They say, we can only live once but we dare to say, when you live for humanity, you live forever.
For the month of May, we’ve decided to celebrate a woman of substance, who had the option to be one of those crippling Nigeria’s economy but rather, decided to tread the path that THEY dread.
We have former Nigerian Senator, founder of Bakasi Children Foundation and Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), Florence Ita-Giwa on our cover.
Over the years, Ita-Giwa has continued to dedicate her life to the service of others and Nigeria as a country. Her fight against injustice, sexual molestation, child trafficking and corruption is such we can’t readily put to words. She’s remain resilient towards ensuring that the people of Bakasi who were displaced during the ceding of their land to Cameroon, get justice.
Thus, she’s continued to cater for the Baskasi children through her foundation.
When it comes to arts and culture, the 75-year-old is definitely an unsung hero. Through her annual Calabar festival, Ita has been putting Nigeria on the map while creating job opportunities for hundreds of youths across the country.
Therefore, in this interview with us, the fashion enthusiast and philanthropist opens up to us on why she joined politics after the death of her husband and one of Nigeria’s foremost and renowned journalists, Dele Giwa, her thoughts on the aftermath of #ENDSARS protest, how she’s been championing the cause of having more women in politics and more.
Why did you decide to join politics when you had the option of venturing into other things?
My joining politics was the inevitable outcome of my convictions and upbringing. I trained as a nurse and at a stage in my life became a businesswoman involved in the medical field. In fact, it was my passion for alleviating human suffering that took me into the medical field, it was that same passion that spurred me into politics when I saw the deprivation of my people of Bakassi. I felt the need to do all in my power to mitigate their hardship and I concluded that politics was the most effective platform of serving the interest of my people.
We celebrated International Women’s Day two months ago, how do you use your office in ensuring gender equality in Nigeria?
I have been advocating for 50% affirmative action for women in the workplace in both the private & public sectors in terms of employment. However, when it comes to elections and politics I don’t play the gender card. I tell women to reject the crumbs that men dish out to us on the table of politics. We must fight for our fair share of elective political offices as vigorously as men do. Playing the gender card in politics is an admission of weakness that the men capitalize on. I have used my political capital to influence the election of women as LGA chairmen and vice-chairmen as well as members of state legislatures and as a presidential adviser, I prepped many high-profile female nominees for senate screenings.
Why did you decide to join Mediaroomhub in hosting Laycon?
I have always been supportive of enterprising youths in the entertainment industry and the media because both institutions, the media, and entertainment have been extremely good to me politically. So when mediaroomhub asked for my support I didn’t hesitate to offer it.
A lot Nigerian women who are having fertility issues or are unable to mother kids are not open to adopting children due to “what people would say”. What advice do you have for them seeing you’ve adopted some yourself?
Straight away let me dispel this notion that infertility is a condition that anyone can be stigmatized about. These days technology has provided solutions to the problem be it IVF or surrogacy even an incompetent uterus can be reversed these days. I doff my hat for women who embraced available means to overcome obstacles to motherhood. That said, adoption should equally not attract stigma. You don’t have to adopt children because of infertility issues, adoption is a way of extending love and affection to children in unfortunate circumstances. I adopted many children from the creeks of Bakassi out of compassion and today I feel fulfilled as many of them have turned out to be productive members of society while I still enjoy the doting affection of two 7-year-olds in my care. The youngest child in my care Zelyo who was just two years old was recently adopted by a gracious German lady and is in Germany as we speak. I urge Nigerians to embrace the culture of adopting children more especially the deprived children of Bakassi. Every child deserves to be loved.
Your support to the growth of entertainment in Nigeria is commendable. What do you think is lacking in the industry right now and what’s should be the way forward?
First of all allow me to congratulate the young entertainers who just did us proud at the Grammy Awards. That done, I wish to commend our artistes for the culture of collaboration they have evolved. It is my desire that they may be continue on the path of unity and collaboration. They should shun unhealthy rivalry and be more accommodating of each other. Going forward I suggest that as their fame and fortune rises they ought to see themselves as positive role models and behave accordingly.
6.Whose music you don’t get tired of listening to?
The whole world knows that Tuface is my favourite son and that I love all his songs especially African Queen which to this day makes my heart skip a beat every time I hear it, but the truth is that I love all of them. They are all unique in special ways, every single one of them. The girls are also doing great.
As day goes by, we keep waking up to numerous cases of domestic violence, what advise would you give a woman whose husband hit her once and apologizes? How you ever experienced any form domestic violence before? If yes, what was reaction?
Domestic violence especially when women and children are the victims is something I detest. Personally, I have never experienced it because for whatever reason I have never had to depend on a spouse for my upkeep or mental well being. However, my situation is not typical of most women so I can empathise with women who are victims. My advice is that as a society we must encourage women not to endure it and have the boldness to report it to the authorities for redress. Our police should also be mandated to take domestic violence cases more seriously.
What’s your general view about President Buhari’s government, do you think his government has failed the people or people are impatient with him and are castigating his regime?
