The passing away last week of Professor Tam David West has robbed Nigeria of one of its brilliant scholars and social critics. He was born in Buguma, Kalabari kingdom, Rivers State. He was at the University College, Ibadan [1956-1958] for his higher education. Even though he did not read science subjects in secondary school, he went ahead to do so at A level and came out with distinction in Biology, Physics and Chemistry in the Cambridge examination. Being among the best 10 candidates nationwide, he earned a scholarship from the college to study Medicine abroad.
David-West earned a BSc degree at Michigan State University (1960), an MSc at Yale (1962) and a PhD at McGill (1966). He was a professor for 44 years and spent a life time engaged in teaching, research and publishing scholarly papers. His works appeared in reputable publications including the 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 was Commissioner for Education in the old Rivers State. He was also one of the 50-member Constitution Drafting Committee [CDC] which produced the 1979 constitution that gave birth to the Second Republic. David West was appointed Minster of Petroleum and Energy by General Muhammadu Buhari in January 1984. General Ibrahim Babangida retained him in 1985 and later moved him to the Ministry of Mines, Power and Steel.
David-West was later removed as minister and accused of contributing to the “economic adversity” of the country in the $157million contract between Nigeria and Stinness Oil Company of the United States. The contract was awarded by the Shagari government but the company left Nigeria when Shagari was toppled. Buhari asked David West to recover the money but he could only get $100 million. The Babangida government said he drank tea with the company’s executives and accepted bribe of a wrist watch. He was jailed for life but he was discharged and acquitted by a Special Appeal Court on 8 August 1991. David West described it as “a fat big lie and fraud. They should pray to God to forgive them because they sinned against an innocent person.”
David West wrote many philosophical essays and always saw himself as a modern Bertrand Russell. He was a fearless critic of inefficiency and sleaze in government. He once accused President Obasanjo of condoning corruption and wasting huge oil revenues to seek for a third term. He said Yar’adua carried a moral burden because even he himself admitted that his election was flawed. He described ex-President Jonathan as the weakest Nigerian President for his delay in taking decisive action on issues that threatened the unity of Nigeria. David West also championed oil sector reforms and decried fuel imports and subsidy payments.
Though a friend of President Buhari, about whom he wrote two complimentary books, it did not stop him from criticising the president and asking him not to run in this year’s general election because the economy was not doing well. When three big political actors teamed up to oust the president from power, David West said, “One million Obasanjos, one million Danjumas and Babangidas” cannot stop Buhari because “Buhari is clean and upright. I cannot say that of any politician.”
At another time he had said: “Our leaders are so selfish …You are corrupt because you have no manner or standard. It is not the system that makes you corrupt, it is you that is corrupt and you corrupt the system… Any government that can’t satisfy the needs of its people is irrelevant and must be overthrown and kicked out.”President Muhammadu Buhari in mourning his friend and ally described him as “the indomitable Tam David West … who stood resolutely by whatever he believed in, and was in a class of his own.”
Professor Tamunoemi David-West was a profound academic, a great patriot, outspoken, combative, fearless and incorruptible. May his soul rest in perfect peace.