Dr. Joseph Wayas: The Politician’s Politician BY VENATIUS IKEM

In Breaking News, Columnists, Opinion

By CrossRiverWatch Admin

It is said that Cross River North has no people. Indeed that we have never had any. For the benefit of the younger and upcoming generation of politicians from the Northern part of Cross River State, I would like to introduce a man they may have known only as former Senate President of Nigeria.

Sorry, that does not capture the man nor his essence. Not his persona. Not his impact. His impact in Nigerian politics made him Senate President. He was not made because he was Senate President.

Dr. Joseph Wayas was a businessman of serious means. He founded the NiCOGen group of companies. His world Headquarters was on Wall Street New York. He was in his 30s! His Nigerian Headquarters was called “Lapal House” on Broad Street, Lagos, (our own equivalent of Wall street).

At the peak of his success he was invited home and made Commissioner for Transport, in Cross River State government of Late Gen. Esuene. At that time Commissioners used to move around with outriders and a motorcade that would make Governor Ayade green with envy and siren blaring to boot!

His achievements include most of the water transport infrastructure, some of which survived until recent times, including the landing Jetties between Calabar harbour and Oron, Ediba, Ekori etc. He later resigned his appointment over some disagreement with the then Military Governor.

Dr. Wayas later joined politics when the return to civilian Government was due, went to the Constituent Assembly and later co-founded the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He donated the Corporate Headquarters of his company (Lapal House) to the party and it became the National Headquarters of the Party.

In the formative stages of the Party he was one of the outstanding financiers of the Party with the expectation that he was going to become the Vice Presidential candidate of the Party come 1979, being that the Party strategy to win included zoning the Presidential Ticket to the North West of Nigeria, in a North West/ South South coalition, that still remains potent today.

Unfortunately as is common in politics, these permutations did not work so well as Mallam Adamu Ciroma who was the front runner for Presidential candidate in their faction of the Party was unacceptable to some power brokers in the core North, who viewed politicians with too much education like him with suspicion. They later settled for Alhaji Shehu Shagari who was until then an aspirant for Senate. He was a middle ground, liberal candidate more acceptable to all groups within the party at the time.

Following this turn of events the party decided that to accommodate the burgeoning intellectual class, which rose quickly following the establishment of many Universities by the departing military government, on the heels of an unprecedented economic (oil) boom, that was gravitating dangerously towards Chief Awolowo of the UPN, it might lose the mostly intellectual fight. Dr. Wayas was not a University graduate, just like Alhaji Shehu Shagari, whose highest educational qualification was a Teacher’s grade 2 certificate, albeit with adequate experience.

NPN then took the decision to appeal to Dr. Wayas to run for the Senate seat with the agreement that he would become the undisputed Senate President if the Party won the general elections. Dr. Wayas agreed and conceded the Vice Presidential slot to Dr. Alex Ekweme, who held a PhD in more than one field of academic endeavour at the time. Until this time Dr. Alex Ekweme was on vacation out of the country following his loss at the Gubernatorial Primaries of NPN which he lost to Late C.C. Onoh, Bianca Ojukwu’s father, who later went on to lose the general elections to Jim Nwobodo of NPP.

Anyway, NPN went on to win the general elections and Dr. Wayas became the Senate President of Nigeria’s first Senate. He was aged 39!

Former Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas. Credit: DailyTrust

As a result of his patronage, impact and contribution to the party he was highly revered. His was the most powerful Senate Presidency ever. He wielded power like a colossus. As a minority in the then Cross River State, he held the state in a vice grip. His visit to the state caused the incumbent governor, who had fallen out with him, sleepless nights. He ensured that the incumbent Governor Dr. Clement Isong did not get nomination for his second term bid and consequently decamped to UPN where he contested and lost to Don Etiebet a Senator who became the candidate of the ruling party for governor.

He was an enigma of his time if ever there was one.

His Ogoja Senatorial District stretched from the Hills of Obanlikwu through Yala (Ogoja as it then was), to Ugep and Abi (Obubra as it then was).

By the time civilian rule was overthrown following a military coup, and Nigeria returned to Military Rule, in 1984, Dr. Wayas had lost his business empire, been painted as one of our corrupt leaders even without evidence of any corruption.

He was never convicted of any crime. Indeed he did not have any personal property any longer! His sprawling business Empire that stretched from New York to Milan, Italy and Nigeria was lost for good. He had sacrificed all in the battle of minority politics of the time in his bid not to be outdone by the majority Ibibio of then Cross River State.

That has been the price he paid to attempt to liberate his people of present day Cross River State.

We may not understand it from the perspective of today, but at the time, the man Dr. Wayas was dreaded, feared, loved and almost worshipped in this State, nay, this Country. Only politicians who have not stood for something and fought for something will not understand. We may diminish him in petty political squabbles and I plead guilty too for that, but that is the man we grew up to know as our hero! He epitomised the Ogoja man! He stood tall despite his rather short frame.

He is at home in New York, London and Sokoto as he is in Lagos and Enugu. He speaks Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba fluently and is married to wives from Ibo, Yoruba and Ogoja.

He is one and only one Dr. Joseph Wayas.

He was at a time a politician’s politician, a political tactician per excellence!

Feel proud to share the heritage of this great man.

Venatius Ikem is a politician and a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.

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