David-West: From Virology To Writing

by Odimegwu Onwumere

With his two most recent books on General Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR,
Professor Tam David-West has launched himself famously, into the
mysterious world of writers. The titles of the books are, “Who Really
is Gen. Muhammadu Buhari?” and “The Sixteen ‘Sins’ of General
Muhammadu Buhari.” As great books said, there is time for everything.
The time, perhaps that David-West has at 75 years of age, is to live
to write what others cannot write, because they might not remember
what he remembers.

“Who Really is Gen. Muhammadu Buhari?” was launched in May 2009,
whereas “The Sixteen ‘Sins’ of General Muhammadu Buhari” was launched
at the Trade Fair Complex, Kaduna, on July 29, 2010, and the later has
become the rave of the moment in the literary, cultural and political
arenas. This could be why Oscar Wilde said, and I quote: ‘There is no
such thing as moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or
badly written. That is all.”

From what David-West has been writing, it is no news that it didn’t
take him sixty years to discover that he had a talent for writing and
could not give it up even though that his name is too famous than his
writings, but what is news is that he followed what Ralph Waldo
Emerson, American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist, 1803-1882 said, and I
quote: “Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind
the book; a personality which, by birth and quality, is pledged to the
doctrines there set forth, and which exists to see and state things
so, and not otherwise.”

Professor David-West understands Gen. Buhari better, who is the most,
misunderstood man in Nigeria. David-West has written many essays
advertising him, describing him as a rare gem. He said, and I quote:
“So I can confidently tell you that there are very few people like
Buhari in honesty, integrity, industry and focus.”

David-West could not have attained this enviable height and feat in
writing if perhaps he had negated what Amos Bronson Alcott said, and I
quote: “Sleep on your writing: take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a
morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it
sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it
to your friend, if he be an author especially.”

As a writer, David-West never leaves to chastise any person, no matter
how high or low placed the person is; which behavior could be likened
to the spirit of conscientious writing. Unlike the obverse; many
hack-writers, who do not have the call for writing, but forced
themselves in it, cause havoc to the divinely practice such as writing
supposed to be left sacred. Even to his fellow professors, he sees
some of them as a disgrace to the community and humanity. He said, and
I quote: “As a professor, there are certain acts you shouldn‘t engage

Like it is said that every reader finds himself, David-West, no doubt,
has become automatically a strong leader of morality in a weak
institution called Nigeria. He is today a lens that many could see
though and discern what, without mirroring into archives. It wouldn’t
be an oversight to say that Professor David-West, perhaps never have
seen that in himself, but many people have seen him and know him as a
man of policy and principle.

With his principled nature, there have been over 300 references of
people about Buhari from past records, but David-West seems to have
the straight record, and I quote him: “My concern was that he was
being bartered unduly, especially by my friend, Prof. Wole Soyinka.
His attack on Buhari was so uncalled for, wrong with too much
inaccuracy… Politics is about reality, not idealism. The problem with
Nigeria is that we are not a nation, but an amalgamation of nations.
We have not got that identity yet or be proud of who we are. We only
say that we are Nigerians when it is convenient, but in practice, we

As a writer and also a critic, David-West has written in several
occasions that he knows most of the power players in Nigeria,
especially in the North, and has tackled them before and has documents
as prove, and I quote him: “Rilwan Lukman, Jubril Aminu, Tanko
Yakasai, they are zealots with strong views that is so full of
geo-political colouring, more divisive in what they say.”

Though, not poor, and not strikingly financially rich, but why he
chose to go back to the academics instead of becoming a political or
government contractor like most of his counterparts who had served the
country in different capacities remains a mystery. Albeit, David-West
believes that he is not a business man in the real sense of doing
business. He loves the academic profession in its entirety.

He said, and I quote: “If you give me N100bn to do business, I will
lose it in 100 days. I don‘t know how to do business. I have no taste
for business and contracts. The only thing I am interested in is the
academic atmosphere. Some have even asked me to join a political
party, but I don‘t have the slightest interest in politics. Yes, I can
take up appointments to be minister, which is what I want and then I
will come back.”

He said that before President Goodluch Jonathan became president. As a
literary fighter, who has fought the likes of one “Prof” Jubril to
standstill, when a monarch in Bayelsa State, Ogoromsi Oborisi, once
accused him of being responsible for creating militancy in the Niger
Delta, David-West retorted, and I quote, “ Don‘t mind him, he is an
ignorant monarch. His title does not exist. He made that sentence
because he is Goodluck‘s cousin, and I am opposed to Goodluck. How
could I have started militancy when militancy started in 1999 with the
PDP government? The PDP equipped them with arms and used them to rig
elections for them… After the elections, the system created
Frankenstein monsters.”

