News & Features
ISIS's beheading of journalists in Syria has accentuated the danger journalists face on the job, a development that recalls the bombing of Dele Giwa, a Nigerian journalist, on October 19, 1986; a subject of several books and the latest, "Honour for Sale" - released December 2013, represents a new cry for justice amid renewed debate on media freedom.
Authored by Debo Basorun, formerly of the Nigerian Army, "Honour for Sale" has become controversial like the assassination's case itself, involving the country's former dictator, Ibrahim Babangida and two of the country's military intelligence officers, and a case that has remained unresolved for 28 years, the journalist's younger brother who is about graduating with masters in journalism reports.
"The book unravels NOTHING. The book establishes possible motives behind the killings. The 'boldness' was used in the review because nobody has ever come out, in a book form like this, to talk publicly about these possible motives," Moshood Abolore Folorunsho of Educare Trust, who reviewed the book, said in an interview. He cited journalists' delicate work of exposing corrupt practices and human right abuses, as the reason the author wrote was behind the journalist's murder.
"I am not aware that one Mr. Abolore reviewed the book. The latest review done to the book was by Channels TV Book Club, which attracted a torrent of rave positive reactions from all over the globe, the latest being a request from a scholar in Australia, for a copy. There is no part of the book in which I claimed Dele Giwa was a member of any committee of government," the author said in an interview.
"As reflected in the book, I was a member of that committee. I am the person who may have unknowingly participated in a drug running business in the course of carrying out military directives,"
One area in the author's disclosure is about government's confusion as to the source of the slain journalist's troubles and leading to government’s instruction for him follow theNewswatch executives around to gather information over suspicion that the company's executives may have killed their colleague over the company's ownership. When contacted, Soji Akinrinade, former senior associate editor on the Newswatch magazine, when the slain journalist was editor-in-chief said he had not read "Honour for Sale" and that he could not vouch for the author.
One reader close to the slain journalist's family who sought anonymity about her view of the book said that the book’s description as an insider’s account of Dele Giwa’s murder and the use of his photograph were ploys to use the journalist’s name and the claim of unresolved assassination sell a book, because issues of the assassination were only mentioned in passing throughout the book. Abolore's confirmed this in his review that the book's first 10 chapters read like the author's autobiography.
However, the book has raised a question whether the journalist's assassination was connected to military officers' involvement in drug business as claimed by Chief Gani Fawehinmi - the lawyer who investigated the assassination - and who said the journalist was
assassinated over a meeting with Gloria Okon - a drug believed to have died in custody according to government information - and on whom the lawyer said the journalist had a story he wanted published about her being alive and a meeting with her.
The Newswatch Communications at the time the lawyer made his statement had rejected the lawyer’s claim about an alleged meeting between the journalist and Okon or about any story in the making, about an alleged meeting between the journalist and the drug baroness.
But the author made no mention of Okon and relied mostly on his bosses reflexes, moods and reactions and his own reactions, especially his boss's reaction against his own request that government should felicitate with the magazine, when Giwa's deputy, Ray Ekpu, won International Editor of the Year, shortly after the assassination to reach conclusions that the government was working against the magazine.
Rather than the author reliance on the mundane, readers interviewed expected clarification or rejection of earlier accusations from investigation into the assassination. They ask whether it is true or false that Okon is alive and that If she is alive, has anyone seen her ever since? And if she has died, does anyone know about her death and time aside from the 1985 government’s announcement of her death?
Another area some members of the public seek clarification is over the matter of involvement of the nation’s president and his intelligence officers. Information that the murder envelope with the president’s name affixed as the sender and graced with the country’s coat of arms have long circulated. Seeking information about police procedure in an investigation led to New York Police officer, Wayne Magan who said in an interview, "It was possible and impossible to accept that the president and intelligence officers’ could approve the president’s name as sender and the use of an envelope with the country's coat of arms, unless such a development can be scientifically disputed."
Officer Magan added that if anyone outside the government had affixed the president’s name along with the coats of arm, it could be treason as such could create upheaval against the government. Public reaction in Nigeria at the time of the assassination supports Magan’s point. President Ibrahim Babangida felt backlash from the assassination and later Gideon Orkar coup led to his flight from Lagos to Abuja,
Doubting the possibility that a president and intelligence officers could approve such a dastard operation reminiscent of a coup against itself, a respondent who spoke off the record said "It is bizarre to think that a president and his intelligence officers would approve a president’s name as a sender on a murder envelope to a journalist. The natural thing is for people committing atrocities to cover their track. It is possible for
the murderers to have used the president’s name on the murder envelope to divert attention and create a problem for the government."
While many eyed the government as culprit, others pointed the finger at another journalist who was in the library with the slain journalist on the day of the assassination. The suspicion surrounds a remote control to the bomb, and that the bomb may have been planted under the journalist's seat. Bugging and bugging devices were found in bathrooms and which only an insider could have been capable of undertaking.
And mostly absent from Basorun's account were the journalist's years as Sunday editor in the Concord Press 1981 - 1984, where he practiced intense investigative journalism that endeared him to the Nigerian public as a thorn in corrupt officials' flesh. It was why majority of Nigerians said only the government or wealthy individuals capable of acquiring a bomb could have killed the journalist.
Other theories abound, and Basorun has merely added another dimension that the then head of the SSS, Aliyu Gusau may have been involved in the planning of the journalist’s assassination without giving details. Although, available information that had emerged a week before military intelligence invitation to the journalist for interrogation showed thatGusau alerted the journalist in a night phone call that someone unnamed had given deadly information to the government against him, and that the journalists should move to void the unnamed informant’s intention.
