“I Don’t Intend To Remain Single For Life” Senator Ita-Giwa’s Unrestrained 70th Birthday Interview Exclusive!

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I won’t negotiate aging with my waist line in place”

+What Obasanjo taught me about politics”

 

Next week Friday, 19th of February, 2016, Senator {Princess} Florence ItaGiwa, will turn the ripe age of 70 years on planet Earth. As usual, the grand celebration being planned to hold at the prestigious Eko Hotel & Suites, Lagos, will witness the convergence of fans, family, friends and business partners, including a parade of star celebrities. Senator Ita-Giwa, who was elected to the senate for the Cross River South constituency of Cross River State between May 1999 and May 2003, was married to late seasoned journalist, Dele Giwa, the founding editor of Newswatch magazine. A robust personality, a total package of elegance that means different things to different people, a fashion conscious personality, ‘Mama Bakassi’, as she is fondly and famously addressed, in her first major 70th birthday interview to any news medium, revealed to the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, her lifestyle, politics, her marriage, womenfolk, foundation, and many more. It is an encounter you certainly haven’t read anywhere. Please, enjoy…

 

How do you feel attaining a ripe age of 70?

I feel much fulfilled, and I give glory to God that I’m celebrating 70 and by the grace of God in good health, both physically and mentally and I feel very settled in my mind. The most interesting thing is that I am very certain that I’m in the right place that I should be. I feel fulfilled been with my family, with my work, with my charity and the position I rose to in my career as a politician is also very fulfilling.

 

But you don’t look 70. What is the secret; dieting or lifestyle?

I think the answer I always give first is that, probably because the year runs so fast,  the number of the years you are carrying or you have attained doesn’t allow your body the time to adjust to the number, because by the time you know it, it is Christmas and by the time you know it, it is a new year.  So I just feel that with that, it will be difficult for the body to catch up. However, naturally in my family, we age well and from where I come from as an Efik woman, from the time you come into this world as a female you are made to appreciate the fact that it is beautiful to be a female, so whatever your aspirations are, whether you aspire to be the president of a country, a doctor, whatever you want to be, the number one thing is that you must not lose your feminist touch.  That is why I always tell people that I am a Calabar woman and I’m not scared of age because from the time you are born, you are taught how to look after yourself, so we age gracefully.  The idea is not to look young, I don’t want to be young but the idea is to age gracefully. So for that reason, knowing that my body is very receptive to food, I have a tendency to be fat, all my life, I have battled the possibility of weight, so I have always watched what I eat and it has turned out to be very healthy to me, and as I grew up, I took a career that is very stressful. I made it a ritual at the end of every day to find at least one hour where I now relax my mind, relax my body and then settle back and pamper myself from a rough day because  politics is very rough both mentally and physically. It takes it all round so I relax myself and take a very good dinner at the end of the day, I listen to news, I watch television, I play music and then before I go to bed, I prepare myself by giving myself 30 minutes of pampering.

 

At 70, what would you say are your achievements?

I think it will be very immodest to start outlining my achievements but  to be very modest, I think my greatest achievement is bringing up the children of Bakassi and turning them to normal human beings and seeing the children grow, putting them in the best schools and giving them as much exposure as possible, nationally, internationally and seeing them develop confidence in themselves, seeing them speak well and seeing them excel in school. That is my number one achievement, the success story of my children of Bakassi. Besides that, my children have done well, my family is tremendously successful by the grace of God, and in the field of politics that I choose as a career, I have done politics to where I manage to rise to the pinnacle of my career where in a country as big as Nigeria not many women can get to. I was a member of the House of Representatives, I have done two conferences, constitutional  and national, I have won election to the senate twice, I have been advisers to two very successful  presidents.  So I feel that I have done well in my chosen field.  Even before I went into politics, I did well in my medical profession.

 

Why did you venture into politics?

I went into politics because I needed a platform to address the issue of my Bakassi people and to also use that same platform to help the underprivileged, to speak for those who have been trampled upon, to be the voice of the people. I think I did not go to politics for the purpose of contesting and winning election, I went to use the platform and today I am celebrating my 10 years of service to humanity.  That is why sometime, I ask Nigerian politicians what else they do outside contesting for elections. Some people come out to contest election, when they lose, they disappear and when they win they sit. In fact, once some finish their term in office, they disappear.  But I’m not in office. I am a politician, I’m not holding any political office, yet I have been very busy as you can see. I work round the clock, which means that politics is a wonderful platform for me to address issues for the downtrodden and also take part in the development of my country. So it is a fantastic platform for me.