David-West has in several occasions written that Jubril does not merit
the “Professor” he boasts of, saying that how could that have been
with just nine ‘papers’ to Jubril’s credit. David-West has dearly
never left any stone unturned or any turned stone unturned, as it
concerns Nigeria and world affairs that lack humanface. It could be
recalled that he once told the Amanayabo of his Kalabari Kingdom,
Prof. TJT Princewill that the monarch is sitting on an unmerited
kingship stool. He wrote this in the Daily Sun of 12th January 2008,
during when Prince Tonye Princewill celebrated his 40th birthday, (4th
of January). The birthday invitation to David-West was signed by the
former’s father. David-West published the invitation and reminded his
people about their history.

Nigerians have much respect for Professor Tam David-West, but have
always said that as a virologist, it would have been better for
Nigeria, as Minister of Health, than as Minister of Petroleum, he once
was. Many Nigerians have said that he could have helped prepare
Nigeria before the outburst of HIV in the world. They say that having
him as a Health Minister, would have promoted our Hospitals. Many
Nigerians have said that the authorities must put the right person in
the right place, and reiterated that the authorities once put a lawyer
(Bola Ige) as Minister of Power, but the ‘lawyer’ could have opposed
violation of human rights then, if he was appointed in the right
office. “What has virology got to do with petroleum?” Nigerians have
jokingly asked. “This is why virus is destroying our leadership.&


For example, observers are of the opinion that Dr. Rilwanu Lukeman,
who succeeded Tam David-West merely, ripped unmerited fame achieved by
David-West for Nigeria in OPEC. As the Nigerian Oil Minister,
David-West fearlessly and singularly gave hard time to oil bunkerers
in Nigeria – an action that made him step on the toes of his employer
– General Ibrahim Badamosi Banagida – who tried to tarnish him on a
flimsy charge that he accepted a wrist watch as a gift.

However, with David-West’s untiring strength into many things –
Academics and Criticism – he has built the most solid advise for the
younger generation of Nigerian writers and those that believe in his
philosophy that span across the Atlantic Ocean and across the
Mississippi. He is teaching the Nigerian youth to try to learn to
breathe deeply, think deeply, reason deeply and talk deeply, so that
they can really taste the mysteries of the world, which are
everywhere, around the corner. As he would say, and I quote: “How I
was born is a mystery. The name Tam is Taminomi, meaning there is God,
it’s a mystery.”

Surprisingly, many people hear voices when they are not with anyone,
but do not know what to do with such “voice”. Somebody said that to
those who hear such voices, I quote: “Some of them are called mad and
are shut up on rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are
called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.” David-West is
doing pretty well. He would say, and I quote: “I‘m just living
day-to-day, at my pace. I had a good social life, but I now spend 80
per cent of my time reading and writing. I‘m currently writing my
memoirs and I have gone about 60 pages and I hope to call it, My
Controversies and My Vindication.”

Professor Tamunoemi Sokari David-West who was born on August 26, 1936
in Buguma, Kalabari, in the present day Rivers State, has a long and
distinguished career as an academic, virologist, civil/public servant
and administrator. He was educated at a number of universities around
the world; beginning with the University College, Ibadan, now
University of Ibadan, 1956-1958; Michigan State University, East
Lansing, Michigan, USA, 1958-60 (B.Sc); Yale University, New Haven,
Connecticut, 1960-62 (M.Sc); and McGill University, Montreal Canada,
1964-66 (Ph.D). He has served Nigeria in various capacities but hated
being a billionaire through corrupt and fraudulent means, as wont many
public office holders who are serving in the capacity that he had
served Nigeria. He was Commissioner for Education, Rivers State,
1975-79; served at the federal level as Minister of Petroleum and
Energy, Chairman, NNPC Board of Directors/Chief Executive, under Gen.
Buhari, before he was overthrown and then Gen. Babangida brought him
back as Minister of Petroleum. Then, he reshuffled cabinet and made
him Minister of Mines, Power and Steel, January-September 1986.

Prof. Tam David-West remains incorruptible and straightforward. He is
an achiever and a patriot anytime! His incorruptible nature made him
go back to the classroom after holding the plum job of an Oil Minister
for some years. Not many Nigerians would do it. Not even Buhari that
wants to be a democratic elected president that he defends.

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