As a man, David-West is like the proverbial elephant that means different thing to different blind people. But one thing any unbiased Nigerian can authoritatively speak about him is that he is not in any way materially corrupt or morally bankrupt. Aside these, he is an intellectual-firebrand to any given organization that refuses to work in tandem with provisional features that are people-oriented.
“Let me disclose something to you. My father’s mother is Igbo. And my maternal grandmother is Igbo. When I was a Minister, somebody said I don’t like Igbo people; that I took the petrochemical plant to Rivers State. I told Ike Nwachukwu who was the governor of Imo State at that time. I told Ike: “You are married to my cousin Gwendolyn, and I like you a lot. Tam David-West cannot take a stance against Ndigbo.” The record shows that the petrochemical plant is supposed to be in Eleme. One day, I went with Ashland to one Igbo community, and they warned me that I would be attacked for “my anti-Igbo stance,” but I went ahead. (Some big Igbo stalwarts, great names, wrote to Buhari to remove me. Buhari doesn’t know how I managed to get a copy.) So I told the community after they finished airing their complaints, I said: “Eze, I cannot hate the Igbo. I have Igbo blood in me. My father’s mother is Igbo.” The Eze said: “Ah, come and take land.”
In his intellectual struggle that has spanned many years in making sure that there is a better Nigeria devoid of ineptitude and political deficiencies, Nigerians have said that he has a long and distinguished career as an academic, virologist, civil/public servant and administrator.
Born on August 26, 1936, in Buguma, Kalabari, in the present day Rivers State of the Niger Delta region in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria, David-West is unadulterated educated both in intelligence and in brilliance beginning with the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, 1956-1958; Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 1958-60 (Bsc); Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1960-62 (M.Sc); and McGill University, Montreal Canada, 1964-66 (Ph.D).
Having been certified as an intercontinental virologist, he burgeoned into tutoring, which latter unveiled his career, as a consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan, 1969. He was assigned Professor of Virology, at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, in 1975.
During the military stratocracy in Nigeria, he took an occupation as a member of the 50 man Constitution Drafting Committee that was setup by the Military Government under General Murtala Muhammad in 1979. Seeing the mettle he is made of the General Muhammadu Buhari military government didn’t waste time to appoint him as a Federal Minister of Petroleum and Energy, from 1984 to 1985.
General Ibrahim Babangida regime also did not allow him to go, it retained him as a federal minister, after the stronghold-coup that made away with Buhari regime, where he served as the Minister of Mines, Power and Steel in January 1986 until September 1986 the Babangida dropped him during a cabinet reallocation.
Professor David-West is one among some Nigerians who have seen and diagnosed Nigeria’s problem. His intellectual periscope shows him that the problem is not that of follower-ship, but that of leadership. He is of the belief that if a country has good leadership, it will strengthen follower-ship. He sees Nigerians as not a lazy people and not stubborn either. He echoes it anywhere that Nigeria’s problem is directly a problem of leadership, hinging his claim on Chinua Achebe’s very philosophical book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”.
While many Nigerians have had excuses of failure of leadership in the Nigerian system on the military, David-West rather has to say that the failure of leadership should not be blamed on the military. Doing this is just a safe, convenient excuse, as it is to blame all Nigeria’s problems on colonial rule.
In his words: “When the Nigeria-Commonwealth association invited me for a lecture, I had my title: “Fighting with the Past.” We are always fighting with the past instead of correcting the present – “Oh, we are like this, because Britain subdued us for so long; we are like this, because they gave a greater majority to the North. We are like this because the military ruled us for so long…. It’s all vacuous nonsense!”
He preaches that Nigerians are facilitating failure by their constant reliance on an explanation. He supports his outcry with the point that the British came here with their own programme; they didn’t come here as a humanitarian body. They were very honest.
Down memory lane, though he was not born then, David-West would say that even in 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated North and South, he was honest about his intentions, and he used the word “amalgamation,” and for those who studied elementary chemistry, there is a difference between “amalgam” and “compound.”
