In the first place, Fela lived in one of the most notorious
areas of Lagos. Prostitution and armed robbery were
regular features. There was never a dull moment in the
Some of the shady characters in the area, took full
advantage of Fela’s growing popularity, to turn the
area in close proximity to Fela’s residence, Kalakuta,
into a black market for all sorts of things.
Among other things, one could buy drugs in the area.
Furthermore, Fela turned his house into a commune,
where his beautiful, scantily dressed girls could always
be seen in the front yard.
The girls celebrated the care-free lifestyle of the roaring
1960’s in the United States, marked by the sexual
revolution and women’s liberation, in general. They
numbered more than 60 at a point.
Even though many Nigerians viewed those young
people, many of whom were from respectable families
as an immoral lot, I admired them. I thought that they
were remarkable, because they were willing to stand out
in the crowd.
I also felt a sense of kinship with them. I could
understand the possibilities and the challenges of life
for a young person, especially in Nigeria during the
Employment for young people was not a priority.
There were very scholarships for higher education,
job training for young people was rare. The situation
forced young people to lower their expectations.
Even though many of my high schoolmates were from
well-to-do families, and were looking forward to law
School and bachelors degrees, others looked at the
Nigerian Ports Authority as the place to be.
It was rumored that one of the attractions of the Ports
Authority was that it gave people great opportunities,
for getting bribes. Young people had a tough time
My Ivy-League Educated Father
My father, Prof. Tam. S. David-West, for instance,
would tell me, even before I received my high school
graduation certificate: “your life is in your own hands,
It was as if being responsible for his son’s education was
a burden, he could not wait to off-load. Most people
would never believe that my dad could behave in such
a manner. However, he would.
In fact, he tried to sabotage my final year in high school,
by delaying payments for my fees. For the first time ever,
I became a boy, who would skip classes.
I would hide out in the city library, unwilling to discuss
the situation with the principal, who adored Dad.
They were friends, and like most of the people who knew
Dad, he was smitten by his brilliance, and his amiability.
The kind of regard he had for Dad was once highlighted,
by his suggestion in our Assembly Hall, that Dad might
follow T.O.S. Benson’s example, by sponsoring an
I smiled. Dad might, if he was assured that there would
be mass accolades, following such a noble gesture. No:
I did not share the thought with Mr. Familoyi, the
Why would Dad do refuse to pay for my fees? I talked
back at him: something even an uneducated man, with
any knowledge about childhood development, should
have merely smiled at.
It is just a demonstration of the fact that your son is
developing a good sense of self, independence, and
maturity, Ivy League professor! Chief Akpana might
have told him, if he had approached him with
The other telling thing was that Chief Akpana was at
time a manager at the Ports Authority in Apapa. Dad
did not approach him, to get me employed at the Ports
Authority, as I was leaving high school, even as he
told me that my life was in my own hands.
Dad had to put up appearances. He did not want his
friend, and my aunt, his friend’s wife, to lose all respect
for him as a father. He had to deceive them. He had to
give them the impression, that he was pushing Fubara
to go to college.
Prof. Tam. S. David-West would actually leave his
teenage son in Lagos, to cater for himself, and
supposedly to work for the rest of his life, with a high
school education, unless he was “lucky enough,” to
get a scholarship.
I will come back to that term, “lucky enough,”
momentarily. No Ivy League graduate in the United
States would behave in such a manner, towards his
An Ivy League professional in the United States would
do everything, in his power, to ensure that his children
were the best educated in the community. What is a
parent, if he/she does not fight for that?
Of course, I never considered for one second, that a
high school education was enough. How could I?
My dad had given me a picture of his, taken, after his
graduation, with a PhD in Virology from McGill.
It was put in a folder, with all of his degrees listed on it.
The picture was always a treasure, even after one of my
uncles: the future Nigerian Ambassador to the United
Nations, Jim Blankson made a telling remark to me.
When I showed it to him, with all of the pride of a son,
Jim Blankson said to me: “Tell him, nobody gets all of
that without help.”
Did he ever plan for my education beyond high School?
