By Chinelo Obogo
Former Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, to ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, has denied allegations by some youth groups in Cross Rivers State that she diverted relief materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons in Bakassi Local Government area of the State. She spoke to the press recently in Lagos, stating her own side of the story.
We heard that some officials of the State Emergency Management Agency(SEMA) in Cross Rivers State diverted relief materials meant for Internally Displaced persons(IDP),how true?
When I heard that there was fire outbreak in Bakassi, I took a flight the next day to Calabar and went to see things for myself. Before leaving for Calabar, I called the Director General of the National Refugee Commission and the next day, they sent people for fact finding and I offered to take them to Bakassi. When they got there, they verified the damage that was done. Within three weeks, I was informed that relief materials had arrived and the deputy governor of Cross Rivers State was there on behalf of the governor to appreciate the provisions of the relief materials. Most of what was sent by the Federal Government was building materials because they live in shanties and when the rains fall, they do not have shelter. After the presentation, the officials of the refugee commission came to my office and gave me the list of all the building relief materials that they brought.
It takes me a lot of time to get to Bakassi from Lagos and I take the pains to do that because I want to give the Bakassi people a sense of belonging. For me to get there I have to talk to the military to go with me with a gun boat and sometimes we have to wait for about four hours for the tide to rise, because if it is not high enough, it would not carry the gunboat. The boat would have to carry me and everyone with me up to a point where it cannot go anymore. From there, I would have to charter a medium sized boat and it would carry me up to a point near the sea shore. Because of the swamp, I would still hire a hard boat that will take me to a particular place where I would have to pull up my trousers to wade through water to get there. But I needed to do that because I have won elections four times in Bakassi, so I owe them my allegiance.
When I visited Calabar again for Prof Osinbajo’s visit, I got information that the prices of building materials had dropped because so many building materials had flooded the market. So, I organised some people to go into the market to see if we could find out anything. Then out of the blues, someone came and told me that he saw someone who asked him if he wanted to buy a bundle of zinc for N15, 000. We now got the address of the person who was supplying the zinc at that amount and we went there and saw that it was the residence of one Mr. Udeme, the man who called me and said I should come to Calabar because of the fire outbreak.
When we got to his residence, it was locked and he had very huge dogs and my boys said they could not force the gate open. So I called Abuja and asked that I be given some policemen to accompany me to lay siege at Udeme’s residence because he was on the run. On the second day of laying siege at his residence, someone informed us that Mr. Udeme’s wife was in a church nearby. We sent for his wife and I told her to either open the gate for us to take the building materials that were in their compound or she would follow us to the Police station. She opened the gate and we gained entrance. We hired three trucks to carry out all the building materials including the 56 bags that were left and took them to the police headquarters.
I also got the name of a certain woman in the Council whom I was told the relief materials were handed over to. When I met her, she confirmed to me that she was given 30 bags of cement by barter from Mr. Udeme. She gave me a list of the name of the people who collected the relief materials on behalf of the Bakassi Internally Displaced Persons. The relief materials we saw in Udeme’s compound were meant for IDPs and were not supposed to be there. Others may have sold theirs, but I do not know if Udeme intended to sell his own.
I have been invited to appear on the floor of the House of Assembly and out of respect for the legislature, I will be in Calabar to answer any questions regarded this issue. I will also file a suit in Court and I will petition the United Nations, the National Assembly and the ECOWAS parliament demanding a release of the remaining relief materials from those who diverted them. I am ready to do that because I have no work to do. I have no job but I have the means to pursue the case to any level.
The DG of SEMA said he handed over the materials to the local government; where would you rather have had them taken to?
The materials should be taken straight to the IDPs from SEMA because the local government does not have the facility to store them. I have written to Dangote and asked that some of the relief materials that his foundation usually distributes should be brought to Bakassi. In my letter, I specifically mentioned that the materials should be sent to SEMA because they have the facility to store them.
You were accused of masterminding the diversion of the relief materials by some youth groups and not the other way round. What is your response?
If there was a way that I could divert the materials so that they would go directly to the IDPs for which they were meant, I probably would have done that. The National Refugee Commission actually asked me how the materials would get to the people and I told them to take it to SEMA because SEMA has the capacity to store them. Eighty percent of the times that relief materials have been sent to Bakassi, I am the one that usually pays for them to be transported down to the IDPs. I hire boats for that.
Some of the protesters say that they do not want you to represent them or be an intermediary between them and any State or Federal agency. If they say that they do not want you, why do you still say that you are their leader?
On my 71st birthday, indigenes of Bakassi placed an advertorial in the paper and called me their natural leader and I will tell you how that title came to be. When the former governor of Cross Rivers took away the mandate of Prince Otu, I stood by him and when the governor saw that, he was bitter against me and said I would be removed as the caucus leader of Bakassi Local Government. I said no problem, but that because I have been leading them from inception, I will remain their natural leader and all of them accepted. People have a right to reject whoever they do not want to lead them, but why is the rejection coming now that there is an issue of diversion of relief materials? Is the evidence not clear?
Some of the grievances of the people are that you are trying to seek relevance through Bakassi people. Can you refute that?
Governor Ayade gave me whatever I wanted from him even without asking, because I supported him during his campaign and I would love to see him achieve all his projects for the State. When I was leaving for APC, I went to his office and told him why I was leaving and I offered to return the Prado that I was given when he gave me an appointment. He said we should keep working together. He is the first governor of the State to appoint a Bakassi indigene as a commissioner and we appreciated him for that. When Buhari became President, Cross Rivers was the first State that he visited and in his euphoria at that kind of exposure that Buhari came to the State, the first before any other State, he said I should support Buhari. Cross Rivers has never had it so good in terms of federal appointments and that is one of the reasons why I defected to APC. I told the governor that I cannot show appreciation from outside, and for me to show proper appreciation, I had to go and join them and I did. I didn’t go to APC with any envelop.
The only thing I took to Buhari was the report of the resettlement that we had given ex- President Goodluck Jonathan that was not acted upon. I pleaded with Buhari to implement the report and I know that he would do it.
I supported Ben Ayade to emerge as governor of the State and in fairness to him, when he took over, he told me to bring the names of those I would want to be given appointment. I gave him the names of seven people and he took five. Last year, I wrote to him that I needed support for the children of Bakassi and he donated N8 million. When I opened a business in Calabar and he also donated. There has never been a time I mentioned him in the issue of the relief materials.