Having given the difference between “amalgam” and “compound”, David-West says that Britain never colonized Nigeria in order to create a compound of a nation; she amalgamated the various ethnic groups for her own interest.
Not even when the colonialists handed the amalgamated Nigeria to Nigerians that things were better. This was on October 1st, 1960. But on April 17, 2005, David-West shouts to Nigerians that they are still complaining about and blaming colonial rule; they are obviously not serious, then! Which he has said was precisely the same thing with blaming the military.
He sees the spirit of sycophancy in the thinking of Nigerians, saying that there was no military government that had come to power without Nigerians hailing it as “the new Messiah!” And this praise-singing puts him on the wheel of thought to ask – at what point did the messiah become the villain? According to him: Nigerians are not serious, not serious at all!!! And then we have this nonsensical mentality that the best military government is worse than the worst civilian regime.
That’s stupid! Nigeria’s problem is to be blamed on Nigerians, which begins with leadership; sadly, we have had only two examples of non-leadership crisis.
Referring to his outburst, he says one was during Murtala Mohammed’s administration; his style was unique. And whether one likes it or not, Buhari’s administration; Muhammadu Buhari’s regime was only the second example of a successful leadership.
Hear him: “I believe that if Murtala had lived longer, however, history would have judged him differently. Fortunately, he died very early. He came at a time when Nigeria needed discipline. And he provided it. I served under Buhari and Idiagbon, and Murtala Mohammed, too as Commissioner of Education in Rivers State from 1975 to 1979. I worked with Buhari, and I can stick out my neck anytime to say that there is no leader present in Nigeria that is like Buhari, like General Muhammadu Buhari; none. Obasanjo is a very poor, poor, distant…I can’t even call him second. Why am I saying this? Buhari gave leadership by example, not sermons. He gave discipline, and possessed personal discipline. Without personal discipline you can’t get anywhere.”
David-West is a man who can come to the topic of Babangida and shall compare Buhari, Babangida, and Obasanjo without any apologies. These men were once Heads of State.
When Buhari came into power, David-West believes that it is a time of triumph for Nigeria and that Buhari is as straight as a needle that brought corporate, societal discipline through War Against Indiscipline (WAI), and such a good thing will always survive – like cork in water; it can never sink. Now, something as simple, but necessary and projecting orderliness as queuing in lines has been established in Nigeria. To him, that’s a great credit to that regime!
As minister under Buhari, the greatest amount of money they could spend without giving account was N200, a month. Anything more than that, they had to give account. Finally, Buhari increased it to N250. And he remembers they clapped and thanked him in the Executive Council meeting. When Buhari moved into Dodan Barracks, Buhari never changed the furniture or the curtains. When David-West asked him why, Buhari said: “Look, they are usable. Why spend money unnecessarily?”
To David-West who hates cooperate corruption; others would have awarded contracts to what Buhari neglected. As Minister for Petroleum, he had very good relationship with Buhari and had a hotline with him. But one day that he went to visit Buhari, and Buhari asked him what he would like to drink. He told him he wanted Fanta. Buhari called his steward and said: “Please bring Fanta for the Professor.” The steward left, and for good five, ten minutes, he didn’t come back. Finally, he came back, shaking, and said: “Commander-in-Chief, there is no Fanta.” So Buhari laughed and said: “Professor, there is no Fanta in Dodan Barracks, so let’s go on with our interview.”
Listen to David-West: There was no Fanta in the fridge, not in the entire Dodan Barracks!
If you send Buhari a memo, within a few hours you’ll get a reply. Throughout that particular regime, General Idiagbon, without fail, to the country and the world on national television: “This is the amount they made, and this is what they are spending: Transparency and accountability.
David-West went to work seven days a week because his leader would be there. He would always telephone him. On Saturdays and Sundays, David-West staggered his staff.
He is of the belief that if that regime had remained in power; if Babangida had not overthrown it for selfish, personal reasons, they would not be in the mess Nigerians are in now.