 

What is your take on the seeming fall of the PDP at both the national and state levels?

It calls for people to learn a lesson. That, first of all, if you have been in power for so many years, you should never take power for granted. Since 25 years ago when I won election to the House of Representatives, I have not stopped working. Every time, I am interacting with my colleagues as if I am going for election tomorrow, so you can never take the people for granted. You cannot do politics through dictatorship, you have to be nice to people, you have to accommodate people, you have to learn to think of people’s ego. But nobody is there to work for each other. Some people including governors, became terrorists and bullies, and unfortunately, politics is about who pull the biggest proud.  So if you watch the crowd pullers leave the party, how can you win? And we thought we could perform magic.  Politics is spiritual .We don’t take it for granted,  if you play with power God can take that power away from you because it is spiritual.

 

Do you sometimes feel intimidated by the male folks?

I look at myself as a human being and I don’t allow myself to be intimidated and I don’t go out of my way to intimidate people, I just know that all of us are in the business of nation building, so for me, it is not an issue. It is for you to show your political strength. What I always tell people is that let’s meet in the field as human beings, if you are good and nice to the people, you will have the results. It does not matter what gender you are, so I don’t see politics as a gender thing, that is why I don’t play gender politics and then again, the terrain I come from is difficult for you to play gender politics so we address each other as human beings.

 

People see you as a very tough woman? Do you think you are one?

It depends on their definition of tough. But like I have always said, if there is anything as reincarnation, I want to come back a woman because there is nothing as amazing and as sweet as being a woman. So whether you have to be a tough woman to survive is what I don’t know. But I do know that I am a good strategist, because I spend too much time on my own, so I strategise a lot on how to survive in a country like Nigeria. If that is called being tough, so be it.

 

What are your regrets in life so far?

I have no regrets. I thank God for every good thing and every bad thing that has happened to me. But I’m very grateful because God has compensated me with good things for the bad things that ever happened to me. If I come back, I will still do it the same way.  I have enjoyed everything that came along with what I chose to be in life. From my career as a nurse, as a medical professional, I have enjoyed it; from venturing into politics, I have enjoyed it, I have enjoyed the liberation I got from being in politics, it has allowed me the opportunity to speak freely, speak my mind. Everything that comes with politics, I have enjoyed it up to the point of still dancing in the street at age 70. It’s  all part of it because politics is liberating and so I can dance in front of a crowd of one million people because it  is my work. So I am totally liberated.

 

How was your growing up like?

I was born at Calabar Maternity Hospital.  You know Calabar is very civilised and the whole of that area and from what I was told, my mother was actually in an evening dress at some annual ballroom dance when she went into labour and was rushed to hospital at Ikot Ekpene and from there to Calabar Maternity Hospital as a result of complications arising from blood loss during delivery where she had me. So my arrival into the world was very eventful. So when I grew up and started my medical equipment business, the first thing  I did was to visit that hospital and donated  blood bank.  I am from a very hard working family. My mother was a journalist, she was a trader, and she was a dress maker which she did in order to make ends meet. My father was a civil servant; he used to be a police man, then traditional ruler.  My younger brother is Yoruba so even in the family we have Yoruba grandchildren, so the family is very Nigerian, it is a family where you have Calabar, Rivers, Igbo, Yoruba, every race is in this family. We are a very different people. My brother is an extremely quiet person. I am trying my best to see to it that my brother’s children do not grow up to be as quiet as he is. My daughter, Koko, is very hard working, very aggressive and driven though quiet by nature and is trying to succeed in the business of her own. She is Efik, her husband is Igbo, and he too is also a very serious young man, very well brought up, decent from a decent family. You know we have very good people, and I always look at my family as a very pretty family, because there is similarity in so many ways. That is my whole background. I grew up in Igbo land, I grew up in Yoruba land.

 

Why have you remained single since the demise of your late husband?

