Age is just a Number.
While taking each day at a time, former Senator, Florence Ita-Giwa remains resilient in her quest for a better Nigeria. Her contributions and fights in various sectors in the country are all evidence of her relentless efforts towards justice for the people of Bakassi, who were displaced following the ceding of their land to Cameroon. Florence is also promoting arts and culture through the annual Calabar festival, she’s also an advocate for war against sex and child trafficking among others.
The Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), Ita Giwa sat with AZUKA OGUJIUBA and spoke about the challenges facing her Bakasi Children Foundation, the feasibility of having a first female president in a male-dominated political space such as Nigeria, she also discussed possible ways to convince Nigerians to take the covid-19 vaccine, her turning 75 and much more.
Your late husband, Dele Giwa was very vocal against bad governance during his time as a Journalist. Do you think journalism is getting better with time compared to his era?
My husband Dele practiced journalism in a different era. There were no search engines and fancy high technical toys to work with. He also practiced at a time just before our second Republic was overthrown by a military junta. I recall glancing at him banging away on his manual typewriter through the night when working on a story. The great journalists of that time, Stanley Macebu, Dan Agbese, Ray Ekpu who succeeded the generation of great journalists like Sam Amuka and Peter (Pan) Enahoro, did outstandingly well in spite of the absence of high tech tools. Infact, their output compares favourably with what our journalists of today churn out with the aid of google and all the fancy high tech support at their disposal.
It’s been almost two decades of you running the Bakassi Children Foundation, what has been the most challenging aspect of that as well as the most rewarding part for you?
The foundation for the children of Bakassi has always been a labour of love for me, so I don’t dwell on the challenges of running it. That said though, funding it to meet it’s objective of catering for the welfare of the greatly deprived children of the creeks of Bakassi has been a source of concern. Nigerians have not fully embraced the concept of charity and selfless philanthropy so I have had to shoulder the bulk of the financial burden of the work thereby limiting the number of children’s Iives I can affect. However, I have derived unspeakable joy from the transformation of the extremely deprived children into first rate graduates of the best universities in Nigeria and abroad. Today we have qualified mechanical and petroleum engineers, computer scientists etc as beneficiaries of the foundation.
Kamala Harris became America’s first black and female Vice President, making her the highest-ranking female official in U.S. history. Do you think this is feasible in Nigeria seeing how male dominated our political terrain is? Up till now we haven’t had a female Governor let alone a President. How do we get more women to participate in politics?
You are right about the political space being dominated by men and it would be naive to expect them to voluntarily create space for women.
Kamala Harris and other women who have attained high political offices didn’t get there by appealing to the sentiments of men, they got there by giving as good as they got.
Men can be extremely ruthless in politics, except when providence churns out the rare gender-sensitive political leaders like George Weah and President Biden. In politics, women have to be equally ruthless to make any headway. Also politics in Nigeria is heavily capital intensive. When society starts to produce very wealthy women, we will begin to see female Governors and even Presidents in Nigeria.
You recently turned 75 and you are still looking glamorous. What’s the secret to your youthfulness despite your political and business busy schedules?
I can only say God especially blessed us as Calabar women. We are not too age conscious, instead Calabar women are healthy lifestyle conscious. We don’t consider ourselves to be old or young, we pursue agelessness like the Jane Fondas and Meryl Streeps of this world. Above all, like most Calabar women, I don’t habour malice, that, my dear is the secret.
Are you open to getting married again even at this age?
Thanks for the compliment. Unless l am lucky to find someone my age, it is not something l think about.
As a respected and elite political figure, have you been able to inspire younger people into the foray of politics?
It would be immodest of me to name names, but suffice to say I have come across hundreds of women who walk up to me all the time to thank me for inspiring them. I do not take the glory for this because I appreciate that it is the grace of God upon my life.
You brought Calabar dishes to Lagos with your restaurant, “Echoes of Calabar”. Does this come from your passion for cooking? Why the name Echoes of Calabar?
Echoes of Calabar is a tribute to my Efik heritage. As you know, Efik Cuisine is iconic and cherished by all Nigerians so I was obliged to provide a comfortable environment where discerning people can savour it. Besides, in my traditional role as Mother of the women of Efik Kingdom, it is my duty to be an ambassador for all things Calabar.