As for Babangida, David-West says that he was about to be retired, and he should deny it! They were touring in Jos. Buhari said: “Those who don’t like our discipline should please leave the Army. I have two alternatives: either I am killed or I go back to my village as a farmer.”
Buhari, according to David-West, as Head of State, not as a megalomaniac President, made profound statements. The very first bold statement he made was: “This generation, and indeed, future generations of Nigerians have no other country other than Nigeria. We must stay here and salvage it together. “
Hence, David-West sees it that it’s only few Nigerian leaders that have made statements that have been immortalised, like Lincoln and Kennedy of the USA. And most of these statements are impromptu. Buhari talked of a fifth columnist and now, David-West can make the connection.
David-West will tell anyone that Babangida had no programme, because he worked with him. He says that Babangida is a public relations man who has the gift of the gab. David-West doesn’t think that Babangida is very intelligent, because the economy was looking up during Buhari’s time. They were down, and everything was done to bring them down.
There was the rumour that they would overthrow Buhari within three months. When Buhari boys cut their oil price, the world shook, whereas some persons wanted to price them out of the market. For the first time, a despatch rider had to take David-West to Dodan Barracks. Buhari was once Oil Minister, so Buhari knew the intrigues. David-West told the Commander-in-Chief: “We have three moves. First, don’t move. Second, shave off exactly the same price as the competitors. Third, shock the world!” Buhari laughed and said: “Shock the world to show them we can survive; shave off two dollars!”
They shaved off double the amount that the rest did, and consequently, the competitors panicked. Britain never expected this nor Norway. Those people who wanted to bring Nigeria under Buhari down never expected this. Buhari, David-West can walk through fire for him. That’s leadership. Sheikh Yamani had to fly in here to Lagos. They had to meet later in a secret place on the outskirts of Geneva – the world press was focusing so much on David-West. And he had to change cars three times for camouflage. Then they sat down to negotiate whether Nigeria would get in line. David-West told them that they would not do so, and asked the British Oil Minister: “Mr Walker is it true the Americans gave you two billion dollars or one billion dollars to undercut us?” He laughed it off with an: “I hope it is true….” But David-West noted that he never said an outright, “No.”
David-West sees the cult of mediocrity and corruption that are tormenting Nigeria to have come with Babangida. He says that Babangida claims credit for what he didn’t do. In the history of OPEC it has never happened that one country was singled out and given an increase of a quota of 150,000 barrels a day. When David-West and company accomplished this in 1984, Zik sent him a letter, and that letter seems to him more important than anything.
“From an old-timer, one of your greatest admirers, Zik.”
“Beautiful handwriting…” shouts David-West.
“You are easily one of the most efficient ministers produced by our country Nigeria,” Zik.
So to round up on Buhari, David-West says had every one of their major projects become tied to oil barrels, Nigeria would not have had any problems; Nigeria would have been able to make the International Monetary Fund (IMF) irrelevant. He says that Nigerian government of Buhari was in the process of doing so. The government had already received N2 billion through what he called our “repayment strategy.”
London Financial Times of May 1984 says it was an extraordinary strategy. If Babangida had not overthrown Buhari, Nigeria should have seen the light; David-West told OPEC that counter trade was a programme for survival. Saudi Arabia traded with billions of dollars worth of crude oil not in their quota; they started before Nigeria. Nigeria had everything, numerous resources, yet the industries were closing down. Nigeria had no spare parts industry; there was no money, and the plan of certain nations was to overthrow Buhari. But that regime shocked the world with good leadership and good programme. David-West wriggles.
On the issue of oil bunkering, he says that when the Buhari government came to power, on record there were 18 registered bunkerers. Many people misunderstand bunkering to mean oil-lifting. Bunkering is like one going to fill his or her car at the petrol station, David-West lectures, and the government had over one thousand illegal bunkerers. Buhari, Idiagbon, and little Tam David-West fought these illegal operators to a standstill and dismantled them. Today, however, almost everybody in government is a bunkerer, he says.
Odimegwu Onwumere wrote from Lagos