I remained single because number one, I live by example. I have brought up children that as soon as they graduated from school, they got married and have their own children.  If your environment is rough, when you change partners then your children are likely to grow up rough and be changing partners, and as such I didn’t want to take the risk of changing partners. However, I am a human being, there is need for me to have a relationship but I decided that at one point I have to be sure, I don’t want to say that I didn’t see anybody that was worth it but I am still sifting through so that I don’t ever change partners. At this stage of my life, if ever there will be a partner, that partner would be my partner for life. Secondly, I live a very busy life and for most part of my life in the last 10 years, I have done some very serious things that I didn’t need that distraction. I had to take care of my business; I have to take part in the growth of my business, my work, my service to humanity. I did a lot of things that I was not sure I could have found a man that will buy into that vision. Again, there is the issue of men feeling intimidated by the successful career women and there is no way I would have negotiated my career, because I have children. Though, I do not intend to ever change my name which has become a brand but I am however not guaranteeing that I would remain single.  I have amazing friends, and I’m socially very busy as well but I have friends that respect me and not taking advantage of that friendship. I have very civilised male friends who do not want to take advantage. so if I want to go for dinner I have friends both Nigerians and non Nigerians that will take me out, I have friends that will travel with me, we have very excellent and decent relationship. Most of them I am going to celebrate on my 70th birthday because, they helped me succeed as a single mother.  They were there for me. However, I cannot guarantee that I would remain single for the rest of my life.

 

You had successful working relationship with former President Obasanjo and perhaps, late Yar’Adua. What did you learn from them?

I think with Obasanjo, initially, we didn’t take off well. While I was at the senate and he was the president, I think in the course of my struggle for separation of powers, because we were the guinea pigs of this democracy because I joined the Okadigbo group to fight for separation of powers. To be candid, Obsanjo was a straight forward military man and his desire to get things done as at when due is not negotiable.  Eventually, we became very good friends with due respect, because today he is my friend, he is my father, he is actually my mentor and I like him tremendously. I still do not know any human being who is more committed to the success of this democracy, development of this country and feelings for the masses like former President Obasanjo.  For 4 years that I worked with him, he refused to go to sleep and I saw that. It was pleasantly and excitingly tiring, because he worked round the clock, and from that 4 years I got to know my country; that is what he did to my life. I got to know my country and got to know Nigerians and I know them. I know how Nigerians are; I got that opportunity to know my country, having worked with Obasanjo for 4 years.  I could make a good president because of what I learnt from him so by the time I went to work, for two years; it was like transferring my experience. Obasanjo believes in speed, efficiency and superior arguments and I think till today I am very impatient with anybody that does not use speed in things they do.

 

How would you advise other women to manage life as they age?

Well, one of the greatest facts of life is that age is inevitable. Age has to come so I don’t see the big thing about aging. That is basically why you have what is called the evolution of life. The young must grow and the old must continue to grow as well. People just keep growing and so there’s nothing one can do about that but the thing is that one must start early in life. First of all, try and imbibe the culture of looking after your body and eating properly. When I say properly, I mean eating very healthy foods, living a very healthy lifestyle, living in a healthy and nice environment. One does not have to be very rich to live in a healthy environment and most importantly, it is necessary to always have a clear mind. Do not keep malice. If anybody offends you, you take the person on. Have your arguments and get things sorted out and maybe at the end of the day, a superior argument wins. Also, know that in life, as long as one believes in God, there is no problem without a solution. Whatever problems one might face, always know that there is a solution to that problem. Don’t just live your life worrying about what you shouldn’t worry about because I don’t. I try to simplify life. I am a politician and I’ve been in the field of politics for twenty five years doing nothing and I must say that it has been a very difficult period of my life growing into politics so I had to try and build up all kinds of defence mechanisms and self preservation because horrible things do happen in politics. It is not for people with feeble heart; however you have to work out extra means of surviving it. So, in my estimation, it will be very easy for Nigerian women who are not into politics. One major thing they must also know is that they must not be scared of age. Whatever you aspire to be, just plan it, put it in prayers and get rid of fear. Go out and get it done.

 

As a role model associated with the challenges of home management and career building, how can a woman position herself for achievements in Nigeria?

Generally, women always have the ability to manage and also manage work. I believe it is a natural thing with being a woman especially being a good woman. The fact that you are a woman does not mean that you shouldn’t have a career and also does not mean that if you have a career that you would not be able to run your home. My mother was a very busy journalist but she was an incredible mother, a very good mother and a fantastic housewife. As a matter of fact, I used to see her do her report in order to catch up with time in the kitchen cooking just as she is doing her report. She would come back from her beat and combined cooking with doing her report simultaneously. I think women naturally have that capacity to manage the stress of running the home, the children and their career.