Another unresolved theory was about the damaged relationship between Concord Press publisher, Moshood Abiola and the journalist over a female journalist, who became the journalist’s wife, but whom Abiola said belonged to him and told the journalist to hands off. But the journalist had told Abiola he was not taught in school that when a woman fell in love with him, he should reject her because his publisher had expressed interest. It was reason for Abiola’s removal of the journalist as Sunday editor of his newspapers.
The public knew there was a problem between the publisher and one of his finest editors, but few knew the cause of what later became a reason for their lifetime enmity. Some editors who knew about the development kept sealed lips. Abiola attempted some form of reconciliation with the journalist’s family, but his own trouble with the same government over his victory in the 1993 presidential polls and government’s annulment of the election, his struggle for validation of the election, imprisonment and death ended the fiasco.
Many Nigerians considered annulment of Abiola’s election as a coup against the publisher, and they asked about what Abiola may have done that warranted such a reprisal from Babangida, his best friend.
The Nigeria police investigation was primarily focused on a short period of two weeks of the encounter between military intelligence officers and the journalist. Abubakar Tsav, a former commissioner of police in Lagos State who investigated the case asked to be allowed to interrogate military intelligence officers, but his request was turned by theauthorities. However, in1999, a new civilian government established a panel of investigation into all the wrongdoings in the country, including miscarriage of justice in 1993 presidential election won by the publisher.
The reconciliation panel, led by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, recommended that the military government in power when the journalist was assassinated could not claim ignorance about the assassination and asked the new civilian government to address the issue. But nothing was done by the civilian government, itself an apron of retired military government. The journalist's murder and inconclusive investigation into the circumstances leading to it has renewed discussion on the conflict between the media and people in public authority.
Speaking on the conflict between the media and people in public authority and its effect on world press freedom in relation to development in Nigeria, a United States’ former ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell said, "The cause of the conflict between people in public authority and the media is because people in public authority don’t like criticism, and that it is why the media requires a strong constitutional protection." He said the media in Nigeria is legally free, but that the media in Nigeria is also subject to intimidation from time to time.
"Whether a press is free or not depends on time and place," Professor John Richard of Columbia University said. He mentioned times journalists have been subject to violence, which he said was certain true of the US in the 19th century and also true of Europe and other parts of the world, a reminder of Campbell’s statement on universal conflict between the media and people in public authority; the struggle between printers and public authority in Britain, following the invention of the printing press.
“The liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state; but this consists in laying no previous restraint upon publications; and not in freedom from censure on criminal matter when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public, and that to forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press, but that if anyone publishes what is improper, mischievous or
illegal, such a writer must face the consequence," Sir William Blackstone argued at the beginning of media freedom debate in England about whether absolute freedom was permissible or not.
In a seeming reference to Sir Blackstone’s statement, Professor Richard talked about laws and conventions guiding operations of the press from country to country. "The question of press freedom really is a matter of law. In certain countries, there are institutional safeguards to protect journalists from some kind of state’s surveillance and harassment." He frowns on journalists being subject of constraints and spoke of the need for new journalists to understand the laws and conventions of the country in which they are working.
In tracing the cause of the conflict between the media and people in public authority and trying to situate the place of media freedom, a book by Caryl Phillips in Color Me English uses an analogy that fits the scenario. "The squabble between the writer and the emperor is an old one. Writers more than other artists, should understand that if, as is often the case, the emperor has invested in a different story, then it is they the writers, who will be most vigorously attacked, not their stories (58)."
An index by the Committee for the protection of Journalists, CPJ, shows that unresolved journalists’ assassinations are on the rise. Elizabeth Witches, writing in a 2014 CPJ publication, reveals that fresh violence and failure to prosecute old cases have become a bane to media freedom.
May 3 every year is World Press Freedom day and Reporters without Borders’ statement marking the day in 2014 said that the World’s press Freedom "I agree that journalism is a dangerous profession and that journalists in the Third World operate in difficult terrain, but not because absolute freedom is impossible. The US journalists’ enjoy comfort and the existence of strong support networks of employers other than journalists’ organization such as SPJ. I will recommend same for journalists in other countries to cushion against unjust imprisonment and unresolved killings," Sonny Albarado, erstwhile chairman of the Society for Professional Journalists, SPJ, said.
Campbell and Richard agree on the need for journalists to abide by the ethics of the profession. Campbell spoke specifically of countries like Nigeria where he said journalists need to improve on investigation and verification, and where he said some people buy media coverage. Richard said in some parts of the world, journalists are poorly paid, some accept bribes and that in others they don’t. He said it is important for journalists to tell the truth; that this presents a difficult challenge in different countries, and that it depends very much upon circumstances.
The relationship between media owners and journalists denoting the piper dictating the tune culture is another impediment noted as an obstacle to press freedom. This is much based on public perception that views journalists as appendage to media owners’ political or ideological beliefs. About whether the people in public authority constitute more problems to media freedom than media owners, Jennifer Dunham of the Freedom House said, "Both represent a potential threat to press freedom. The extent to which one is worse than the other varies from country to country."
Speaking further, she said, "In more repressive media environments, the extent media owners and governments undermine media freedom is closely linked. Authorities who are sensitive to criticism in the media will often pressure owners via advertising or other financial measures or have their cronies purchase media companies in order to exert pressure on content – often leading to the firing of journalists or self-censorship."
Reports from Nigeria indicate the situation in the country has not changed. A CPJ's figure shows that of the 1080 journalists killed since 1992 worldwide, 19 are from Nigeria. Out of the 19, motives behind nine of the killings confirmed, and remaining 10 unconfirmed - like that of Giwa before them.
Emmanuel Ojukwu, Nigeria Police public relations officer said that Giwa's assassination case is still open, and that the kind of case rarely closed.