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How family feud, others delay burial of former Senate President Wayas

Since a former Senate president, Dr Joseph Wayas, died at 80 on November 30, 2021, his corpse has remained in a London morgue, according to…

Since a former Senate president, Dr Joseph Wayas, died at 80 on November 30, 2021, his corpse has remained in a London morgue, according to reports. Daily Trust on Sunday takes a look at the intrigues delaying his burial two years after.

Wayas was Senate president from October 1979 to December 31, 1983 when a military coup sacked the then President Shehu Shagari government.

A lingering family feud between the children of the former third citizen of Nigeria and his wife is thought to be one of the many issues attributed to the delay in laying the late politician to rest.

Sources said this feud had taken them to courts of law.  It is said that they are battling over the control of the man’s estate, the right to champion the funeral arrangement, and of course, lead the family.

One of the wives of the late senator, Catherine Ishiaka Ayim, is said to have approached the court, seeking legal cover to have a right to control the affairs of the family following the demise of the first wife, Mary Abiola Aina Wayas, few months after the passing of the former Senate president.

Catherine lamented that there were attempts to sideline her and her children in the matters of the family estate. She claimed she had the right to the estate, having lived with him as a wife for many years.

She, however, denied the allegation that she had gone around soliciting money from people towards the burial of the late politician.

The first son of the deceased, Joseph  Wayas (junior), who has been in the eye of the storm, has accused the woman of illegally occupying his late father’s property in Abuja and also going from one office to another, one big man to another, allegedly collecting huge sums of money in the name of planning a funeral.

Through his lawyers, he wrote to the registrar of  Grade A Customary Court, Nyanya Judicial Division, to bar Catherine from parading herself, either as a widow to the late Wayas or as representative of his father’s estate.

His lawyers, Shittu Saheed Danshitta and  Awal Nasir of Lawseed and Partners signed the letter on behalf of Joe Wayas (junior).

He called on the woman to account for all the money she has collected in his father’s name.

In the letter, he noted that only his mother, Mary Abiola Aina Wayas, who also died a few months after his dad, was legally married to him, according to native laws and customs, adding that his mother gave his dad five children.

He prayed that as the first son, he should be recognised to handle arrangements for his late father’s burial according to the custom of the Bayabo community.

In a petition to the court, he insisted that the burial ought to be according to the laws and customs of the land.

“My father was legally married to my mother under the marriage act. A certificate of marriage is available. My mother gave my late father five children. She passed away 15 days after the demise of my father.

“One Catherine Ayim has illegally occupied my late father’s property in Abuja and not allowing me, the first son and heir, to access confidential documents.”

Wayas claimed that Catherine merely associated with his late father during his lifetime but was never married.

He sought an order of perpetual injunction against Catherine to stop parading herself as the wife or widow of the late Wayas. She should also not use the family name to claim ownership of Wayas’ properties.

In an interview, he said both the federal government and Cross River State Government had not yet communicated with him on the matter.

He disclosed that their Obanliku community had urged all the parties in the family to put their differences aside and focus on the burial of the late Senate president.

He said the position of the Wayas family could only be conveyed to others when the Cross River State Government and the federal government, as well as the National Assembly leadership conveyed their positions on the burial to the head of the family.

“The Wayas family is led by Mr Joseph Wayas (junior). This is reflective, both of Basang tradition, which clearly states the role and format of family succession, as well as the wishes, teachings, faith and espoused position of the late politician to all the members of his family and close friends on who leads his family at a time like this,” he said.

The paramount ruler of Obanliku, where the late Wayas hailed, Ernest Item, said he and his council were initially embarrassed over the delay and issues surrounding the burial of the politician, and had held meetings with all concerned.

The president of Basang nation and leader of the 8th Executive Council of Basang Development Union, where the late former Senate president belonged, Mr Sylvanus Anyawho, was equally concerned over the burial delay.

In his congratulatory message to the new Senate president, Godswill Akpabio, Anyawho wrote, “Permit me to remind you that the remains of Senator Joseph Wayas, your predecessor from your zone, have been abandoned in a United Kingdom hospital morgue.

“The request of Dr Wayas’s immediate family and the community is that as a successor from the South South region, we have no doubt that you will immediately put machinery in motion to evacuate his remains home for burial.

“Following our persistent call on the government to intervene in the burial arrangements of our leader and son, sequel to the abandonment of his remains in a UK hospital, the senators representing the three senatorial districts in Cross River State, on April 4, 2023, sponsored a motion on the floor of the Senate, advocating the intervention of the government in the burial arrangements. The senators also advocated that his name be immortalised by naming a national monument after him.

“As members of Wayas’s immediate community, we appreciate the senators’ concern but object to the idea of only naming a national monument after him. Our reason is that it has no consequential benefits to his immediate community.”

He appealed that their son be immortalised with projects that would be beneficial to his immediate family, community and the senatorial district, such as converting the Bebi campus of the Federal College of Education (FCE), Obudu to a Federal University of Agriculture or federal medical centre, as well as constructing community roads.

Concerned lawyers and other stakeholders also said they felt embarrassed by the delay in burying Senator Wayas since November 2021.

In an interview, a Rivers State-born Justice Osai Ahiakwo said, “It is quite unfortunate to hear the protracted delay in laying the former Senate president to rest.  This is not the way to treat a national leader.”

Ahiakwo said there was no justifiable reason for keeping the late Wayas’s body in the morgue for close to two years, irrespective of family feud.

He said the legislative arm of government ought to have intervened, and called on the upper chamber to address this issue as soon as they resume.

“After serving the country as the number three citizen during the Second Republic, he deserves to be honoured and not treated with disdain and total neglect.

“This is a litmus test before the current Senate president. The legislative arm of government has a standard practice of honouring their distinguished colleagues. Not burying a departed colleague like the former Senate president is, to say the least, unnatural and embarrassing.

“I have no doubt that immediately the Senate resumes plenary, this issue, as a matter of urgency, must be presented for quick intervention,” he submitted.

Also, a former presidential aide, Okoi Obono-Obla, a lawyer, said both Akwa Ibom and Cross River governments should synergise to ensure a decent burial for Wayas without delay.

He said, “Wayas was Senate president when the present Akwa Ibom State and Cross River were one.  Why should they accept this ugly state of affairs for one of their illustrious leaders?

“Wayas also served as commissioner in the old Southeastern State (present Akwa Ibom and Cross River states) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  So the governments of Akwa Ibom and Cross River need to partner with the Senate to bury this nationalist and federalist.”

He called on the incumbent Senate president, Akpabio to ensure that Wayas is given a decent national burial.

On the allegation that the Cross River State government did not show interest since his death, the permanent secretary in the state Ministry of Health, Dr Iwara Iwara, recalled that when the health of the late politician deteriorated, the then governor of the state had to dispatch a former commissioner for health, Dr Betta Edu to London to manage him. He added that the former governor set up a committee, headed by a former Attorney-General of the Federation, Kanu Agabi and former executive secretary of the National Planning Commission, Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo as secretary.

Former Governor Ayade was reported to have released N200million to enable the committee facilitate the burial.

It was learnt that N100million was advanced to the local family burial committee to enable them defray outstanding issues and fly the body from London back home.

However, a series of controversies soon ensued, which led to the resignation of the leadership of the funeral committee.

The junior Wayas was reportedly accused of mismanaging the fund, an allegation he denied and challenged those responsible to render account. He thanked former President Muhammadu Buhari, ex-governor Ayade and other Nigerians for their efforts towards the burial arrangement for his father.

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