No; there was no indication, that he wanted me to go
beyond high school. Did he think, that his first son
could not possibly be “university material?”
“University material,” was a phrase he loved to use,
constantly, when he would argue that Nigeria should
not expect all of its high school graduates, to go on to
university education. It was a strange thing.
Of course, everyone will not opt for a university
education. However, society should always encourage
young people, to aim for the highest level of education
possible. The great professor should have stood up, as
an advocate for such a value.
How could I not be university material, if I also have
the same genetic materials that make up the great
professor? It is not the kind of question Dad ever asks
I actually think that he wanted the Blanksons to take
over the responsibility for my education, but was not
man enough to tell them just that. The window-
dressing was all that mattered to the man.
Sometimes, I also think that he was praying to see me
get a poor passing grade, in my West African School
Certificate Examination. That might have been used
as an excuse, for not encouraging me, to get into a
Otherwise, he might have wanted me to fail. My
failure might have been used as a justification, for
quickly getting out of his fatherly responsibilities.
The Ivy-league man has dumb son! The professor
can’t do anything about it.
My failure might also have magnified in his mind,
how great he was. He had after all, overcome his
own childhood difficulties with his father, to become
an Ivy League educated professor.
It is the kind of a terrible psychological problem, which
affects most of the things that Dad does. That includes
his tendency to pick fights with both his extended
family members, and public officials.
My grade report in Class Three made the comment,
“not good enough for first class.” At every opportunity,
he would bring that up, but what should that have told
an Ivy-League trained professor?
If I was the one, that comment about my son would
have told me, that the school expects my son to have
a first class, but he needs some help. The school
considers him to be one of its top students!
Let me do something. I should get him a tutor for
the exam and for his university entrance examinations.
However, to Dad, the convenient message was that his
son might just not be smart enough. He is not meant
for university education.
It would be the kind of a convenient take for a parent,
who was merely looking for some excuse, to abandon his
child. The man keeps his prestige among his colleagues.
The child is sacrificed, on the alter of the parent’s ego.
Meanwhile, the son knows that it is all a lie. You do not
become a Prefect at the MBHS, if you are not one of the
top students. I was a Prefect. I recently reestablished
contacts with one of my classmates, who would tell me,
“you were one of the smart kids!”
I did have more difficulties with mathematics and the
sciences, than I did with the arts. I would get excellent
grades in the arts, without much effort. I would make
good grades in math with tremendous effort. Physics,
biology, chemistry came in the middle range.
Looking back now, I fully understand why. My brain
is wired in ways that appreciate and absorb the broader
interconnections, between the sounds in the bush in
Bakana, and the formulae of mathematics. They must
be related, my mind constantly insists.
The wiring does not make for rote learning and the
mere cramming of information. Even in primary
school, my mind would always ask questions, such as
this: one plus one equals two, so what?
What does the formula have to do with Kaine’s prayer,
early this morning, for instance? I would make up all
sorts of stories in my head, about how they were related.
Should an Ivy League-educated man recognize such
When the parent is willing to sacrifice the child in the
manner we are dealing with, even an Ivy League
education will not help, as the parent becomes an
animal, in an early evolutionary stage.
At that stage, it is yet to develop a genetic code telling
it, not to eat its young for dinner. In later stages of
evolution, of course, the animal will sacrifice its life for
the life of the child, which is the key to the survival of
its gene pool through time.
No!!! People are not beasts. They are humans. Prof.
Tam S. David-West is definitely not a beast. He is
one of the most refined people you could meet. He
would fit in with the upper class, in any American or
Asian, or European society.
His dinner table had to be properly set. His children
must know what knives and forks to use with what,
on the table. He loved philosophy and the stars of his
generation: Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong.
I loved to get myself lost in the books of Bertrand
Russel that Dad loved to read. He would be curious.
He once asked me, as was absorbed in one of the
voluminous books by Russel: “Do you understand
that?” I did.
Ironically, his position in the Academy also gave
me an early gift. At a time when Wole Soyinka’s
The Man Died was something of a contraband in
Nigeria, Dad had a copy. I read it like a voracious
I often wonder where the great scientist thinks that
intelligence comes from. Does it not come from a
combination of the genetic materials that make up a
person, and the socio-cultural milieu within which the
individual grows up and functions?
