By Eric Teniola
This piece on Dr. Joseph Wayas was first published two years ago. It is being republished in the light of his death on Thursday December 2, 2021
Dr. Joseph Wayas (77) is the first Senate President to act as President of Nigeria. That was in 1983 following the absence of President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari and his Vice, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, who both travelled outside the country.
He acted for 16 days. Dr. Wayas is the second Senate President to come from the South-South. The first was Chief Dennis Chukude Osadebay (1911-1994) from Asaba. Dr. Joseph Wayas was the first Senate President to have been re-elected to the position. That was in 1983. The second is Brigadier General David Alechenu Mark.
His road to the Senate presidency in 1979 was not easy. He defeated Chief Matthew Tawo Mbu (1929-2012) of the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, in the Ogoja senatorial election in Cross River State on July 9, 1979. Chief Mbu was a permanent fixture in Nigeria political affairs for more than 50 years. He was a minister in 1953 at the age of 24.
After the senatorial election, he defeated a renowned accountant, Senator David Omuenya Dafinone from Bendel-South in a shadow election held at Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos on September 22, after the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, had zoned the post of Senate president to the South-South region.
On October 9, 1979, by 53 to 42 votes, Dr. Wayas defeated the former chief judge of Bendel State, Senator Franklin Oritsemuyiwa Atake, of the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, to emerge as the Senate President.
Dr. Wayas… was the leader of the Lagos Front that dethroned the governor of Cross River State, Dr. Clement Nyong Isong (1920-2000) in the 1983 NPN gubernatorial primaries, when Akwa Ibom was part of Cross River State. Other members of the Front at that time were Senator Victor Akan (Eket/Oron), Senator George A. Daniel (Uyo), Senator Donald Dick Etiebet (1934-2015; Ikot-Ekpene) and Senator Joseph Oqua Ansa (Calabar). The Front replaced Dr. Isong with Senator Etiebet from Anang in the present Akwa Ibom State, who later won the 1983 gubernatorial election in Cross River State.
Dr. Wayas, who is from Basang, Obudu, in Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State, with its headquarters at Sankwala, is a man I have known for long. He speaks fluent Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and French. I visited him recently at his Asokoro residence in Abuja. Due to old age and failing health, the elegance that was once part and parcel of Dr. Wayas is falling. Although he still retains his fighting spirit, yet this once powerful politician is a shadow of his old self.
To be candid Dr. Wayas is a fascinating man. He always has kind words for his friends. He was a member of the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference, and was a founding member of the All Peoples Party in 1998. He later joined the Peoples Democratic Party in 2001 at the urging of then Cross River State governor, Donald Duke.
He has lost quite a number of his friends, including Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, Alhaji Gidado Idris, Senator Uba Ahmed, Senator Mahmud Waziri, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, Senator Donald Etiebet and others; but his old faithfuls, including Alhaji Tanko Yankassai, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Major General Joseph Oluyemi Bajowa (rtd.); his attorney, Mr. Chukwuma Awolowo Dafe; his cousin, Senator Musa Adede of the Kings Airline; Mr. Afolabi Akerele and Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua are still around the old man.
His former personal assistant while serving as Senate President, Mr. Oswald Akor Amele and his former chief of staff, Chief Dave Ashang, who later became secretary to the Cross River State government and later retired as Director-General of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, and Lizzy Adede, a retired permanent secretary in the Cross River State government; another cousin, Sam Adede and Monica Adede, still see him from time to time. Dr. Chris Ngige alias Owan, now Minister of Labour and Productivity, was his physician during his tenure as Senate President.
I was intrigued by Dr. Wayas’ presence when I was with him. His first son, Pastor Joey Wayas, was with him too. He is a strong believer in true federalism as the only solution to Nigeria’s democratic problems. In October 2003, he spoke out against the ongoing local council reforms by the Federal Government, describing them as “unconstitutional”.
Dr. Wayas was appointed chairman of the Board of Trustees of the South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA. In January 2009, he described post-election petitions to electoral tribunals as senseless, reckless and time wasting. In January 2010, Dr. Wayas advocated that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan be authorised to act as president pending the return of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who had been incapacitated by illness for some time at that point.
Like Chief Michael Ogon, Chief Matthew Mbu, Brigadier Godwin Ally, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, Chief Ignatius Iwong Murphy, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), Professor Ukandi Godwin Damachi, Senator Musa Adede, Chief O.B. Odey, Joe Ushie, Chief Emmanuel Awhan Ibeshi, Senator M. Matthew Mbu (Jnr.), Senator Rose Okon and others, Dr. Wayas identifies proudly with the people of Ogoja, in a place I love to visit.
When the strongman of Congo, President Mobutu Seseko (1930-1997) hosted him in his village, Gbadolite in Congo, in 1982, I was with him. When Muhammed Ali (1940-2016), the boxing legend, hosted him in Miami in 1983, I was with him.