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 sixteen 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, now ailing, was the leader of the Lagos Front that dethroned the governor of Cross River State, Dr. Clement Nyong Isong (1920-2000; CFR) 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 once elegance 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 People’s 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 Dikkio, 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, 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. 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 People’s Party in 1998. He later joined the Peoples Democratic Party in 2001 at the urging of then Cross River State governor, Donald Duke. 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, honourable 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. We have both travelled to various capitals in the world. A few hours before the army struck on December 31, 1983, I saw him at Heathrow Airport in London on his way to New York. He was in exile for years thereafter before returning home, but was later incarcerated at Kirikiri Prison, Lagos. I recollected the good times we had together and seeing him in his Asokoro residence all by himself, I imagined how time and age changes a man.
Another election, which achieved the status of free and fair election, was the 1979 election, which ushered in the Republican Constitution. That election has its criticism of the “twelve and two thirds” palaver. In all cases of our elections, there have been allegations of rigging and thuggery, which characterised our electoral process.
Recently he presented a paper on lessons from past elections, which was was presented at a workshop held in Abuja. The contents of the paper might be useful now that the election is just some months away. I hereby reproduce the paper at that workshop:.
“Since independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has undergone a series of elections. Democracy can very well be said to have gained it rout from our very first election, when our leaders and representatives were elected to take over governments from the colonialists. Our experiment, therefore, cannot be said to be without pains, which most nations suffer. Initially we undergo marginal struggle. In the Nigerian context, our elections since independence have always been filled with crises, disagreed results that in some cases result in violence. Thus, to be fair, it is courageous to say that the only free and unquestionable election was organised by the British to usher in Independence. Another election, which achieved the status of free and fair election, was the 1979 election, which ushered in the Republican Constitution. That election has its criticism of the “twelve and two thirds” palaver. In all cases of our elections, there have been allegations of rigging and thuggery, which characterised our electoral process.
“The military have always used turbulent elections characterised by thuggery, criminal burning and killing of both innocents and opponents… In the Nigerians experience, the military have always accused the politicians of lack of good government and election malpractices. As a result, they claimed, among other things, such as economic mismanagement to take over the running of power. When comparing the Nigerian Armed Forces with the Armed Forces of the other third world emerging countries, you will find that while in some of these countries the situation may be worse than that of Nigeria. Their military have not taken the management of their nation from politicians. Rather, they invite the opponent party leaders to take over, thereby insulating their military from political governance, while they concentrate on providing professional services, maintaining the roles of defending their country and carrying out other duties that uphold the Constitution of their country.
“It is, therefore, imperative that when we talk about lessons from the past elections in Nigeria, we cannot but help to mention the few moments we have been privileged to hold elections within the time of our independence. (A) 1964 election was characterised with the crisis in the Western Region between Chief S. L. Akintola and Chief Obafemi Awolowo that gradually engulfed the whole nation, leading to the first military intervention. (B) The 1979 election which went through smoothly, but had problem with the twelve and two thirds mathematical arguments. (C) The 1983 election should have been one of the best elections conducted by us. Again, the conflict in the West between a governor, Chief Adekunle Ajasin as candidate for the governorship and his one time deputy governor, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, started the conflict that could have nearly spread but for the astute handling of the situation by President Shehu Shagari. I still hold a strong view that the so-called take over by the military in December of that year has no connection with the electoral crisis or economic handling of the nation as proclaimed by the military. On the contrary, I hold the view that it was an act of some group of overzealous army officers. However, we have come a long way and should put these episodes behind us and move forward to the future with optimism. (D) I will categorise the election of 1992 and others that followed during the military rule, as a total fiasco, waste of public funds and we shall never again allow this undemocratic forces to rear their heads any more on our soil.
The elections themselves were fraudulent, manipulative and inconclusive — as those who planned them were themselves insincere about their own transition programmes. (E) In the 1999, elections are our smoothest election so far. Basically Nigerians had two candidates to choose from and the candidates were from the same geographical zone and the ball, there, was in the court of the Western zone. No wonder the country witnessed less election crisis. However, with the assassination of the federal attorney general, Chief Bola Ige, and the usual ‘kata-kata’ in the West, we should be careful.
“It is imperative to mention that in all these election results, court actions followed disputes of rigging and master riggings. If there are lessons that must be learnt they that we must learn to accept defeat when we lose in an election, and accept victory where election is won, even if is controversial. After all, the authors of democracy put time frame for re-election. So let us develop the attitude of the winner and the loser determining to work together for peace and prosperity of our great country, Nigeria”.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.