Is there any case of mental retardation in Dad’s family
or in my mother’s? No. Both families were made up
of very smart people, who were increasingly involved
in community leadership.
My maternal cousin, Joe Iyalla, for instance, was the
Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations, as I was
growing up. I used to be really excited, anytime he
was in Bakana, accompanied by security officers.
I once came in ninth, in my class of 30 or so students,
in my end-of-term exam. Dad would make one of his
promises that one could never really depend on.
“I will get you a special present, if you come in fifth
next term,” he said to me. I was fifth in class in the
next term, but Dad pretended as if he forgot about his
promise. He never brought it up again.
Apparently, it was just a set up. If I did not make it
to the fifth position, that would have been another big
mark against his son. May be, he was just not smart
Dad would feel justified, to not encourage his son to
aim beyond high school education. I did all I could,
for the boy. He just could not be university material!
I am sure, that would have been a useful message to
At no time, did he talk to me about what I wanted to
do, after my graduation from high school. Just a year
or so after my graduation, I even wrote a full-page
article for the Daily Times, on culture and politics.
That was just as if a high school kid writes an article
for the New York Times. I can imagine the young
man’s high school in say Austin, Texas, or Boston,
Massachusetts organizing a program to recognize the
Dad never made any move to get me into the
University of Ibadan (UI): one of the country’s best
universities. He was (and is still) a professor at the
The University also had the International School
attached to it. Some MBHS students went there for
their A-Levels, which students would take, as a ticket
for admission into the freshman class at the UI or
Note that Dad is also an alumnus of UI, with its rich
and intellectually stimulating campus. The campus
was also linked to the United Stated consulate, where
Dad would often give great public lectures.
Dad did give me the greatest of compliments, upon
reading the Daily Times article: “it’s a chip off the old
block,” he remarked. That was it.
Could he not realize that his son was very interested
in writing? Of course, he could. Might he also have
contacted Yale, Michigan State, and McGill, to admit
his son? That should have been expected of him.
All of those great universities have legacy programs, for
the children of their alumni. I once commented in one
of my Internet notes, about the interesting fact that both
President George W. Bush and Dad attended the same
There seems to be a complete intellectual mismatch
there. That is one of the reasons, why hyperbolic mass
media debates and individual legal actions, regarding
affirmative action programs for minorities, seem to me,
to be so bizarre.
How many Tam. David-Wests were left out of Yale, for
the younger Bush to be admitted?
We can be sure that there were many American-African
students, who were brighter than the younger Bush, at
the time he was admitted into his freshman class.
Those African-Americans, might not even have been
considered. Meanwhile, for the rest of their lives, they
would have to listen to a barrage of news reports about
some white student, who alleges in a lawsuit that a less
qualified minority student took his/her place.
An interesting experience of mine, with respect to these
kinds of programs comes from a graduate class, at the
University of Oklahoma, Norman.
A particular female, would use every opportunity to
impress it upon everyone, that she was the smartest
person at her workplace. If she talked long enough,
one might find a real mind at work in her head.
The problem with her work, she insisted was that
minorities were always being promoted ahead of her,
even though she was getting the best grades in the
civil service exams. I would usually be the only
black student in class.
I was often tempted to confront her, but I would not.
Why disrupt the ever engaging class of Dr. Hummel?
On the last day of the seminar, he wanted to know if
any of us had a question.
This lady puts up her hand. I was ready for another
one of her stories about minorities and her job. No:
she had a more interesting problem. After going
through a full semester, she could not understand
what the class was all about!
I digressed. I think Dad’s unwillingness to copy the
elder President Bush and other Yale alumni derives
from deep psychological problems. Dad, after all of
his success, continues to be bitter, about his supposed
mistreatment by his own father.
The fact that for a period, his father forced him to
adopt his maternal grand-father’s name continues to
trouble him. He was, in effect, taking out his revenge
on his son, without appearing to be crass about it, to
friends and family.
