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Ita-Giwa… Mama Bakassi glows at 73


Florence Ita-Giwa

It was double celebration for Senator Florence Ita-Giwa on Sunday, March 3, as she marked her 73 birthday in style with the official opening of Echoes of Calabar, a new restaurant on Victoria Island, Lagos.

For a woman, who has remained a popular figure in the country’s social circle, you can imagine the size and quality of guests that turned up for the gig that lasted into the night.

From captains of industries to celebrities, society ladies and men, politicians, friends, family members, associates… the place was loaded. In all, it was an opportunity to celebrate ageless Mama Bakassi for her contributions to humanity.


The party attracted billionaire Folorunso Alakija, who performed the official cutting of tape to open the restaurant.

In attendance also were Abah Folawiyo, Ali Baba, Ini Edo, Kemen, Ifu Enada, Ayo Makun, Helen Paul, Shola Sobowale, Ngozi Nwosu, Uti Nwachukwu, Ndidi Obiorah, Adebola Williams and others.

Though not an evening of long speeches, a few individuals, including Alakija, had few minutes to pay tribute to the politician, philanthropist and fashion icon, who has dedicated her life to serving humanity at different levels.

Alakija, alongside other dignitaries, eventually joined Mama Bakassi in cutting her birthday cake.

In her remarks, Ita-Giwa thanked guests for finding time to join her in celebrating God’s blessings in her life. She noted that the new restaurant has always been a dream for her, adding that the dream has finally come to life.

“We’ve been working on this project for some time now and I’m happy we are opening the place today. This is my retirement benefit and I’m happy you all came around to join me in the official opening,” she said.

Aside from the live band that treated guests to some oldies, the party also featured a Calabar Dance Troupe that exhibited the rich culture and heritage of Cross River people.

Being the leader of the Seagull Band, one of the bands for the yearly Calabar Christmas Carnival, the colourful display was expected.

At 73, Ita-Giwa still looks stunning. For a woman, who has been on the scene for years, her appearance at the party is a clear sign that Mama Bakassi is far from retirement; she’s still as delectable as ever. In fact, very few of her age mates can boast of her sexy look at 73.

When it comes to fashion and style, give it to this amiable woman; she makes ageing look classy.

At her age, the society matriarch still fits in as she flows with many young folks, which explains why you find a lot of them around her. You needed to watch her sway to the new generational beats; she still very much in tune with dance steps.

The Cross River State-born Ita-Giwa, defined by many as a woman of unrivaled strength, gave real meaning to the popular slang of “age is nothing but a number”, and at 73, she seems not ready to slow down on partying.

When it comes to the art of living well, the septuagenarian grandmother is a virtuoso and remains as vivacious as when she was 40.

She has registered a signature on the success story of Calabar carnival. Ita-Giwa’s profile as leader of the Seagull Band in addition to being a high society woman always draws celebrities, especially Nollywood stars, to be part of the street party.

Her efforts eventually paid off in 2016, when revellers of Seagull Band won the contest for that year.

The band took to the street the following Monday to celebrate their victory at the highly competitive event that featured five other bands.

The celebration caused gridlock along the popular Marian Road in Calabar as hundreds of revellers danced to the victory of the band. It was the first time the band would win the competition, which started in 2005.

Ita-Giwa, who joined the group in the street party organised by the state government for all the revellers who participated in the carnival, said it was meant to unwind and have fun following tedious months of preparations.

The carnival, which had the theme, Climate Change, saw the Seagull band emerging the best interpreter of the concept.

“I am paying back to the society that made Ita-Giwa. By being here, I inspire these people a lot. I am working and happy that my mind is engaged at this age which I see as a privilege from God and the opportunity given to me to engage my mind positively,” Ita-Giwa said.

She said the team emerged victorious due to hard work, commending the Cross River State Government for its efforts in the organisation of the yearly festival that has become an international brand.

A woman of many parts, Ita-Giwa is not the type that shies away from speaking up against injustice; she has remained the voice of the Bakassi community.

Aside from helping to mobilise support for the community and draw attention of the government to their plight, Mama Bakassi practically fights for Bakassi, no matter who is involved.

Her love for Bakassi once saw her at loggerheads with the governor of Cross River State, Prof. Ben Ayade over the diversion of materials meant for some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

However, Ita-Giwa made it clear she was not fighting the state governor over the issue of alleged diversion, but only sought to know the whereabouts of the materials.

Some relief materials meant for some displaced Bakassi persons whose shanties in Ata Ema, Dayspring, were razed by fire, were recently recovered in the private home of one Mr. Udeme in Calabar.

After her basic education in Nigeria, Ita-Giwa attended the Kilburn Polytechnic in London, United Kingdom, where she studied nursing. 

Ita-Giwa began her Professional Healthcare career as a representative of Beecham pharmaceutical company. He later moved to Beecham and Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Nigeria in the private sector.

She also served on the boards of several companies and she was actively involved with the resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced people of Bakassi Peninsula ceded to the Republic of Cameroun.

Her very out-spoken stance on the Bakassi matters, led to her being nicknamed “Mama Bakassi”.

Ita-Giwa later joined politics and became the chairman of the National Republican Convention (NRC) for Delta State. She won an election into the Federal House of Representatives in the year 1992.

While in the National Assembly as a legislator, Ita Giwa was a member of the committee on devolution of power of the Constituent Assembly between the year 1994 and 1995.

In April 1999, Ita-Giwa was elected into the Senate as the Senator representing Cross River South senatorial district on the platform of All People’s Party (APP) and she was in the senate from May 1999 to May 2003.

At the senate, she became a member of the committees on Environment, Foreign Affairs, Rules and Procedures, Women, Niger Delta and Drug & Narcotics.

When she left the senate in the year 2003, she joined the People’s Democratic Party PDP, and was a special adviser to two Nigerian Presidents on National Assembly Matters.

She also served as a member of the Constitutional Conference, and a member Steering Committee of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarian.

Florence Ita Giwa later got married to Dele Giwa, the founder and editor of Newswatch magazine. The marriage only lasted for ten months. She has two children Koko Giwa and Etim Isong.

Ita-Giwa, who once spoke in a radio programme (Hit FM) in Calabar, said she became interested in journalistic write-ups as a result of the works of her mother, Beatrice Bassey-Ita and the likes of Peter Enahoro and Sam Amuka, among others.

She said that she got married to Dele Giwa just barely three weeks after first contact as a result of his intellectual prowess.

The former presidential adviser, who was responding to a question on her relationship with Dele Giwa, said that she followed him to his house on request on the first day that they met to know how he wrote his column.

She said, “I became attracted to journalism because of my mother and the likes of Peter Enahoro, Sam Amuka and others. My mother worked for West African Pilot and later The Guardian before she joined Sketch from where she retired.

“I stumbled into Dele Giwa because I liked his column. I did marry him eventually not because he was handsome, but what he had upstairs in his brain. When I met him coincidentally, I just told him that I have been reading his columns, which I found entertaining and intellectually challenging.

“On that particular day, he looked at his time (watch) and said he was going to do his column, he requested if I follow him go to his house to see how he prepared his column, I agreed. We drove from Surulere to Ikeja because I was curious.

“When we got to his house, he went to his study and brought out one old typewriter and sat on the table with a glass of water and cognac and started typing straight from his head without looking at any material.

“He did this up till about 3am the next morning, I was so amazed. I called my mum that early morning through his telephone (landline) to inform her that I was with Dele Giwa and that he was typing his column from his head.

“From that day, we never parted until we got engaged three weeks after. He was a beautiful and intellectually rich human being that had so much in his head. He was very fearless. I was always scared for his life.”

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