Rev. Fr. John Odey
In the second part of my serial article, *When Tinubu Happened To Soyinka,* I pointed out that being an Igbo man by ethnic group and a Christian by religion, in a country where ethnicity and religion determine the choice we make in matters of politics, irrespective of whether the choice is right or wrong, there is the likelihood for some people who do not belong to the same tribe and the same religion as I do to dismiss whatever I write about Tinubu and Soyinka as the ranting of an ethnic and religious bigot. For this reason, I made a claim that what I write has nothing to do with ethnicity or religion but with the injustice in the land. To substantiate this claim, I cited at length the article I wrote in defence of Wole Soyinka in October 1983 when I was still a student – that is 40 years ago.
In this series, I wish to substantiate further the claim that ethnicity and religion have nothing to do with what I have been writing about Tinubu and Soyinka by reproducing, as I did that of Soyinka, what I have written in support and appreciation of some other Nigerians who are known to be great enemies of injustice. I have written books on a good number of people who became famous all over the world because they spent their lives fighting against injustice in their different countries. These include, Mahatma Gandhi (India), Martin Luther King Junior (America), Oscar Romero (El Salvador), Helder Camara (Brazil), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Germany), Thomas More (England). My other books and articles are lavishly dotted with other world-acclaimed enemies of injustice like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Steve Biko (South Africa), Ngugi wa Thiongo,o (Kenya), Jerzy Popieluszko (Poland), Frantz Fanon (Martinique), Walter Rauschenbusch, Henry David Thoreau, Dorothy Day and Malcolm X (America), Sheila Cassidy (Chile).
Here, in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka is not the only great man I admire because of his war against injustice, corruption and bad leadership. There are many others. But here it suffices to mention only very few of such great men, and they are: Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Prof. Chinua Achebe, Prof. Niyi Osundare, Dr. Tai Solarin, Mr. Dele Giwa, Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar.
To prove my claim that I am detribalized and that I am not a victim of religious intolerance. I have written a book each on Tai Solarin and Abubakar Umar, a Yoruba atheist and a Fulani Muslim respectively. Out of these eight great men, only Akanu Ibiam and Chinua Achebe are Igbo. Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Tai Solarin and Gani Fawehinmi are Yoruba. Dele Giwa is from Ugbekpe, Ekperi, in Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State. Abubakar Umar is Fulani. Out of them, Akanu Ibiam, Chinua Achebe and Dele Giwa are Chrstians. Gani Fawehinmi and Abubakar Umar are Muslims. Tai Solarin claimed to be an atheist. I cannot say for certain what the religious dispositions of Wole Soyinka and Niyi Osundare are. But based on their uneasiness with Christianity and Islam as foreign religions that have come to displace and disorganize the peaceful atmosphere of Nigeria’s culture, I am inclined to think that both are anti-Christianity and anti-Islam.
If this view of both of them is wrong, I am prepared to take correction. The main thing I am trying to prove here is that, irrespective of their ethnic origin and religious or anti-religious dispositions, I revere these great men because as far as the struggle for justice and good governance in Nigeria are concerned, I should say that we happen to be the same birds and should flock together. I love them and cherish their relentless war against injustice in Nigeria. Let me begin with Dele Giwa who was assassinated by a letter bomb by evil men because he disturbed their conscience by crying for a better Nigeria.
On October 19, 1986, Dele Giwa, the Pioneer Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive of the Newswatch magazine, was assassinated with a letter bomb. Twenty-five years later, in November/December 2011, I wrote an article about him. That article was given the title: *Letter to Dele Giwa: The Words on the Marble.* It was published in three parts in my column with *The Voice* newspaper of November 7 and 13 and December 18, 2011. What follows is the full content of that letter.
*Dear Mr. Dele Giwa,*
In the February 3, 1986 edition of the Newswatch magazine, the incisive writer, Adebayo Williams, wrote a piece, *As We Lay Dying,* in which he said: “I suppose when one has run out of bile about the way our national promise has been squashed, about the way we have rubbed out the most gifted among us, one is filled with a fatalistic calm: the calm that comes when everything has ended in absolute disaster. And out of this grim calm comes some strange assurance: the assurance that at least nothing in the future, except an outright holocaust, can equal the terrible devastation of the present.”
Dele, eight solid months and some 16 days separated the bomb that squeezed life out of you from this statement. Secondly, the writer did not mean the statement to be a premonition about something uncanny going to happen to you. He wrote on a theme that was in no way connected with you and he never mentioned your name. Nevertheless, when the letter bomb struck and after reading how it happened and the reluctance of Nigerian Government to expose those who killed you simply because they belong to the group of sacred cows that are above the law of the land, I said to myself that that piece was coincidentally a premonition of your death. That is how I feel that cruel irony brought you into the picture. I wonder how the writer would feel should he come to know about this wild assumption.
Three weeks after your death, Newswatch, November 10, 1986, Adebayo Williams wrote another piece titled, *Darkness at Noon.* This title is self-explanatory. Your unexpected and cruel assassination was our nation’s own version of noontime eclipse. In that piece, he asked the type of question that has kept those who think about the future of Nigeria uncomfortable: “How long shall this predatory system of ours continue to kill the best and brightest of its children? For how much longer shall the forces of darkness and retrogression continue to hold sway in this unhappy land? When will Nigeria, like a demented hen, stop sucking its finest eggs? When will this endless human rites stop?” As more atrocious things continue to happen in Nigeria today, Adebayo’s question keeps reverberating in our psyches.
