In this interview with MUDIAGA AFFE, a former presidential adviser, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, speaks on the controversy surrounding the diversion of relief materials meant for Bakassi returnees
How did you find out that some relief materials meant for the displaced persons of Atai-Ema in Bakassi were allegedly being diverted?
If you recall, the National Commission for Refugees handed over some relief materials to the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency at a public ceremony in Calabar that was attended by the deputy governor of the state, Prof. Ivara Esu. The commission dispatched the materials to the state at my behest, in response to my alerting them about a fire disaster at Dayspring Island, Bakassi. As a matter of fact, I sponsored a verification visit to the site of the fire disaster with a team from the NCR, Cross River SEMA and the press. To my chagrin, one month after the relief materials were handed over to Cross River SEMA, the materials had not been evacuated to the disaster site, even after I offered to finance the shipment of the materials to Dayspring Island. The Director General of SEMA, at a point, after dilly-dallying over my offer, even stopped taking my calls on the issue. One would have thought that the DG would have been eager to take up my offer; I started getting suspicious that some hanky-panky was taking place. My suspicions were confirmed when I got a call from a staff of the refugees commission, supposedly on behalf of the DG of SEMA, John Inaku, that I should let them know where to deliver my share of the materials. Then we started hearing rumours of the crashing of prices of building materials in the markets around Calabar due to an oversupply of cheaper materials. I must say that I was thoroughly disappointed with the DG of SEMA, who I thought was a compassionate person, when he solicited that I pay the National Examinations Council fees of pupils from Ikot-Eyo in Bakassi.
The report of our verification visit to the disaster site was broadcast on state and national television and the handover ceremony of the relief materials in Calabar was widely covered by the media and even had the state deputy governor in attendance. Anyone who says my righteous “outburst” was the first time they heard about the matter must have his or her head buried in the sand.
Some say those who collected the relief materials meant for the Atai-Ema victims from SEMA were you core loyalists. Is that true?
The relief materials, which included building materials for the rebuilding of the homes of people in Dayspring Island, were meant for them and no other person. Attempting to blackmail me by saying they “graciously” shared the booty with my so-called loyalists is silly. If the recipients are my core loyalists, then why am I making such a fuss? The materials I discovered were actually in the home of the very person who first reported the fire incident to me. As we speak, the recovered materials are in the custody of the police in Calabar. In fact, if it is true that my core loyalists were involved, then I should be commended for exposing them.
You have also been accused of starting this recent issue because the political equation in the state no longer favours you. Is it true?
The political equation in Cross River State cannot be a factor in my advocacy for the rights of my Bakassi people. The plight of my people transcends petty politics. By the way, while all politics is local, I have always played national politics while still maintaining my grass-roots structure. Come to think of it, do I look like I am running for any elective office? This is not even the time to test political height. When that time comes, we will know who the political upstarts are between us.
What many people don’t know is that there are some of my so-called kinsmen who reside in Calabar and remotely try to exploit the Bakassi issue as their meal ticket. We call them Calabar Bakassi jobbers. They are the ones who sit back and watch me expend my resources and goodwill on behalf of the suffering indigenes of Bakassi, only to engage in backbiting with state authorities for material and political gains. I really have no time for them; their worst efforts will not deter me from carrying out my humanitarian work for my people.
Do you have any problem with Governor Ben Ayade before now?
I have absolutely no issue with him; I recall that even before my formal declaration for the All Progressives Congress, as a courtesy I visited him to give him a heads up. It was a very cordial meeting, where I assured him of my continued support for his administration. To the best of my knowledge, we parted as political friends. Even now, I really don’t have any personal issues with him. I see him as a very hard working young man doing his best to the limit of his abilities. In fact I don’t recall saying he was complicit in the diversion of the materials, my angst is with the SEMA DG who supervised the diversion. I however believe that rather than sanction the culpable officials, he (Ayade) seems to have bought their narrative that I am out to tarnish his administration’s reputation.
Why do you think the governor directed his aides to retrieve a Prado jeep from your compound when you were not around?
That question will have to be directed at the governor. However I have my reservation for the timing of the retrieval. Although I had resigned my appointment as the chairman of the proposed Bakassi Deep Seaport, I think it was not right to have retrieved the car while I was out of town.
What roles have you played over the years to ensure that the displaced people are properly resettled?
Right from the time of the ceding, I have not relented in providing as much succour as I possibly can as one individual. As we speak, I adopted 13 children from the creeks and majority of them are in universities outside Nigeria. The ones in Nigerian universities attend the best private universities around. While the others in primary and secondary schools attend the best private school in Calabar. Beyond this, I frequently organise relief distribution exercises to the displaced persons in camps.
I was also co-chair of an Imoke-appointed resettlement committee. We prepared a comprehensive document about how to resettle the people; to date, that report has not been implemented. It must be noted that the said committee was set up immediately after the ceding, during Governor (Liyel) Imoke’s first term. I call on the Governor (Benedict) Ayade administration to muster the required political will to implement the report. Having said all this, I challenge those upstarts, those characters that cannot survive without the patronage of state government, those Calabar Bakassi jobbers, to show what they or their parents have done to develop the Bakassi people, whether in terms of physical infrastructure or human capacity development. I challenge them to a public debate.
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