Ita-Giwa

The recent defection of Senator Florence Ita-Giwa to the APC presents to her new grounds for political rejuvenation. Bassey Inyang writes.

Former Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, on Friday April 7, formally defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) at a brief ceremony in her political ward of Ati Ema, Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State.

Ita-Giwa’s planned movement to the APC had become public knowledge, having been speculated in the media, but her formal departure from the PDP still took the political landscape by storm  because she had maintained  close rapport with the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, and members of the ruling PDP in the state and beyond.

At the moment, she still chairs the board of the Cross River State Ports Authority, an appointment given to her by Ayade last year.

Despite their closeness, there were indications that Ita-Giwa might have been up to deft political moves against the PDP given the non-antagonistic views she had expressed concerning issues related to the administration of President Muhammau Buhari.

In the heat of the controversy that trailed the rejection of the Buhari’s nomination of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, by the senate for a second time, Ita-Giwa had stated that Magu’s name can be resent to the senate as many as four times based on precedent.

Very recently, Ita-Giwa Ita-Giwa Commended Buhari for the Ratification of the Paris Agreement on climate change, saying it was in the proper direction.

“President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for signing the Paris agreement on climate change. The Niger Delta region is rich in coastal environment that is highly prone to adverse environmental changes.

“These changes are occasioned by climate change, such as sea level rise, coastal erosion and many decades of oil pollution, leading to loss of livelihoods and ecosystems. The implementation of this agreement will save the world and preserve lives,” she stated in a press statement made available to journalists in Calabar.

For a woman not known to be an environmental activist, except serving once on the senate committee on environment or an anti-corruption crusader, her recent pro-Buhari stance was at best the foundation-laying stage for her departure to the APC, a party whose presidential candidate she vigorously campaigned against in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.

Received into the APC by the Chairmen of the Bakassi chapter of the party, Mr. Cyril Ene; former representative of the Cross River South Senatorial District, Bassey Otu, and a host of prominent members of the party in the state, Ita-Giwa explained why she left the APC.

“Thank God for making today happen. I knew today had to happen. I thank the leadership of APC. In the past one and a half years, I have not attended any meeting of any political party. It would be out of place for a woman of my stature to join a group of people that are fragmented. My stature in Nigeria, and my age cannot permit me to jump from faction to faction. It would make me look very small. There is no retirement age for politics. Nigeria needs experience. As you grow older in politics, you learn on the job and get better.

“I chose the platform of APC to continue my political life. As long as I am in this world, I would not leave politics. APC in Cross River State has been too quiet. I fear nobody. If you are in a political party, you have to make your presence felt. Now, I am in APC, that silence would stop,” Ita-Giwa said.

Her movement to the APC has generated diverse reactions within the political circle in the state. Chairman of the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba and one time National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Venatius Ikem have applauded her for joining them in the APC, describing her as a “big catch” for the ruling party in the country, and leading opposition party in the state.

Ikem, now a member of the APC added a twist to her defection, saying Ita-Giwa’s action may have freed decampees from political witch-hunt.

“As Cross River south senatorial district takes determined steps to up their presence and membership in APC, I urge the rest of the state to do likewise. Cross River State, according to Governor Liyel Imoke, cannot afford to be in the opposition! We must hearken to his advice and wisdom.

“As the dust from this wave of movement settles, I am happy that the Governor is no longer threatening defectors with thunder and brimstone, maybe because they are not his brothers and sisters from Obudu and the north.

“We welcome this development too. I even understand that he is begging Senator Ita-Giwa not to resign her appointment as Chairman of the Cross River State Ports Authority. She is at liberty to leave but keep the appointment, to save him the embarrassment. We thank God. How times change. Maybe it’s the policies that change. It could even be that it is people that change. But it’s all CHANGE,” Ikem stated in his reaction.

Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mr. Menns Ikpeme, also said “It is a welcome development for our party. We really appreciate her entrance to the APC. It was long overdue. She is definitely going to bring her wealth of experience and her resources to the party. You know we in the southern senatorial district love her. The APC family really loves her. I love her. We have all embraced her.”