Dele, you can now understand why I said that there was a sentiment of premonition in the first statement. It talked about rubbing out the most gifted among us and something like bringing everything good to a dead-end – absolute disaster. The second, echoing the first statement, talked about our country embarking on the outrageous mission of killing the best and the brightest of her children. This is a direct reference to you.
Be that as it may, time flies! On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, it was exactly 25 years since you were brutally murdered by a powerful and sophisticated letter bomb that was packaged and sent to you by evil men who felt that you were so good, so intelligent, so patriotic, so bold and so concerned as a committed and highbrow journalist about your fellow Nigerians being tormented by their so-called leaders that they could not stand your advocacy for a better Nigeria. They felt that your brand of journalism was moving with such a velocity that if it was not intercepted midway it would dare to crush their big toes and lay bare many of their iniquities. Your assassination pained every Nigerian who is not evil. I have briefly narrated somewhere else how I got the information about the assassination and the shock wave it sent down my spine. Now that I am writing to you directly, I wish to recall that narrative.
In the third week of October 1986, I was invited by Ezza Catholics living in Onitsha metropolis to preach a retreat for them. The retreat which lasted for four days ended on Sunday, October 19, 1986. At the end of that retreat I was in the house of one of the leaders of the Ezza Catholics who invited me, Mr. Jude Anyigor, watching television when suddenly what flashed on the screen sent me into a swoon. You, Dele Giwa, the Pioneer Editor-in-Chief and Chief Executive of the Newswatch magazine; you, the most investigative journalist Nigeria had then; you, the voice of the voiceless; you, the eye of the blind; you, the nemesis of corrupt, greedy and evil men who parade themselves as our leaders; you, Dele Giwa, the eyes of the blind, had been gruesomely murdered through a letter bomb and your lifeless body was flashed on the screen. I could not control myself after seeing that gory spectacle. I burst out crying like a baby. It was so spontaneous that seeing me crying, my host and his wife became very distraught. As soon as I recovered from the shock, I put my few personal effects together, entered my car and drove home. It was a miracle that I reached home safe because I was subconscious throughout the long journey from Onitsha to Abakaliki.
At Sacred Heart Parish, Onueke Ezza, where I was then working under an elderly Irish Priest, Rev. Fr. Edward McNamara, who was like a biological father to me, I was told that as soon as the news of your death rent the air, many parishioners trooped to the Fathers’ House to see and “console” me. After they had waited for long and gone without seeing me, it appeared they left their entire message with my friend, Mr. Jude Ngele. When I returned from Onitsha Mr. Ngele delivered enough dosage of the people’s “condolence” message to me on account of your death.
Why a condolence message for me on your account? I do not come from the same part of the country with you, let alone being your biological brother or nephew. I never saw and never met you in person until the dastardly letter bomb that sent you to your untimely grave did its worst. But I loved and cherished you dearly as a result of your love for Nigeria, your faithfulness to your journalistic ethics and your commitment to truth and justice. I loved and cherished you because you know and told us in clear terms that unless we learn to treat our fellow human beings justly there would never be peace in Nigeria. I loved and cherished because right from my childhood days there has been an indelible hatred for injustice in my blood. I loved and cherished you because I discovered that trait in you by reading your articles. You told us, Nigerians, the truth when we needed it most to survive and on account of that you were killed by evil men.
Those who came to console me when you were killed knew my love for you because I mentioned your name almost every Sunday in the Church during my sermons as one of those whose commitment to the cause of truth and justice helped to restrain the leaders of Nigeria from destroying the rest of us completely. You are not any of the biblical prophets of old like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos or Micah. But your denunciation of evil in our society and the prophetic words you uttered on the pages of newspapers and newsmagazines provoked so much fury on the part of the powers that be that they had to kill you to ensure you no longer disturbed their smugness.
You are not any of those who wrote the Synoptic Gospels, like St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke and St. John. But your message to Nigerians through the pages of newspapers and newsmagazines was not far removed from the message which those four evangelists recorded for the world to enable us live better and behave better. You did not write any Epistle to us through the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and so on like St. Paul. But the words of advice you gave to Nigerians on the pages of newspapers and newsmagazines echoed much of what St. Paul put down for us in his numerous Epistles. I mentioned you many times during my sermons because as we all know, all that we need to make the world and Nigeria a better place is to apply the principle of the golden rule in all our dealings with others: “So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). That is what you stood for as a renowned journalist. But evil men did not like it. I will love and cherish you until I die. If I happen to meet you anywhere in the yonder world my love for you will continue to infinity.
Nigerians, too many to count, love you more than I do. Chief Gani Fawehinmi was prepared to give his own life as well in the process of trying to uncover those who killed you. But evil men did not give him the chance to succeed. He died on September 5, 2009. I believe you are now in heaven with him. If so, greet him for me. Tell him that his own legacy also lives on.
Your colleagues in the Newswatch family have since your assassination proved to the world that you are most dear to them. Every one of them has continued to feed us with your peerless qualities. One of them, Ray Ekpu, who was the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the magazine when you were with them, was instantaneously overwhelmed by grief. On the November 10, 1986, edition of the Newswatch magazine, he lamented: “It is difficult to report your own tragedy for your reporting may unconsciously be affected by your sense of bewilderment and your sense of loss.” When he managed to gather himself from the shock, he gave you a deserving and glowing tribute. He said that you worried less about yourself but worried more about Nigeria. He said that while small men worry about themselves, great men like you, worry about mankind. And that is what you did. In your dealings with people, he said, you were frank and you had no room for mischief because you had nothing to hide. You were detribalized and open-minded and this endeared you to all Nigerians who came close to you. You were a human dynamo and your credo was excellence. To crown it all, he said that you gave all you have to the Newswatch, including your life.
To Be Continued in part 2