Buhari–David-West bromance: How virologist became oil minister

FORMER petroleum minister, Tam David – West, whose death was announced yesterday, knew little about the oil and gas industry when he was appointed as minister in 1984 by military administration headed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

David-West, a professor of virology, was confirmed dead on Monday after failing to recover from an undisclosed illness.

Described as an “ally and friend”, President Muhammadu Buhari eulogised the deceased statesman urging Nigerians to emulate his noble character.

In David – West’s 2010 book titled “Who Really is General Muhammadu Buhari?”, he chronicled his chanced encounter with Buhari as a military head of state on January 18, 1984, which culminated with his appointment as petroleum and energy minister without a prior relationship.


Using the term “Buhari – David – West – Divinity” to describe their relationship, he explained this in the book that their first conversation after he accepted the role of minister defined their friendship until his death.

“I told Buhari that I don’t remember ever meeting him before January 18, 1984. His words were most humbling because he said my appointment was very vital and crucial to the nation’s economy,” he had stated in his book.

“I will not interfere with your duties,” a statement Buhari made which he hinted in the book was the height of trust and integrity that marked their friendship until the time of his death.

He admitted in the book that Buhari picked him to become the minister of petroleum despite his limited knowledge of the oil industry at the time.

“First and foremost, I was completely blank on Petroleum matters. The only fleeting contact with hydrocarbons was two undergraduate (Michigan State University, U.S.A.) courses on Hydrocarbon Chemistry 1959 and a biochemistry course at Yale Graduate School 1961.

“Secondly, the more I reflected on the enormity of my ministerial portfolio in the context of the national economy especially from the void of my background on petroleum matters the more I got concerned. But certainly not afraid of the heavy state (national) responsibility put on my shoulders so to say,” an excerpt from the book reads.

He stated in the book that Buhari’s friendship with him convinces him of his divine purpose.

“My contact with General Muhammadu Buhari and the honour and privilege to work with an untiring patriot as well as to serve the fatherland clearly convinces me of a divine purpose,” he said.

In a statement released by Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adeshina on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, confirming the passing of the academician he was described as “a consultant virologist of national and international standing.”

“He had an indomitable spirit, stood resolutely by whatever he believed in and was in a class on its own.

“President Buhari prays that God will rest the soul of the committed nationalist, urging all those who believe in the ideals he espoused to approximate the same, for the betterment of Nigeria, and humanity,” the statement concludes.

Buhari and David-West/File Copy

He started his higher education at the University of Ibadan, before proceeding to Michigan State University where he bagged his first degree in 1960. He obtained an MSc degree from Yale University in 1962 and a Ph.D. degree at McGill University in 1966.

David-West was appointed consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan in 1969 before being promoted to professor of virology in 1975.



    He bestrode the political scene like a colossus, serving as commissioner of education and a member of the Executive Council of Rivers State between 1975 to 1979.

    Appointed federal minister of petroleum and energy from 1984 to 1985 under General Muhammadu Buhari, he had a brief stint as minister of mines, power, and steel under General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986 before he was arrested and removed by the Babangida regime for allegedly contributing to the economic adversity of the country.

    David-West is a prolific author of academic papers in virology that have appeared in scholarly journals and also a social critic.

    Born in 1936, he died at the age of 83 on Monday, November 11 and is survived by his family.

    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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