Chronicling Giwa after 25: Lessons for Investigative Journalism in Nigeria
By Justine John DYIKUK
Dele Giwa may have gone but for all who care, memories of him still linger on. No other time is appropriate to remember the dead than November – a month in which Christian Catholics around the world traditionally dedicate to the Souls of the departed be they Christians or not. This pious act of charitable remembrance resonates with the spirit of the man in question. The writer feels obliged in conscience to chronicle this sage ofaccountability reporting in Nigeria at a time that religious reminiscence places lessons for both personal and corporate considerations.
Giwa was and remains a hero as far as investigative journalism in our country is concerned. However, that his assailants are still free; roaming the streets of our country is a burden on our collective conscience(s). This piece does not intend to heighten tempers. On the contrary, it shows where we have inappropriately placed truth and justice in our national life. It aims at setting this press-officer as a model of self-less reporting while drawing lessons from his life and times for both present and would be press-practitioners.
The Man GIWA
Records have it that he was born on March 16, 1947 to a poor family working in the palace of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife. Dele Giwa, hails from the Ugbekpe-kingdom in Etsako Central local government area of Edo State. He attended the local Authority Modern School in Lagere, Ile-lfe. He went to Oduduwa College, in the same village when his father moved there as a laundry man. Giwa had his higher education in the USA. He was married to Florence Ita Giwa, one time Senator and Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo and Funmi. Upon graduation, the father of five became a reporter and an entrepreneur. As an editor and founder of NEWSWATCH magazine, he showed excellence in service and strength of character thus becoming a veteran Nigerian journalist and frontline editor!
Newswatch: Emergence of dogged print/investigative journalism in Nigeria
Nigerians cannot easily forget Dele Giwa and his fellow journalists; Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. These veteran journalists founded NEWSWATCH in 1984. Its first edition was distributed on January 28, 1985. The paper which initially seemed compromising began to cave its own creative and journalistic niche via investigation of technical issues, including business practices and numerous interviews. Its whistleblowing techniques namely visiting Federal or State governments to get documents data and informative parcels is what endeared most Nigerians to the paper under review.
It should be said that investigative journalism is a form of journalism in which reporters deeply investigate a single topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. Prof. Steve Weinberg (University of Missouri) conceives it as; “reporting, through one’s own initiative and work product, matters of importance to readers, viewers or listeners” while Ansell et al (2002, 4-5) sees it as a process thatinvolves digging deeply into an issue or topic usually of public interest.
NEWSWATCH epitomized this as it had an in-depth style of reporting that was original and proactive in content and character. One is not surprised that in a 1989 description of the magazine, James Phillip Jeter (1996) said: It ‘changed the format of print journalism in Nigeria [and] introduced bold, investigative formats to news reporting in Nigeria.’ (Cf;International Afro mass media: a reference guide. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 30).
Uncanny exit of a journalistic Icon
The focus here is not going into details of the investigation, litigation and controversy surrounding Giwa’s death. However, it is necessary to recall that he met his end in his home on 19 October 1986 courtesy a letter bomb. His son, Billy who handed over the parcel to his father was in the study with Kayode Soyinka, the London Bureau Chief of the (Newswatch) Magazine. He reported that the brown envelope that killed his Dad was heavy and had a white sticker on which Dele Giwa’s name and address were written. It was marked ‘Secret and Confidential’ with a warning that it should only be opened by the addressee -The sticker also had the Nigerian Coat of Arms with the inscription ‘From the office of the C-in-C’ (Cf.,Vanguard October 19, 2011).
The journalist’s death may not be separated from NEWSWATCH magazine. Lyn S. Graybill et al, had observed that at the inception of General Ibrahim Babangida’s administration (August 1985), the magazine flattered him and shamelessly so. This it did by printing his face on the cover four times and even criticized “anyone who attempted to make life unpleasant for Babangida” (Lyn S. Graybill, Kenneth W. Thompson, White Burkett Miller Center (1998). Africa’s second wave of freedom: development, democracy, and rights. University Press of America. p. 150). Whatever may have happened, things took a nose-drive. The paper began to take an unfriendly view of his regime (e. g, his structural adjustment program). Such became the unfolding of fishing in trouble waters…
Occupational hazards of journalists in Nigeria: What lessons?
Reporters without Borders’ most recent Press Freedom Index places Nigeria 126 position out of 179 countries. The list indicates that media freedom is better in Venezuela and Zimbabwe than in Nigeria.