In another breath, her defection has attracted some angry reactions from members of the PDP, some of whom have described her as an “ingrate.”

Reacting, a member of the PDP caucus in the state and one time chairman of Ikom local government area, Ndoma-Egodo, a lawyer said “Mma Giwa’s defection is of no moment. Mma Giwa has no political value in this state. She is a spent horse. Her movement will not impact negatively on the PDP nor add to the electoral value of APC.

“She merely reunited with her old political crowd in the APC as indicated in her speech. Besides, she is looking for an appointment since PDP can no longer foot her bills. She was in the presidency when (Olusegun) Obasanjo ceded Bakassi. What did she do? It is good riddance to bad rubbish”.

Curiously, Governor Ayade views Ita-Giwa’s defection from a different perspective, and has accepted it in good fate. Ayade is believed to have been briefed by the political Amazon fondly referred to as “Mama Bakassi,” of her intention, on the eve of her departure from the PDP.

“She has only expressed her freedom to associate as guaranteed by the constitution. As an adult, she has made her decision, but that has not hindered any rapport between her and the governor. The governor is not irked at all. You know the governor looks at political parties as mere vehicles – as a means to an end,” Ayade’s Chief Press Secretary, Christian Ita told THIDSAY.

Her movement to the APC did not come as a surprise to many because she had defected from one party to another before, more so given the fact that most Nigerian politicians are not inclined to any particular political ideology.

In 2004, Ita-Giwa defected from the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), to the PDP, after spending one term in the senate. The question on many lips is: ‘what electoral value would Ita-Giwa add to the APC, and what does the PDP stand to lose?

Given her pedigree in politics, having won elections  twice  to the National Assembly, first to the House of Representatives in the Third Republic and later to the Senate in the Forth Republic, it would not be out of place to conclude that she is a popular politician in her own right.

After joining the PDP, she applied her massive political frame, and mass mobilisation skills to the ruling party, and contributed to its domineering of the political space, especially in the Southern senatorial district, and Bakassi in particular, where she hails from.

Thus, the APC stands to benefit from her joining the political party, that is, if her charisma has not waned over the years. But her political fortune seems to have nosedived since the count-down to the 2011 general election, a development remotely linked to the final ceding of the original Bakassi peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon way back in 2008.

For one, the entire registered voters in the Bakassi area reduced from the tens of thousands it stood before its ceding, to about 5,000 people thereafter. Aside from this, the issue of resettlement balkanised her people along factions, which reverberated during the PDP primary elections, a fierce and rancorous manner never before associated with the once politically homogenous people.

This development seems to have put her popularity to test among and beyond Bakassi, even in a one-party dominated polity, where the PDP maintained complete python grip. Her support for the return of Bassey Otu, to the senate failed to materialise as she could not pull enough strings to secure him the prized ticket of the PDP at the primaries.

Even when Otu, who also is currently in the APC, left the PDP and contested the substantive senatorial election on the platform of the Labour Party (LP), Ita-Giwa’s support failed to secure him victory.

Otu lost to the current senator, Mr. Gershom Bassey of the PDP, who obviously did not enjoy Ita-Giwa’s support. The PDP candidate even polled substantial votes in Bakassi.

It was gathered that during the Governor Liyel Imoke era as the leader of the PDP in the state, Ita-Giwa was systematically sidelined, even though she was decorated with the title of the leader of Bakassi politics.

“Mma (Ita-Giwa) was presented as the political leader of Bakassi on face value, but in practical terms, she was reduced to a mere onlooker, and outsider within the party,” a member of PDP, who did not want his name in print confided in THISDAY.

Having joined the APC with the hope of operating in a political turf that would afford her enough space to freely express herself politically again, events leading to, and perhaps the 2019 general election would provide the necessary parameters to judge the electoral fortunes Ita-Giwa would bring to her new party in the  state.