David West: Nighttime at Next Level’s morning
For Professor Tamunoemi Sokari David-West, Monday November 11, 2019 was not the best time to say goodbye. Although he died after 11 days in the precincts of the city of his love, the University of Ibadan, he had just seen five months into his friend’s second term, otherwise known as Next Level.
As a social critic, David-West stood out as a moral compass to a nation beholden to corruption and sharp practices. His brief stay in government did not drench his moral fibre as an academic and whistleblower against bad governance and obnoxious policies.
As a consummate intellectual, Tam David-West did not need an affidavit to demonstrate his passion for education. That could explain why six years after serving as consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan, he was elevated to the position of Professor of Virology in 1975.
Four years later, the outspoken academic was brought in as one of the 50 wise men that drafted what became Nigeria’s 1979 Constitution. It was perhaps die to his drive ethical decency that General Muhammadu Buhari appointed him the Minister of Petroleum and Energy in 1984.
Having come face to face with Nigeria’s monument of graft and duplicity, which the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) represented, Tam David West devoted his latter years to advocating for transparency, prudence and inclusion in governance processes.
He earned his stripes after the military government of former General Ibrahim Babangida regime arrested him on charges of economic sabotage, specifically contributing to the economic adversity of the country.It was after he was discharged and acquitted of the charges by a special military appeal court that Tam David-West’s reputation as a no-nonsense reformist came into public reckoning. Emboldened by that public acknowledgement of his stance against political immorality, the professor of virology adorned the garb of a social critic.
The former minister sustained his vocal commentary on the nature of Nigeria’s public agencies, even as he continued to pick holes on the nation’s petroleum industry, where saw the irony of a country rich in crude oil should be importing refined products.
In his interview with The Guardian the social critic expressed dismay at the inability of the country to maintain its refineries for full capacity utilization.While urging President Buhari to place emphasis on the rehabilitation of refineries, he regretted that Nigeria’s loss of capacity to refine the liquid gold provided the alibi for paying out humongous amount of money in the guise subsidy.
He stated: “Budgetary allocation for petroleum subsidy is a fraud that should not be tolerated. Certain cabals have deliberately sabotaged the country’s refineries not to work for them to continue to rip the nation off through fraudulent importation of petroleum products.”
In a tone hinting at possible disappointment with his friend, President Buhari, under whose regime as military head of state he served as petroleum minister, David-West lamented that the “President who had been a military minister of petroleum and is knowledgeable about the sector has not given priority to fix the almost moribund refineries.”
It was not only complaints and criticism that define David-West’s public interventions; he also espouses alternative styles by way of suggestions of ways out of a particular challenge.For instance, on the vexed issue of obsolete refineries and fraud-ridden Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), David-West was on record as having told the government to consider inviting the firm that originally set up the plants to handle the repairs.
The former minister reasoned that the firm could easily get the requisite parts required for a proper Turn Around Maintenance (TAM).Even on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that has remained in the National Assembly without passage, David-West lent his voice. He said: “Lawmakers should make public the version of the PIB they intend to pass into law. They should not pass a PIB that will make Nigeria’s business climate hostile to multinational oil companies because they could easily leave the country and go elsewhere. If the bill makes it too difficult for the JV partners, they will leave the country and the economy will collapse.”
But regardless of his later day pieces of advise to the current administration of President Buhari, David-West was among those who spoke highly of the former military head of state in 2015, saying that he would in his first one year in office reduce the price of petroleum products, especially the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) that guzzles much of the nation’s reserves by way of subsidies.
The former Petroleum Minister was quoted as saying two months before Buhari’s inauguration as civilian president in 2015 that PMS would sell at N40 per litre out of mere gyration of the President’s body language. The Rivers State-born social critic also hinted that the second coming of Buhari as civilian leader would lead to massive eradication of official graft and impunity.
But four years after, did President Buhari live true to the grandiose visions of those who reposed great confidence in his abilities? Better still, could be said that Prof. David West did not wait to see the full expression of his lofty dreams about Nigeria under Buhari?
No matter how the living would view his demise, Prof. Tam David-West lived true to his belief in the good life. He occupied his space as a beacon of ethical purity and as a good example to leaders of tomorrow: the youths of today, in whose interest he spoke against oppressors.Did he die out of frustration or heartbreak? Whatever, November, definitely is not the best time for a good man to say goodbye, if he had tarried a little while he would have seen the Nigeria of his dreams.