By Dame Senator Florence Ita-Giwa
As a public figure of several decades standing, my antecedents are widely known. Nevertheless, it has become necessary to restate who I am and correct some misleading information made about my person.
My name is Florence Mayen Ita-Giwa (Asibong Ita, was also my maiden native Efik name). I was born on the 19th of February 1946. Although I do not have a birth certificate, I have an age declaration document sworn to by my late Mother, which I have used all my life. My mother almost died of post-partum hemorrhage during my birth at the hospital; a situation which was made worse as the hospital did not have a blood bank. The story of the circumstances of my birth stuck in my memory, and because of it, I donated a blood bank to the hospital, much later in life.
My late Father, Obong Ofiong Umoh Ita Ofiong, was a traditional Ruler in Atabong, Bakassi. He attended Methodist Boys’ High School, Oron (founded in 1905) back in the early 20th century. His parents’ choice to send him to school in Oron was influenced by the fact that Archibong Town, and then James Town, both in Bakassi, were the first ports of call of the Methodist Church Mission in Nigeria in 1893. And, when the Mission set up its first school in these parts, it was natural that my late Father would be educated there. My mother, the late Chief (Mrs.) Beatrice Bassey Ita was at first a school teacher before venturing into journalism and becoming a renowned pioneering female journalist in South East of Nigeria. Her parents were from the Ekpo Abasi Royal House of Calabar, and their family house was No. 19 Boco Street at Bayside of Calabar South Local Government Area in Cross River State, where I grew up right from infancy until we moved to No. 55 Beecroft Street, also at Bayside in Calabar South. I vividly recall how my Mom used to entertain family and friends with tea in the afternoons; a veritable vestige of Calabar’s affinity with the culture of the British colonialists.
I started my education as a girl-child at the renowned Duke Town Primary School, Calabar (with a history dating back to 1846) before attending The Edgerly Memorial Girls’ School, also in Calabar.
I took up Nursing as a Profession and went for training in it at Aba in the present-day Abia State, although my dear Mother had wished that I went into journalism like her. If there is anything like reincarnation, I will still choose to belong to the noble profession of Nursing.
My late mother was an avowed Zikist, who worked as a correspondent for the Zik Group of Newspapers in Calabar. She eventually sought a transfer to Aba in order to remain close and keep watch over me while I was undergoing my studies.
The Nigerian civil war broke out while we were in Aba, and my mother and family chose to remain in the “Biafran” territory for the entire duration of the War until it ended in January 1970. I never set eyes on any federal troop or officer until when the war ended while we were at Ahiara, where we had fled to, having lost everything we owned in life. That is the closest exposure I had to fighting that raged between the armed forces during the Civil War.
A Nigerian Military officer rescued us alongside other relatives and graciously arranged for our safe passage to Calabar. Sometime after we arrived in Calabar, I recall that my mother was briefly detained by the Federal authorities as was the late Margaret Ekpo. My mother was eventually employed by the Sketch Newspaper as the South Eastern State correspondent at the time, and Aremo Segun Osoba, who was its Managing Director. The photograph of myself, Ndidi Okereke Onyuike the former Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and the late Cecilia Ekpenyong, the former Deputy Governor of Cross River State, which appeared in a book written by Brigadier General Alabi Isama was taken at a party in Port Harcourt sometime in the middle of 1970, long after the Civil War had ended.
I proceeded to the Kilburn Polytechnic London to train as a Medical Secretary. At the end of my studies, after my fieldwork experience at the cancer follow-up department and periodontal department of the university college Hospital Gower Street, London, on the strict insistence of my mother, I returned to Nigeria and was immediately employed by Beecham Laboratories as a Medical Representative. After receiving some training in Pharmaceutical Detailing, I was then posted to be in charge of the company’s Northern Nigeria operations.
After doing a good job at Beecham, I got head-hunted by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals and was appointed the Medical Representative in charge of Lagos State.
I thereafter left paid employment to found Flobett Pharmacy and Med-Equip Limited, with branches at No. 1 Norman Williams Street, Ikoyi, and No. 1 Kofo Abayomi Street, Apapa – both in Lagos.
Med-Equip Limited was an accredited agent of AJ Seward Medical Equipment UK and won a contract to fully equip seven 30-bed military hospitals (MRS) in different parts of Nigeria, including Zuru in Bornu State, Owode in Ogun State and Ibawa in Akwa Ibom State. To this day, I am still able to conceptualize and set up a hospital from the reception to the morbid section.
I joined politics, contested elections and won four very difficult contests starting from 1991, each time on “opposition party” platforms. I voluntarily opted out of seeking elective office to allow space for the next generation to express themselves in Nigerian politics, after my outing as Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2003. As a lawmaker, I attended a course on Legislative Management at Thames Valley University, London. I am currently working on a book on “Legislative Management and Parliamentary Lobbying” with the objective of sharing knowledge with the next generation of politicians, public office holders and the general public.
Apart from my daughter, I have 15 other lovely children that I brought out from the Creeks of Bakassi and single-handedly weaned, nurtured and groomed into responsible and promising persons; to the glory of God Almighty. The youngest of them is now nine years old. She was rescued from the creeks of Bakassi at just four months old.
Today, she attends one of the best private schools in Calabar. I also have a pair of 14-year-old twin boys whose parents were killed right in their presence at the age of four. They both attend what is considered one of the best high schools in Calabar, Access School. Most of my other children have graduated from the best private universities in Nigeria and Ghana as Petroleum Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Computer Engineers and so on. In my family, there are no titles or divisions, because I believe that a child is a child, no matter how he or she came into this world. All these children are mine, given to me by God.
And, I am committed to training them into good and worthy citizens of Nigeria, complete with strong family values, love, respect and compassion for their fellow human beings.
It is common knowledge that a typical Calabar lady’s physiological issue cannot be “aesthetic augmentation”, but ‘reduction’. Besides, aesthetic procedures are not normally done under general anesthesia. So, a third-party or next-of-kin is not usually needed, unless there are underlying conditions which may be considered threats to the procedure, thereby warranting the assurance of a relative as surety. It is a fact that, 18 years ago I underwent liposuction (fat reduction) around my hips; a feature I obviously inherited from my late Mother.
This was public knowledge, as I had informed the media. I do not do things and hide in the shadows or are ashamed of. Nobody leaked any secret, as that procedure was public knowledge.
I have consistently counselled younger women not to be scared of ageing, as it is an inevitable phase of life, but rather they should embrace the prospect of ageing gracefully and beautifully in good health, by embracing a healthy lifestyle and seeking any wholesome and safe medical intervention needed.
On a final note, I have always advised career women and female politicians to stay strong and courageous, and not to ever cave into the threats or bullying or blackmail of chauvinists and other predators, irrespective of their gender.
This is who I am. It is well. God bless you all.
Senator (Princess) Dame Dr. Florence Ita-Giwa, OON, KSW Eka Iban Esien Efik Duop-Iba (Mother of the female folk of the Efik Eburutu Kingdom & Member of the Royal Palace of the Obong of Calabar)
Sunday, 17th September, 2023