment at a Federal High Court in Abuja which ordered the Federal Government “to investigate all attacks against journalists, prosecute and punish perpetrators of such attacks and take measures to prevent further attacks on journalists.”

Justice Inyang Ekwo of the High Court held that “journalism and media practice are constitutional professions in their respective rights” as it is the exercise of the rights provided for in Section 39(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution that gives foundation for journalism and media practice.

Journalists are obligated to disseminate information, Justice Ekwo noted, adding that “the society is better informed, educated, enlightened and properly guided where there is effective press. It is therefore a breach of the constitutional right of journalists and media practitioners where they are attacked, tortured, maimed or killed in the course of doing their duty.”

About the Author

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Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

Michael Jimoh, THEWILLhttps://thewillnews.com
Michael Jimoh is a Nigerian journalist with many years experience in print media. He is currently a Special Correspondent with THEWILL.

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