Call her the lady who treads where many fear to enter, then you are very right. Call her a man in a woman’s body, then you will simply be stating the obvious Senator Florence Ita Giwa fits the description of a woman who is fearless, bold and courageous. She has been tagged a ferocious fighter who has a loud voice to fight for the rights of women in the country and it seems she has vowed to dedicate the rest of life to the service of humanity.
If you are in doubt, you will have a rethink when you consider her passion for fighting for the defenceless, especially the issue of Bakassi.
Born 73 years ago, Ita Giwa was the Senator for the Cross River South Constituency of Cross River State. She attended the Kilburn Polytechnic in London, United Kingdom. She became a nurse, then became a representative for the Beecham Pharmaceutical Company, and then moved to Standall Pharmaceutical where she represented Lagos State. She was married to Dele Giwa, the founding Editor of Newswatch Magazine. She joined politics and emerged as NRC Chairman for Delta State. Thereafter, she was elected a member of the Federal House of Representatives 1992-93 and was a member of the committee on devolution of power constituent assembly 1994-95. She became involved in Bakassi affairs, and earned the nickname “Mama Bakassi”. She was elected Senator for the Cross River South Constituency in April 1999 and was appointed to committees on Rules and Procedures, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Women, Niger Delta and Drug & Narcotics. After leaving the Senate in 2003, she joined the People’s Democratic Party PDP and became President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters. Ita Giwa has worked against human trafficking and sex slavery. She has received the OON (Officer of the Order of the Niger) and The Sun Lifetime Achievement Award.
Not many people know that she is a product of the media having been born by a journalist. no wonder, she has warmed her way into the heart to many journalists who are always at the forefront to propagate everything that she does. She has enjoyed enormously from the media that she practically makes the news every time. This and many more were what she shed light on when she stormed City People Magazine office to commission City People TV Online. She shared all these with City People Senior Editor, Wale Lawal and Society Editor, TAYO FAJORIN OYEDIJI.
How do you feel today, launching City People Tv Online?
I feel very proud. I am very proud of Seye Kehinde and Citypeople as a whole. As I said, I am not feeling too well but I have to come out today just because it is City People to join this occasion whereby commissioning of his online television. I am very proud of him that he is moving with the time because the time requires that you move and get online. Today’s generation is online oriented, in fact sometimes, I wonder how Citypeople has survived because the fact is not too many people buy magazines again, they go online. Though I still like the magazine and I buy it, because I sometimes miss reading magazine and papers so I am very proud of him for doing this. It is a very good innovation.
You said during the launch that you are a product of the Media. Can you expatiate on that?
Yes I am. I am a daughter of a journalist, One of the first 2 female active journalists that Nigeria has produced. An activist journalist, a woman that went to jail about 3 times trying to defend the course of the common man and also I married Dele Giwa who was a wonderful amazing prolific columnist that again lost his life, he gave it up for this country.
Can you say that was what prompted your love for the media because you are media friendly?
Well, I grew up in a media-friendly environment, I grew up from a salary of a reporter, my mum brought me up with her salary as a reporter for West African Pilot, Guardian and Morning Post. She used to work for Zik so I grew up knowing the media. I grew up being around the media and journalists as a whole and then I think my first outing was prompted by my mother when she was chairing daily times Nigeria several years ago, and then they probably developed me to come out and serve in public service and to serve humanity and also know that she got the best investigative journalist award. She and Dele had to put me in a room to teach me how to go out and address the public. I got a short tutorial from both of them because at that time I had started business and she made me Chairman of the inauguration of her first project which was the best investigative journalist award.
Will you say that was what gave you the boldness to go into politics?
Absolutely and I have also tried to continue with the project but it is just that in the last 2 years we have not done anything but we will surely go back to it this year and we are also trying to nationalize it. We want to bring the award out and not localize it only in cross river state.
You are one of the prominent women doing well in Nigeria, what has been yo ur staying power?
Well, You know I believed in what I am doing. You know, I have been into many things. I am a politician and for many years now, I have stepped aside from elective position because I believe that if you are in politics, it is not about being in the upper chambers or vying for a position as a Minister or Special Adviser or what have you but the platform is a good one. I have always been in politics but not active and I have the platform already, so with that platform I am propagating my case, the issue of Bakassi, encouraging young women to come out and be bold and join politics, defending women. With that platform, I am talking about a whole lot of things. The political structure in Nigeria which is totally out of order, the issue of vote buying, the issue of violence related election, the issue of women being de-enfranchised, the issue of women being relegated to the background, that is why I put up the no woman no vote organisation so I am using that platform to do a lot of things and encouraging women that you have to come out and speak out. You do not keep quiet because you are a woman, there is nothing like that, we respect men, and we crave for men to allow us work together. I am not a feminist but I still believed that women have a tremendous role to play in the development of this country. Buhari has been busy forming his government for one reason or the other he should also include more women in his government.
You have been on top of your voice for Asaba on their challenges with climate change and it is getting more serious by the day, are you getting the so much response towards that from the government?
I think the government should do more, because if the government does not do more, it will be totally out of order for us to continued to be taken unawares. Then as I was preaching about flooding, what we are saying now is climate change, like now, we are not supposed to be going through this severe heat we are going through now, which means we should be ready for a very flooded rainy season. I developed interest from that 2014 conference when I was made the Chairman of the Environment Committee. The good thing about politics is that you learn many other aspects of life on that platform because you don’t know whether you know it or not but you have been given the job and then you naturally develop interest in that job. I learnt so much that even during the calabar carnival, when we were given the theme of climate change that is sending out message, letting people know the effect of climate change and the mitigation of the effect of climate change. We used the carnival to send that message through dance and costume and we have not stopped, we have been to a lot of place. We have been to Paris, we have been attending conferences and we have been talking about it but Nigeria needs to enlighten people more on the effect of climate change and our people also need to be prepared for the effect of climate change so that we are not taken unawares.
For decades you have shown a lot of desire to improve the lot of the people of Bakassi, at a point, people thought it was politically motivated? How true is that?
No, it is not politically motivated because when I started the issue of Bakassi, I had not even dreamt of going into politics. I was talking to some people the other day about the first time I tried to enter Bakassi when there was a war between Nigeria and Cameroon. You will be surprised, Charley Boy, Tony Okoroji, Mustapha Amigo all went with me, then we came back and we organized our first show to raise money so it is not a political thing. It is something that is more or less a burden that I inherited from my father which I am still carrying till now which I believe I will carry till the end of my life and unfortunately, I have not succeeded yet because as we speak we have about 4000 refugees in that camp. As we speak now, the area where I have to forcefully go so that we don’t lose our identity, to register and give them voters card, that area has not been developed. But the only good news is that Bakassi people have voters card to vote like Nigerians, to be voted for as Nigerians, and that has made them Nigerians, that has given them the identity of Nigerians and almost 100 per cent of Bakassi people want to be Nigerians and not Cameroonians. So we are one, even those that went back there for the source of income, I made sure they come back to vote with that voter’s card. That is one achievement in my lifetime, that I made sure my people have cards to vote as Nigerians. I went there and demarcated an area where I now call the Bakassi of Nigeria. I even went there to campaign and vote, so that is what I have achieved. Other things we have achieved is that with my foundation for children of Bakassi we have produced 4 graduates, children that were picked up from the age of 3 so today, we have a Petroleum Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Computer Science and Human Development Graduate, more graduates are coming up this year but we are still taking children. We have 2-5 years old that are in school right now, so we will still bring more up. I am working on the next project of going to the United Nations now.