Senator Forence Ita-Giwa, daughter of one of the country’s pioneering female journalists, Mrs. Beatrice Ita and a former wife of one of the country’s most vibrant journalists ever, Mr. Dele Giwa, could be said to be a media baby. But beyond birth and marriage, Florence Ita-Giwa has unarguably earned her own name in the field of politics and community agitation.
Ita-Giwa trained as a nurse and subsequently worked as a medical representative before her election to the House of Representatives in the Third Republic. She was subsequently elected into the Senate at the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
She made history when she became the first woman to become a principal officer in the National Assembly at the turn of the century when she was elected deputy leader of the then All Peoples Party, APP Senate Caucus.
She, however, walked away from that position and the party in controversial circumstances when she stood against the plots of the Pius Anyim Senate leadership against President Olusegun Obasanjo in the period leading to the 2003 elections.
President Obasanjo was to appreciate her support after the election with her appointment as Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters.
Known around the country as Mama Bakassi on account of her support for the cause of the people of the Bakassi Peninsula, Ita-Giwa, after a hiatus in the political arena resurfaced as a delegate to the ongoing National Conference. In this interview she speaks on the success of the conference, the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon among other issues. Excerpts
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
What is your assessment of the National Conference so far?
I have been so impressed. The quality of the debate going on and participation from eminent Nigerians has impacted tremendously on the confab. The depth of the conference too has been amazing. It has gone much deeper that I imagined.
The level of research that has gone into it by delegates and their various committees too is so insightful. Nigerians within and outside the country have come to make their presentations. All of these put together make the conference so far a success.
I am very optimistic that government will implement the decisions of the confab but the modalities are what I can’t tell now. We are collaborating with the National Assembly so that we all will be working towards one goal and direction.
What is your take on the Confab’s recommendation for the abrogation of pension and gratuities for governors?
Decisions of delegates at the confab are binding on all of us because we have collective goals and mandate. The issue of pensions or gratuity is one of the issues on the ground. If at the end it is unanimously passed that it should be expunged, so be it.
Meanwhile, let us not forget that the government and perhaps, the National Assembly will have a say on this. So what I feel and what I want may not really count per se. All we are agitating for is that the problems, challenges militating against our unity, our national development should be given preference and solved at once so that we can remain as one indivisible entity.
Bakassi is gone but your people are yet to get compensated for the destruction and alienation of their resources. As their representative and their political leader, what are your expectations?
I raised the issue last week while contributing to the report of the Committee on Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters. I argued that the ceding arrangement which was ordered by the International Court of Justice, ICC, in The Hague and carried out by Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was just to show to the world that two countries can settle a dispute without necessarily losing blood or staying perpetually in court.
I added that it would have been a misplaced priority if the issue of ceding Bakassi to Cameron led to war between both countries because all that my people needed to be placated with was better settlement through compensation.
I appealed to other stakeholders to prevail on the Federal Government to adequately compensate the people of Bakassi even though they have been relocated and I am happy that the confab graciously passed a motion urging the Federal Government to compensate my people. As someone with privileged position and the political leader of my people, I understood the fact that Nigeria was obliged to abide by that ruling and as such used Bakassi as a litmus test to show to the world that two countries can settle a dispute without loss of blood and without staying forever in court.
So I believe that having subjected my people to such harrowing experience and suffering, they need to be adequately compensated. Those at the refugee camp should be taken out of that place. They have spent three Christmases there and I want them to be adequately taken care of.
What faith do you have in the outcome of this conference?
I have strong faith. Nigerians had yearned for this process for many years and now it has come to pass. Notably also is the calibre of delegates here.
They are eminent Nigerians. Men and women who have served in various capacities. President Goodluck Jonathan too is a man whom we all know as a man of honour. Someone who has provided exemplary leadership and proven that he believes so much in the project called Nigeria. So I am optimistic that the outcome of the conference will be an all-round success.
As a former federal lawmaker, do you support subjecting the outcome of the conference to a referendum or to the National Assembly for ratification?
If Nigerians want the outcome of the confab to be subjected to a referendum, I have no problem with that. I am pro-people.
Use of a referendum
Although there is no express provision for referendum in the 1999 Constitution but I am also aware that other countries have gone through constitution drafting and amendment with the use of a referendum, therefore, ours may not be an exception. What I am saying in essence is that the final decision should rest with the peoples’ input at the end of the day to justify the relevance.
It is necessary that the people of this country give their decisions a seal of approval in order to make the conference meaningful to the people. I am of the opinion that every Nigerian should be carried along whenever the country is taking decisions on matters that border on the lives of the people, their liberty and future of the nation.
Recently, you addressed the media alongside former Senate President Senator Adolphus Wabara and former Deputy Senate President Senator Ibrahim Mantu who are equally delegates at the conference under the aegis of the National Unity Forum. The development gave many the impression that you are pursuing the second term ambition of President Jonathan. Is it true?
The National Unity Forum is a platform to foster the unity of Nigeria. It is devoid of ethnic or political affiliations. It is a medium that helps us to exchange ideas and seek consensus and it has worked out very well.
It is also a platform for a post conference bonding. Come to think of it, with such calibre of Nigerians, do you think we need any mask to work for anyone? We obviously do not. It’s a PDP affair and we generate ideas that have placed us on a vantage position even at the confab.