What does the State government stand to achieve with their annual Calabar carnival?
The Calabar Carnival is fittingly billed as Africa’s biggest and most exciting street party, that alone brings international accolades to the state. Beyond that, it puts the state and Nigeria firmly on the global social calender in addition to stimulating the local economy of citizens of the state as residents engage in frantic economic activities in the run up and during the carnival.
Your Seagull band is instrumental to the Calabar carnival, what extra efforts do you put to make it stand out?
The Seagull Carnival Band of which I am proud to be the leader, has consistently done well in the carnival. The preparation for each carnival is painstakingly detailed and I spare no cost in ensuring that we excell at every carnival. We engage professors to research themes, employ the best choreographers and produce elaborate costumes. We have taken trips to understudy other carnival bands in Brazil as well as Trinidad and London. In short, we go all out to prepare for each carnival.
Last year was a tough year for everyone especially with the outbreak of covid-19 pandemic and you lost some close friends such as Chief Harry Akande and Doctor Ketebu. How are protecting yourself as an elderly person who is more prone to the virus knowing that it’s still much out there. Also,
have you taken your #Covid-19 vaccine? How do we get Nigerians to take it seeing how many people still think it’s a killer vaccine and worse still, others who don’t even believe that covid is real?
Nothing short of the grace of God and God alone, has seen me through the horrors of this pandemic that has taken the lives of some of my cherished friends. This pandemic has made me rely on God for protection more than ever before. I have, as strictly as possible, implimented all the Covid 19 protocols while relying on God for divine protection. I haven’t taken a vaccine jab yet but I fully intend to do so soon. My message to Covid 19 skeptics is simple, if you are wrong about it, the consequence is for you to loose your life, even if you believe it truly doesn’t exist, you lose nothing by obeying the protocols.
You have also interacted with loads of actors and even done some projects with them. If given a movie role, would you consider it?
Actors have been very supportive of my carnival band and every year I have relied on them to add glamour to our carnival performance. I will not hesitate to make a cameo appearance in a movie if asked to.
As you well know, there’s a movement of empowerment of women through the ‘Me Too’ movement. This has given women more courage to speak out against any form injustice or sexual abuse meted out at them. Have you ever been a victim to any of these acts?
I have never been subjected to the whims and caprices of any man so the possibility of sexual violence is out of the question. Besides, I have lived my live on a strict code of decency and built my career around my person and competences, I have never seen the need to leverage on my gender or sexuality.
As a former lawmaker, what advise would you give the government in ensuring deserving punishment is given to suit the crime so justice will prevail for rape victims?
My view on rape and sexual crimes against women and children is very radical, I advocate the cutting off of the penis of rapists! That way we can be sure that they never repeat the offence even while they are in jail.
The first time we had a group of school children being kidnapped was during the #Chibokgirls and with all the drama and efforts put into looking for them, we thought that such won’t happen again. But as we speak, the abduction of children in the Northern part of the country is becoming more alarming by the day. If you could sit one on one with the President on this issue, what would you suggest to him as the way out of the disturbing situation?
The epidemic of kidnappings of school children we are currently witnessing is the result of the total breakdown of our national security architecture. My take is that the introduction of nepotism, politics and corruption into purely millitary command decisions, has led to this breakdown. My advise to Mr. President will be to remove the twin evils of nepotism and corruption from millitary issues and all will be well again.
You are very fashionable, what’s that one fashion accessory you can’t go out without and why?
I can’t imagine life without my high heeled shoes. I simply love high heeled shoes because they give a woman the required additional poise and elegance. I pray and do all I can to pamper my ankle muscles so I can continue to wear high heeled shoes for as long as humanly possible.
What was the best gift you remember receiving as a child?
I remember that my mum once gave me a life size teddy bear when I was around five years old and another one many years after. I was very attached to both teddy bears and considered them the best gifts ever. My youngest kids and grandchild have however, ensured that the teddy bears will never be passed to another generation as they have finally vanqished them. But I am still collecting more.
Are there things you still desire?
The two things I desire to still do is to transform the lives of many more children of Bakassi and ensure the proper and successful resettlement of Bakassi refugees in a fitting coastal location where my people can continue with our traditional vocation as fishermen without hindrance or molestations.