31 years after: My meetings with Babangida over Dele Giwa’s death

31 years after: My meetings with Babangida over Dele Giwa’s death

Friday, October 20, 2017 10:54 am

Wole Soyinka young

By Wole Soyinka

The following day, I called my friend, Ojetunji Aboyade (former VC of Unife and IBB’s Economic Adviser), Babangida’s right hand man. “Your Boss’ hands are covered in blood,” I told him. “I cannot accept any honours from those hands. Neither will I accept any government representation at the Stockholm ceremony (investiture as a Nobel Laureate).”

The appointment agreed upon earlier with Aboyade over the telephone – to meet the dictator and discuss the modalities for a special ceremony for the national award – should be regarded as cancelled. After hours of debate – Aboyade, Yemi Ogunbiyi and I – we agreed that I would go ahead and keep the appointment, as if nothing had happened to affect the agenda. It would then be my turn to spring an ambush, ambush because Oje gave his word not to warn Babangida in advance that I now had negative thoughts about the national conferment. I would simply arrive with a formal letter, then set out my conditions for reinstating the honour…

We met in IBB’s office, the dictator all set to finalise details of the participation of the Nigerian government in the Swedish event. Oje came along, as did Yemi Ogunbiyi. No sooner were courtesies over and we were seated in front of the vast presidential desk than he brought out a slim file from a drawer and carefully opened it, began to turn over some papers.

Wole Soyinka in Stockholm for his Nobel Prize

It was Oje who stopped him. “ Mr President, I think we’ve run into a snag. Maybe it would be better if you heard it directly from the horse’s mouth.” Still unsuspecting, Babangida turned to me. Oh, Professor, I am sure we can sort out whatever difficulties there are. Is the Stockholm date clashing with ours?” I studied him very carefully, eyes glued to every gesture and motions of his hands and face…attempting to decide, even within those first seconds, whether I was seated before an unconscionable killer, or simply an innocent drawn into some fatal survival struggle that had been engineered by his subordinates. This was a soldier to whom killing was no stranger, a schemer who had had a hand in several coup d’ etat…

“Yes, Professor? Is there anything we can do from here to sort out the problem?”

Ibrahim Babangida

Dele Giwa

I kept my eyes on me, my voice dispassionate (I hoped) as I said, “I’ m afraid things have gone beyond any solution. Dele Giwa’s death has put a stop to everything. I cannot see myself accepting this national honour. In fact, I don’t think I can accept government participation in the Stockholm event. I would prefer that government stayed out of it entirely.” A chill descended on the room, and a silence that held for ages…

I watched him slowly close the file, then slide it, almost imperceptibly into the drawer. Then he asked: “Do you believe I, or the government had a hand in Dele’s death?”

“I have no idea. But I am amazed that up till now, your government has failed to set up a judicial enquiry into the bizarre murder.”

Slowly, he slid shut the drawer, taking time to regain his composure, “Professor, I give you my word of honour” he began, very calmly. “I have never indulged in or encouraged any act of murder in my entire career. I am a soldier, and I’ve taken part in coups, but I do not plan murders. If I decided that Dele Giwa needed to be eliminated, I would put on my uniform, put a gun in my holster, drive up to his house, enter and shoot him. But I will not for one moment engage in a sneak killing. I give you my word.”

“In that case, “I said, finally, “do you agree to set up an independent judicial commission of enquiry? Transparently independent?”

“Of course” he said, without hesitation. “In fact, it is something we’re discussing right now. We’ve nearly finalised the composition and I’ ll be giving them a time-limit within which they must make a report. I want this matter cleared up as much as you, maybe even more. And we’ll put someone in charge in whom the nation will have full confidence – I promise you that. Within the next month, the commission will begin sitting.”

Weeks passed, yet no further word on the commission emerged from Dodan Barracks, I set up another meeting with Babangida, determined to obtain some answers.

Babangida again brought out his file, spread out his hands and pleaded for a fair hearing. “ What was I supposed to do? You see it here,” – and he isolated a piece of paper and some news clippings – “ your friend, your fellow activist, Gani Fawehinmi has filed a criminal action in court accusing two highly placed security agents of committing the murder –Halilu Akilu, my National Security Adviser and Colonel Togun of Military Intelligence unit. Still, we went ahead with our publicized moves to set up the commission, and what does Gani do? He continues to breathe down our necks, threatens fire and brimstone in further court proceedings that would stop the commission from being sworn in and beginning its work. He claims that the matter is now sub judice in criminal courts. Of course, it stopped us in our tracks. We have no choice but to let the criminal charges run their course.”

• Source: You Must Set Forth At Dawn By Prof. Wole Soyinka

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