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Wayas: Good-bye to yesterday’s playmaker

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
03 December 2021   |   2:45 am
The passing of former Senate President, Joseph Wayas, came as a vapour from the drying streams of water that made Nigeria’s second republic much like a warm spring.

The passing of former Senate President, Joseph Wayas, came as a vapour from the drying streams of water that made Nigeria’s second republic much like a warm spring.

Joseph Wayas

He was rotund, with a sprinkling of grey hairs that keep peeping out from his black cap around his ears. He was one of the few refined intellectuals that membered in the contractor-class dominated defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

Joseph Wayas was a symbol of political power and prestige in Nigeria’s rambunctious second republic. As the President of the Senate, he carried himself well. He was blessed with a distinctive accent that belied his education and training in the United Kingdom.

Senator Wayas held the second republic Senate under the Presidential system of government on behalf of the governing NPN, which went into a political accord with the defunct Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to shore up its deficit majority in the National Assembly.

Perhaps, his membership of the 1978 Constituent Assembly, which midwifed the 1979 Constitution prepared the Cross River State-born politician for the moderating roles he was to play in the second republic politics.

Earlier, before he chanced on national politics, Wayas had previously served as Commissioner for Transport in Southeastern State, one of the then 12 states of the federation.

While the marriage of convenience between his party, NPN, and the NPP lasted, Wayas brought his urbane and charismatic demeanour to bear in managing the cantankerous outbursts of his party men.

The fact that he schooled in Onitsha, at the Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) helped him to smoothen the political accord between his party and NPP, which had Nnamdi Azikiwe from Onitsha as its leader.

The emergence of Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, who although hailed from Nnewi, attended St Paul’s College, Calabar; as Speaker of House of Representatives, made it easy for Wayas to serve as a go-between the Senate and House of Representatives that was led by the junior partner.

Despite his moderating influence on the shaky political cohabitation between NPN and NPP, at the build-up to the 1983 General Elections, the accord ruptured, leading to the withdrawal of ministers donated by the NPP, except the Speaker.

By the time the NPN/NPP accord was going through frictions, Wayas was leading his camp of loyal NPN members from Cross River State against the state governor, Mr. Clement Isong. The Lagos Group, which Wayas led, slugged it out with the Home Front that was on the side of the incumbent governor.

As the leader of NPN in Cross River State, Wayas teamed up with Senator Joseph Ansa to support Donald Etiebet for the party’s governorship ticket against Governor Isong, who was seeking a second term in office.

Although the vanquishing of the Home Front, which was the culmination of the supremacy battle between Lagos Group and the Home Front, displaced Isong, the victory could not endure, because the military struck and sacked the civilians.

Perhaps, at the hint of the approaching coup d’état, Wayas escaped to the UK on self-imposed exile, only to return in 1987, after General Muhammadu Buhari had been toppled. He was however detained alongside other politicians.

However, Nigeria tapped unto his wealth of experience during the preparations for the 1995 National Constitutional Conference, when he was appointed into the NCC commission, which midwifed the conference. Based on his exposure and membership of the Society of International Affairs, Lincoln University, USA, Wayas was a strong advocate of true federalism.

He held out true federalism as a durable path towards addressing the country’s political nay, democracy challenges. Although he joined the All Peoples Party (APP) at Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, two years later he was talked into joining the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by Governor Donald Duke.

He was among the strong voices that opposed the attempt to reform the local government system in 2003, stressing that anything that violates the constitution was undemocratic. Not that alone, in 2010, when the nation was caught in a political quagmire following the failure of then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to transmit letter to the National Assembly for the Vice President to act in his absence, Wayas added his voice of reason for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to step in as acting President pending the return of the ailing President.

Wayas was not one to speak tongue in cheek on any national issue. He was courageous, frank and friendly. But, last Tuesday, the sonorous voice of the chubby-faced former chairman, Board of Trustees of South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA), ceased.

At his passing to the great beyond, there is no forgetting the fact that Joe, while alive, spread joy wherever he went. Those who had come in close contact with him or observed Wayas friendliness have continued to mourn his death at such a time his invaluable contribution to the healing of Nigeria’s democracy is in dire need.

For instance, former Cross River States governor, Donald Duke, in a text message noted: “It’s a sad, but natural occurrence. He will be remembered for, as the youngest and probably most flamboyant Senate President we have had to date, he became SP at 38; the prominence he brought to Cross River State and more importantly, as one who spoke his truth, no matter whose ox was gored. May his path be blessed.”

Also, incumbent governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, said, “Wayas as Senate President contributed to the deepening of Nigeria’s democratic ethos through his robust and vibrant leadership of the upper legislative chamber.”

While describing Wayas’ death as a monumental loss to Cross River State and Nigeria at large, Ayade, in a statement by his Media aide, Christian Ita declared: “As a state, Cross River is in pains as we mourn the passing of our illustrious son. He was a rare gem. Dr. Wayas’ demise is indeed a monumental loss to our dear state and Nigeria.

“And since his retirement from active politics, the former Senate President had been playing a fatherly and stabilising role in the politics and affairs of our state.”

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