Professor Tam David-West, a Nigerian academic, former government minister and critic, died at 83 on Monday.
David-West was petroleum minister under General Muhammadu Buhari in the 1980s and became an ardent supporter of his former boss when Buhari embraced democracy.
After he was prosecuted (and later acquitted) by the Ibrahim Babaginda-regime, for working against the interest of the country, he quit partisan politics and essentially became a social critic.
David-West believed fervently that selfishness, at the leadership and followership level, was the root of Nigeria’s woes. He spoke against the country’s high rate of corruption and high cost of governance.
The former Minister, who died after being admitted to the University College Hospital Ibadan, was an elder statesman who was courted by the media for his views on issues of national significance.
A bright academic
David-West was born in Buguma, Kalabari, in what is now Rivers State. He received his higher education at the University of Ibadan (1956–1958) and earned a BSc degree at Michigan State University (1958–1960), an MSc degree at Yale University (1960–1962), and a PhD degree at McGill University (1964–1966).
He was at Yale when Nigeria attained independence.
“I was the president of International students in Yale,” he said during an interview in 2018. “When we had independence, the international students in Yale held a party for Nigeria. I was very proud of Nigeria.”
After his studies, he returned to Nigeria and became a consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan in 1969. He was subsequently promoted to professor of virology in 1975.
As an academic, he was the author of academic papers in virology that appeared in scholarly journals such as Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology (1966), Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (1973), Intervirology (1974), and Journal of Hygiene (1974).
He also wrote the book ‘Philosophical Essays: Reflections on the Good Life’ (1980), in which he described himself as a follower of British analytic philosopher and social critic, Bertrand Russell.
David-West’s lecture in philosophy “God, Nature and the Universe” was delivered at the University of Ibadan in 1981.
He continued to write and publish till his later years. At 82, he ate once a day and only slept for four hours. “Ïf I eat twice, I will be lazy, I will not be able to work,” he said.
Sojourn into public service
Between 1975 and 1979, David-West served in government as commissioner of education and a member of the Executive Council of Rivers State.
He was also a member of the 50-person Constitution Drafting Committee for the Federal Military Government of General Murtala Muhammed.
Under the military government of Muhammadu Buhari, he served as federal minister of petroleum and energy and as minister of mines, power, and steel under General Ibrahim Babangida.
He was eventually removed as minister and arrested by the Babangida regime for allegedly contributing to the economic adversity of the country, but he was discharged and acquitted by a Special Appeal Court on 8 August 1991.
After he was acquitted, David-West decided to, largely, stay out of partisan politics and morphed into an outspoken and controversial critic of successive governments.
However, he was a vocal supporter of Buhari, his former boss, with whom he had developed a chummy relationship.
Before his death, he wrote two books about Buhari: Who Really Is General Muhammadu Buhari and The Sixteen ‘Sins’ of General Muhammadu Buhari? The first was launched in 2009, the second in 2010.
“I must mention that General Buhari was kept in the dark about both projects,” David-West said. “I only informed him some two weeks to the launching. I don’t have to consult him to tell the truth about him.”
A critic-al evolution
As a critic, David-West criticized the ‘unconstitutionality’ of the advisory council established by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, and he voiced caution against government unreservedly opening its doors to United States intelligence.
Despite their long-standing friendship, he suggested that Buhari shouldn’t contest the 2019 elections and criticised plans to establish cattle ranches across the country.
“First, you (Buhari) were accused that you wanted to Islamise Nigeria and it is completely false,” he said. “If you now allow different states in different parts of the country, to establish special places for ranching, would people not say it is a means of establishing colonies for Islamic groups?”
But that didn’t dampen their relationship. When David-West clocked 82 a month after he made the comments, Buhari acknowledged him.
“The president believes Mr David-West’s contribution to the economic and political architecture of Nigeria and his clear reasoning, wisdom and guidance through all the transition phases to democracy will always be remembered and respected,” Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said.
After his death was confirmed on Monday, President Buhari described David-West as his friend and “a brilliant virologist” who “had an indomitable spirit, stood resolutely by whatever he believed in, and was in a class of his own.”