 

In this part of the world, it is obvious women find it difficult to break even in politics, why do you think this is so and what is the way out?

I think it is not only in this part of the world but generally everywhere. The rise of women can be very meteoric because it has been so. You know women were seen as the weaker sex, as people that came into the world to have children but that has changed tremendously and it can change a lot more if women conquer fear and develop more confidence in themselves because it is for you to develop the confidence and say yes I can do it. It is very rough especially in the terrain of politics and as long as a woman is in the terrain of politics, there is a lot of antagonism and so a woman will have to put in a hundred times more than her male counterpart to be able to succeed in politics. So it is just for a woman to develop that inner strength. Try to get rid of fear and move with that confidence that yes I can do it.

 

What is it that really inspires you about life and keep you staying strong?

I think my inspiration comes from, first of all, the environment in which I grew up. I grew up in an environment of very strong women. I grew up amongst my mother and even my fathers’ mother. Also my terms of responsibility helped me. I grew up knowing that I didn’t have a choice than to do what I have to do just like the Americans would always say. That alone gives me a lot of strength and courage. Also looking at a lot of people that look up to me really inspires me. There are a lot of people that, next to God, also look up to me. That again is indeed inspiring. That is very energizing.

 

There is a lot of pressure with being a role model, what are your expectations with the younger women’s ability to adapt to a just and moral life?

First of all, they have to appreciate the fact that being a role model; you have to live by example. You must understand and have to know that whatever you do in life, people are watching you and they are looking up to you and also they want to be like you which means that you would not want to let them do what is not right. That takes a lot of sacrifice, a whole lot of sacrifice for you to live up to that expectation.

 

Seventy is a ripe age. How much more are you planning to dedicate to God and humanity giving your penchant for charity?

For as long as I am alive and for as long as I can walk which is what I pray to God. But if it gets to a point that I cannot walk, from my bed, I will be involved in charity even though that will not happen because I believe that by the grace of God I will live a healthy life till the day I will go. For as long as I am alive, I will continue to serve humanity.

 

When would you call your best moments growing into womanhood?

{Laughs} Do you mean growing into womanhood as a baby? My best moments in life was discovering myself as a woman, discovering those things that makes a woman, discovering what aspects of career I wanted to pursue at the beginning of my own independence. Also meeting my husband, falling in love and getting married, having children and most recently would be, adopting my children who today are doing amazingly well and remaining my source of pride. Anytime I look at them, I feel many inches taller than I am. All these are the things that makes growing up get really exciting. Discovering yourself and your body has been great and also knowing what you have to do in the midst of all God has created.

 

You are one of those who believe that age is not a hindrance to getting a good life and the desire to look good, what is your advice to women to manage life?

I always tell people that I am a Calabar woman and we are very civilized people from the beginning. There is nothing you can do about age except to manage age and not to allow age control your life. I don’t do young things because I don’t want to be young. I can’t remember the last time I did young things because my life has been full of very profound responsibilities and I was brought up by my mother to think like an adult, to always take responsibility. I do not dress young because I have grown up children but I do not negotiate and will never negotiate aging beautifully and gracefully. I will not negotiate aging with my waist line in place so that I can get into my pants, my jeans and my nice dresses. That is non-negotiable. I have always looked up to women like Jane Fonda, like Meryl Streep, like Tina Turner. Those are the women that inspire me because they have always looked very good despite their age. After looking at them, I don’t want to be young; I just need to appreciate myself.

 

Do you have experts who handle your wardrobe and figure or you dictate how you look?

It is natural. I do them myself. I grew up in an environment where from birth apart from being a journalist, my mother was also a dress maker and she was naturally gifted. I was fortunate to be her only daughter and so she used to dress me up. I grew up dressing well and also knowing how to take care of my clothes and my things. I grew up knowing how to come out looking good and so I don’t have the need for a wardrobe manager. I know all the thousands of clothes I have because I know the time I take in buying each of them. I don’t just shop off the shelf; I take my time to pick what I want. No matter how many dresses I have, they all have their various sentimental values attached. I manage myself and most importantly, I manage my body.

 

Would it be right to say that you are done with politics?

I am not done with politics. Politics remains my number one platform to continue in doing my service to humanity, to speak on behalf of the downtrodden and to be able to participate in the development of my country. You don’t need to have a political appointment, you don’t have to be in government or contest elections, but there are other aspects that can keep you busy and I am very busy though not in government.