Over one year after a funeral committee was set up by former governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade to prepare for the burial of late Dr Joseph Wayas, a former Senate President, there seems to be no headway in resolving the dispute among the family members.
The committee, inaugurated in August 2022, has for the umpteenth time appealed to the late Senator’s family members to sheath their swords and enable the remains of their father to be laid to rest.
Wayas, who served under late former President Shehu Shagari, has not been buried after two years.
He died in a London hospital on 30th November, 2021, after a lingering sickness, and his body has since been embalmed in that city under the care of one of the daughters.
Former governor Ben Ayade had raised a committee headed by former attorney general of the federation, Kanu Agabi to plan for the state burial.
He released N200m to support the funeral.
But controversies, including allegations of misapplication of funds, overwhelmed all the processes.
The first son, Joe Wayas was accused of misappropriating money but he stoutly denied it, insisting that the committee must give accounts.
Findings showed that Joe also sued the father’s second wife, whom he said was never recognized as wife.
He had through his lawyers, written to the Registrar of Grade A Customary Court, Nyanya, Judicial Division, to bar one Catherine Ishiaka Ayim from parading herself either as a widow of late Joseph Wayas or representative of his father’s estate.
He claimed in the letter that the said Catherine, whom he insisted was not married to his late father, has presented herself as representative of the late Wayas’ estate to the Secretary to the Government of Federation and Secretary to Government of Cross River State, collecting humongous amounts towards the funeral of the late Senate President.
His lawyers, Shittu Saheed Danshitta, Esq and Awal Nasir of Lawseed and Partners, signed the letter on his behalf.
Joe had expressed anger at the funeral committee, cautioning them to stop spoiling his name with lies.
He challenged them to mention how much he collected from them.
He also challenged them to render an account and point to whatever they have expended from the funeral fund.
“It is a complete lie that I asked for or that I have spent the funeral fund released by the state government. Was I in charge of the fund? How much did I collect from them?
“Let me clarify that I never accessed the fund. Why should they peddle my name, directing focus on me? I am a private person. They spent the money, not me.
“Let them stop denting my name. I have had a good name bequeathed to me by my father, which I will strive hard to maintain.
“If I had my money I would have buried my late father, but he was a national figure,” he said.
In an earlier interview, former executive secretary of the National Planning Commission, Fidelis Ugbo, a key member of the committee had said, “probe the first son to tell you what the situation surrounding the burial is. The responsibilities lie with him.
“He needs to open up on what the issues are on why the burial is delayed.”
Meanwhile, a critical stakeholder, Chief Ojong Amos insisted that Joe Wayas should be blamed for the controversies.
“The allegations by the first son are baseless. He has refused to follow up the actions taken nor assist the committee in view of the challenge of getting the body brought home from the UK.
“Nevertheless, we appeal that all hands should be on deck to overcome the teething challenges and give our Patriarch, Dr. Wayas a befitting burial so that he may rest in perfect peace.
“If he alleges that some committee members are tilting towards the father’s 2nd wife, that is just an imagination. If his mother was around in Nigeria, the same people would support her.
“Customarily, all visitors to his father’s house had to relate with the wife in the house. He also has lived together with her both in America and here at home/Abuja, eating from the same kitchen for over 40 years. They had a cordial relationship and she stood in for his mother when he got married in Abuja.
“Why on the demise of his father, he wouldn’t see her eye to eye is a big surprise. He went to court declaring her the father’s concubine and not recognized by the children as bonafide children of his father.
“He has by his actions got many sympathizers to her side, even the family at home is not happy with him,” he told Newsmen.
Ojong added that the committee had been desirous to meet and brief the new Governor, Senator Bassey Otu “and we believe he will like to hear from the committee as the burial has been over delayed.”
He denied knowledge that Governor Otu had inaugurated another burial committee for the former Senate President.
According to Ojong, “for whatever reasons the first son had declined membership of his father’s funeral committee.
“And it was with much pleading that he attended the inaugural meeting held in his father’s residence in Abuja.”
Explaining how far the committee has gone, Ojong said that “everything was set and we were waiting for them to bring home the body.
“Money for repatriation of the remains, including that of the first wife, the mother to Joe Wayas jr, who also died in the UK, were provided from the funds released by the former Governor for burial arrangements.
“We got stucked at the point where the senior daughter in the UK, who is the custodian of the body, cut off communication with the committee.
“Renovation work on their home residence was done, while completion of Dr. Wayas’s new house had reached 90 per cent.
“This was to ensure that the children coming home from abroad had enough accommodation during the burial. Since it is customary to have the body brought home before execution of actual plans and dates fixed for burial activities, the committee has tried to manage the family differences but without getting a headway.
“We met with the traditional rulers and stakeholders of Obanliku LGA asking them to intervene.”
He disclosed that the community has reached out to the leadership of the National Assembly to connect with the UK government and repatriate the remains of the late politician.
Paramount ruler of Obanliku LGA of the State, HRM Amos Item and the President of Basang Nation where late Wayas hailed, Mr Sylvanus Anyawho, said the delay to bury their son had become very embarrassing to them.
“This accounts for the reason the Paramount ruler had to summon us, including the first son, to a critical meeting sometime ago,” Anyawho said.