With 80 years of very fruitful living, a man can conveniently beat his chest and wish for the afterlife. However, this is even possible if only the society is fed up with his contributions. But while some people may have done all they could possibly do for humanity at a certain age, some are just limitless in dishing out one good turn after another to the people. Consequently, it is difficult to know they are getting old.
The above exemplified the live and times of the latest octogenarian, Tamunoemi Sokari David-West, who was born on August 26, 1936. He is popularly known today in both secular and private life as Tam David-West.
Tam David-West is a prolific academic, social critic, and to cap it all, former Federal Minister.
Born in Buguma, Kalabari, in today’s Rivers State, David-West received his higher education at the University of Ibadan (1956–1958) and earned a B.Sc degree at Michigan State University in the United States of America between 1958 and 1960. An astute learner, he furthered his education and obtained an M.Sc degree at the Yale University in 1962, and followed it up with a PhD degree at the McGill University in 1966.
Returning home after wards, David-West became a consultant Virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan in 1969, and was subsequently promoted to Professor of Virology in 1975. This marked the beginning of a most remarkable and busy professional life.
David-West went on to serve in the Nigerian government as Commissioner of Education and a member of the Executive Council of Rivers State (1975–1979). He was also a member of the fifty-person Constitution Drafting Committee for the Federal Military Government of General Murtala Muhammed (1979); a team that today is referred to as the group that knows Nigeria.
Bewteen 1984 and 1985, he served as Federal Minister of Petroleum and Energy during the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari.
His zeal for service and attendant achievement gave him recognition when the next administration, which inadvertently overthrew the former he was serving in took office. He was therefore, called upon to head the Mines, Power and Steel under General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986 as Minister.
Well, things took a dramatic turn soon afterwards as he was eventually removed as minister and arrested by the Babangida regime for allegedly contributing to the economic adversity of the country. He was later proved to be innocent of all allegations as he was discharged and acquitted of these charges by Nigeria’s Special Appeal Court on August 8, 1991.
A friend of no particular government, David-West has been an outspoken and controversial critic of the Nigerian government policy since his purge and arrest under the military regime of General Babangida. He 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.
David-West can openly say that he is not affiliated to any political party, though he supported Chibuike Amaechi of the then Peoples Democratic Party for reelection as Governor of Rivers State in 2011.
Much as he is a historical ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, he has described the Buhari-led Federal Government’s decision to hike the fuel price from N86 to sudden N145 per/liter as ‘stupid’ one.
The Professor of Virology and former Petroleum Minister argued that the increase announced by Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, does not make sense.
He had said: “It is stupid for two reasons. First, the same NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) a few days ago was filling petrol stations and selling fuel for N86. How can you turn around a few days after to say N145?
No new petroleum has come in. It takes two weeks for vessels from Europe to arrive Nigeria. There is something wrong with the logic.”
The second abnormality with the increase, David-West insisted, is the directive to marketers not to sell above N145.
“How can you say people should import fuel and you tell them how to sell it? It is stupid. You cannot tell a private man to import fuel into the country, and when it arrives, the government will now tell him how much to sell it.
“It is stupid. It negates basic economic principles. When I see Buhari, I will make a formal statement. I cannot see how they can justify it.”
Still on petroleum matters, which happened to be his professional area core of interest, David-West had argued that he was wrongly quoted that fuel was going to sell for N40 per litre once Buhari got into office. He clarifies:
“I said if they removed 14 items they are adding to pump price which should not be there, petrol would sell for N40 per litre.
“There are a lot of things they added to inflate it. That is cheating.
“They are adding NPA (Nigeria Ports Authority) charge, jetty depot price, storage payment, margin for retailers, bank charges, transportation from Europe, bridging, and all sorts of things.
“If they remove all these, petrol price will come down to N40. A Nigerian professor of petroleum in Texas has confirmed my figure.”
As a man who keeps his words, he is openly criticizing the Buahari administration, a promise he made earlier if the administration should derail.
During the controversy over who owns Soku oil wells between Rivers and Bayelsa States’ Governments, David-West, who is also a rights activist, urged President Goodluck Jonathan (who is a Bayelsa State indigene) to leave the controversial oil wells to Rivers State, the known historical owners of Soku.
Not only versed in politics, virus and petroleum, Professor David-West is also at home with the history of his people, and defends them whenever it is appropriate. He highlighted that the people of Kalabari kingdom are prepared to fight the Presidency over the ceding of Soku oil wells to Bayelsa State at every level, stressing that no part of Kalabari Kingdom will be allowed to be ceded to any other part of the country. He revealed that the Kalabari oceanic communities of Kula, Soku, Idama, Elem-Sangama and Abisse have existed for over 300 years in Rivers State.
David-West is the author of academic papers in virology that have 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 describes himself as a follower of British analytic philosopher and social critic, Bertrand Russell. David-West’s lecture in philosophy “God, Nature and the Universe” (1981) was delivered at the University of Ibadan.
In his congratulatory wishes, the President, Mohamadu Buhari, assured the Professor that his place in Nigerian history is assured.
As today marks the ardent professor’s 80th existence on planet earth, all caps are raised high, saying Happy birthday sir!