By Gboyega Amoboye
So Dr. Joseph Wayas is dead. If good life, taste, fame and power were to determine death, ebullient Joseph Wayas would be spared. He loved taste and taste loved him. He loved life and life loved him. He loved Power, power loved him. He loved his wine, his wine loved him. Who would blame him, a young man of 37, rich and handsome, returning from America to become the President of the Senate? Of course he loved himself; the way he picked his words, his phonetics, carriage, his power charged looks, etc. For every brand of wine, he had a registered cup. He would scold his house help for using a wrong glass for another brand of wine. As a youth, he was always organizing disco nights for National Assembly Correspondents in his house. Some of the correspondents are Eric Teniola(Punch),Toye Akiode(Vanguard), Labake Adebiyi, (National Concord), Vera Ifudu(NTA), Clement Akintonde, late Bolu Oni both of the FRCN, Isaac Olaleye, Bolaji, Niyi Adekeye all of Herald, Feyi Smith, late Bolaji Maculay(Punch), Wale Oshodi, Yinka Guerdon(New Nigerian), late Tony Idigo(NAN), late Richard Amayo, Remi Ajayi(Observer), Ronke Akinsete, late Ughoani Anene(Daily Times), Tayo Adigun(Radio Lagos), etc.
When Prof. Ambrose Alli as governor of Edo state on the platform of Unity Party of Nigeria shut the gate of the State against the visiting President Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria in 1980, Wayas told me that Shagari was too gentle. He spoke in Yoruba “To ba je emin ni Shagari , Ambrose Alli a ma gbon ni and repeated it with all emphasis. That is,” If I were Shagari, Ambrose Alli would be shaking in regrets. After all, I control the Police; I control the purse, I control the security”. The governor had declared a public holiday and asked everybody to stay indoors. Shagari arrived meeting an empty airport and streets forcing him to ask rhetorically that, “Where are my people”.
Dr. Wayas would be remembered for his celebrated rosy cheeks but above all, he led a purposeful Senate and indeed National Assembly as chairman, joint sitting. Having being a Senate correspondent spanning across third and fourth republic, I could rate the Senate under his leadership as the most purposeful. Though very few bills were passed into law compared with volumes by subsequent Senates, the few bills passed provided employment, relative comfort, food, housing, education, peace and stability. While the focus of that Senate was the people others after him were personal aggrandizement, constituency allowance, newspaper allowance, toilet roll allowance, budget padding, contract award, anticipatory approvals, first line charge of payment of personal emoluments etc.
A former Minister of Finance, Prof Okonjo Iweala once said that billons of Naira were paid as bribe for budget. But bribe for budget under Wayas never existed. The Senate saw the National Assembly as just an arm of the three tiers of government. Dr. Wayas carried himself with the dignity befitting that office. He had no house or was he eager to build one or commandeer one of the mansions at the mercy of the NPN in FESTAC Town. While in power, the’ Senate abstained from contract award; everything, even up to consumables were supplied by the ministry of works. Owing to non-diversion of budget from government priorities to constituency allowance, projects were more easily financed. While that Senate was part time to save cost, subsequent ones have been fulltime even though seats are most always empty.
Dr. Wayas attributed his success to guidance by some experienced legislators that returned from the first republic. They included Alhaji Jalo Waziri from Bauchi(first republic Speaker, House of Representatives), Chief Jonathan Odebiyi(Unity Party of Nigeria, Senate leader), Dr Jaja Wachukwu(Senate leader of the Nigeria Peoples Party), Senator Obi Wali(NPP), Idrisa Kadi(GNPP). There was also the invaluable service of the Clerk of the National Assembly, Gidad Idris who had been on ground since 1978 as the Clerk Designate as well as a Director, Political Affairs Office, Cabinet Office, now Presidency, Mrs. Omobola Onajide who had coordinated series of international trainings for incoming staff.
Wayas had told the press in 1983 that he could “face any tribunal any day” and that he would be the first to be cleared should the Army come to power. He claimed that his four years in office had witnessed a successful operation of the new Presidential system of government in the Senate. But when the Army struck at the eve of 1984, Wayas was not around to face any of General Muhammadu Buhari’s tribunals that were jailing his co-political office holders 300years, including the Governor of Kano State, Sabo Barkin Zuwo who said, “keep on jailing me” for “keeping government money in government house” while Shagari was taking refuge in the house of the late Ciroma Keffi, Mohammed Hassan in Keffi,Nassarawa state. Wayas returned to the country after Buhari was overthrown in 1985 but was immediately arrested and clamped into detention at Kirikiri maximum prison where he became a born again Christian and the Bible, his best companion.
Surprisingly on my routine visit to Senator Mamud Waziri at Louis Solomon Close Victoria Island on February 21, 1988, guess what, I was face to face with Wayas who had been released two days earlier. The next day the front page exclusive lead of the National Concord was, WAYAS RELEASED. According to the report, ‘’At face to face with National Concord yesterday, Dr. Wayas, clad in immaculate white long sleeved caftan and highly polished ox blood shoes spotted a fresh haircut. It was a relaxed home setting interrupted by the occasional entrance of well-wishers with whom the former Senate President though less robust than before, exchanged pleasantries. He said there was no difference between how detainees and convicts were treated and cited as an example the indiscriminating bites of mosquitoes at Kirikiri.
Our interaction was to blossom again on my transfer to Abuja by Concord Press in1996. I was a regular visitor to his rented house along Adetokunbo Ademola Crecent, Wuse Zone 4. He had started building a mansion at the end of John Kadiya street, Asokoro which he was supervising being an engineer himself. On one of our visits to the site, he showed me two rooms near each other. Humorously as ever, he said in a flawless Yoruba that,”Gboyega se bi o mo pe iyawo meji ni mo ni. Ti mo ba ti kuro lodo eleyi lorun, ma gba ibi yi lo si odo ikeji’’ meaning, Gboyega, you know I have two wives. When I finished with the first one in the night, I would sneak to the second wife through this route. Of course, laughter ensued. In a relaxed mood after his relocation to the house a few years after he failed to secure the Presidential ticket of the Nigerian Peoples Party in 1999, he cracked another joke in Yoruba. “Nje o mop e iyawo mi yen ti pa da” that is, are you aware that, that my wife has come back. Of course he had a popular girlfriend while the Senate President(name withheld). In response, I whispered, don’t let madam hear you. He retorted,” se ko mo wipe mo nfe tele ni’’, meaning but she is aware of our relationship.
Wayas could be said to have had it all; power, fame, happiness and contentment. He was released from detention on February 21, 1988 at 47. After power, he lived a modest life. He did not build a house until early 2000s. His modest house at his country home, Obalinku, Cross River State was a reflection of the modest life he lived. I visited him there around 2006. The neat bungalow and compound was unintimidating of the neighborhood. He shunned every effort to appoint him a minister explaining that having presided over screening of ministers, he could not go down to become one. I knew he was racing against life the moment he could no longer recognize me the last time I visited him in Abuja. Shortly afterwards, he was flown abroad for medical treatment. He never returned alive. He died at 80. May his soul rest in peace.
Gboyega Amoboye, a media consultant based in Lagos, covered the Senate of the second Republic for National Concord.
Gboyega Amoboye can be reached via mail on firstname.lastname@example.org