I have chosen not to be too critical of the Buhari administration for the simple reason that the problems of Nigeria are indeed daunting and we voted for him. To complain now would be futile. I can only pray that the issues of insecurity should be taken care of urgently.
What’s your take on the outcome of the #ENDSARS protest?
During the #EndSars protest, the youths were angry and were destroying properties belonging to politicians especially in Calabar to a point where you came out to appease them. With that kind of scary incident, don’t you think that there’s hunger in the land and the youths are angry at the elites? Should such event happen again, what are your fears? What do you think would happen? Also, how do we ensure such doesn’t happen again?
As leader and a mother, how do you think the government can regain trust among the Nigerian youths who are now referred to as the Sorosoke generation seeing how they also take to social media to express their disappointment in the government and how the government has failed them?
Let me quickly clarify something, I only appealed to youths of Calabar to stop the wanton destruction of property and they obliged me. My property was never at risk of attack but as a mother and leader, I intervened to bring peace. I also saw that the youths had genuine grievances that needed to be addressed and to a large extent their anger was justified. The issue as I see it is a disconnect between the population and political leadership. The people simply do not know their so-called leaders. The leaders in turn only rely on a tiny percentage of the population to get into office as evidenced with the extremely poor voter turnout at every election. I believe if we introduce rig-proof electronic voting more people particularly youths will participate in elections both as candidates and voters. The present reliance on physical ballots will continue to support voter suppression, manipulation, and ballot snatching all of which discourages mass public participation in elections. This generation of youths have indicated their preference for online voting by their participation in voting for winners of reality shows. The government and political class should reach out to today’s youths through social media where they always express themselves. Our youth are more knowledgeable and demand more detailed answers to the issues they raised.
What’s your take on the numerous young Nigerians coming out as gays and crossdressers on social media, do you think the anti-gay law in Nigeria is effective?
As a matter of personal policy I don’t like discussing issues of sexual preference. I believe these are intensely private matters and so I choose not to judge anyone even though I habour strong views against the whole LGBTQ lifestyle. Nigeria has laws concerning it and it is my view that untill the law is changed if ever, people who are so inclined should be mindful.
Where has been your favourite go-to vacation city over the years?
My favourite vacation spot in all the world is Beirut. The city is quite frankly very fascinating to me added to the fact that I have such great friends there who pamper me a lot whenever I am there.
What has been your greatest achievement in life?
I consider the transformation of the lives of little deprived refugee children I gathered from the deplorable refugee creek camps of Bakassi into fine upstanding members of society with some of them being computer, petroleum and mechanical engineers today as a great achievement. I am also very proud of my success in ensuring that my Bakassi people now have their voting rights fully restored though we are still working on our distinct political identity to be officially recognised.
Tell us about your formative years, insight about your educational background and career. How did your background shape your life and where you born with a silver spoon?
I was born in Calabar to a loving mother, my father was the traditional ruler of my village but I however was raised by my pioneer female journalist mother who also suplimented her income as a highly sought after seamstress. I attended what was then and still is regarded as the leading girls secondary school in Calabar, Edgerly memorial and Duke town school. From there I proceeded to Nursing School to qualify as a registered nurse. The civil war broke out while my mum and I were based in Aba so we got caught up behind Biafran lines during the war. Soon after the war, I got admission to study to be a medical secretary in London. After qualifying, I had a brief stint working in the UK. However, when I returned to Nigeria I took a job as a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company thus my introduction into the business of pharmaceuticals and medical equipment supplies. A field I embraced as a businesswoman when I quit paid employment. From there I developed an interest in politics and the rest they say is now history. My life as the daughter of a hard-working middle-class lady was not a bed of roses but at the same time, it was very fulfilling as our needs were met. I must, however, say that my upbringing and training as a nurse greatly influenced my life today, it certainly prepared me for my role today as a mother and role model to many and for that I am grateful to the Almighty.
What was the most difficult thing that has ever happened to you in all your years and how did you overcome it?
The most traumatic experience of my life was surving an air crash landing in Calabar. The airplane I travelled in overshot the runway in Calabar and came to a stop deep inside the bush surrounding the airport. I remember that as I was being led out of the bush after the crash I kept thanking God for his grace that brought out alive. It could only have been God who saved me from a fiery death.
What do you consider the biggest mistake you have ever made?
I am not one to be ruminating about past mistakes. I believe my life is in the hand of the All Mighty and attribute everything that happens to His divine will. While I don’t deny mistakes made, I don’t let them weigh me down. I simply make the required adjustments and move ahead by the grace of God. Having said this, I really have no big regrets and given a 2nd chance I would do it the same way all over again.
What are some of the lessons life has taught you?
My signpost life lessons are don’t smile alone do all you can to put a smile on the faces of others and most of all be consistent and always hold on to God whatever the circumstances may be.
What are your plans forward, what are your future plans?
I have already said that my mission for the rest of my life is to continue to serve humanity especially the children of Bakassi as well as making sure my people are properly resettled.
What is your biggest fear in life?
I pray never to be a liability to anyone.