One of his old friends, whom he has known since high
school, Chief Walter Akpana is married to my aunt, my
late mother’s sister. The two of them could pass for
brothers. They are both very gregarious and smart men.
The significant difference between the two men is that
Chief Akpana has none of Dad’s psychological baggage.
He had the kind of a relationship with his children, that
any enlightened person would clearly adore.
His wife, Faustina, obviously was a better judge of
character and personality, at the time when the two
young women met both men in their youth.
I often wonder if she warned her sister, to stay away
from the Kalabari boy with an Igbo first name, and
his maternal grandfather’s last name at the time.
There is a particularly telling story about the future
professor, which I do not care to share here. I can
imagine my aunt, reacting rather sadly and telling
my mother: I told you to stay away from him!
The good news for the professor was that his son had
too much of a native intelligence, from the great Clara
Leopold. You do not go inviting other people into your
affairs, especially when it might complicate your life,
instead of solving any problem.
That good sense would not allow me to go telling the
Akpanas what I suspected. My dad was merely window-
dressing. He never wanted me to climb the ivory towers
that he had climbed, so masterfully.
A psychological baggage can floor the most intelligent
and accomplished of humans. Thus, a parent should be
expected to strive to create a better life than he or she
had for the children.
For Dad that was a difficult value to live by, especially
with respect to his first son. Why bother? His smart
mind might have told him. You can always act the role
and make it believable. You are an Ivy League man!
I think it was the act that made him decide to come
into my life, as I was leaving primary school. He might
have wanted to tell people that he was better than his
allegedly terrible dad.
Even as I write this, I am yet to be convinced that his
father; a banking executive, actually abandoned all
assistance to his first son, during his years in some of
the best universities in the world.
I noticed how concerned and engaged he was with
my grand-father’s health problems, as he aged. He
talked about his living situation. He would be worried
about the old man’s mental state.
Everything about Dad tells me, that he would never
have been so attentive and compassionate, if his father
was really callous towards him, at any point in his life.
Dad is too unforgiving, too vindictive, too much of
an illiterate fisherman, with his fidelity to tribal
norms, too pugnacious, to forgive his father, if he
was really callous towards him, when he was, say at
Dad is the intellectual, who will stop all forms of
communication with his son, and send him a copy
of a note to his attorney, instructing him to ensure
that his son, does not get anything from his estate,
upon his death.
No: I have never expected anything from his estate.
Indeed, I did not know that he had a huge estate out
there. However, the gesture speaks volumes, about
the illiterate fisherman in him that I have referred to.
It is the kind of a thing that an illiterate fisherman, full
of all of the tribal pride of paternal power will do. It is
the kind of behavior, we can expect from a fisherman
in a hut, who has never spent more than a few days
in formal education.
Why was he doing all of that? His son gave his book,
Philosophical Essays, a bad review that it fully deserved.
I did read it with Wole Soyinka’s term, “hypocritical self-
righteousness,” in my head.
I had read parts of the book before publication. Indeed, I
gave him some of the questions that he answers in the
work. The book is composed of a series of questions and
answers. Dad’s son poses the questions. Dad answers.
However, as I read it over at the University of Wisconsin-
Superior, certain points began to whisper in my ears, those
famous words from Soyinka. The literary giant will never
fully know, how much of an influence he has on me.
Dad was engaged in a self-serving philosophical exercise,
which even justified his service under the totally ruinous
military junta in Nigeria. He was waxing incisive, with a
note that the intellectual must question conventional
However, he questioned no single conventional
wisdom that mattered. His note on luck and being
chosen for national service, hit me in the face like
Imagine a professor, who also walks in the corridors of
political power, thinking that luck should determine,
whether his son gets more than a high school education.
The gardener says, my plant should die, if there is no
I think he used some merit scholarship, somewhere in his
training. Does that imply that everyone else should?
Should every generation go through the growing pains of
parents and grand-parents?
If yes, then cultural progress will become quite impossible.
Furthermore, the species could not survive, because its
genes will fail to create the kinds of immune responses to
environmental threats, that the species absolutely needs.
Dad is a virologist. Obviously, he has to know about that
dynamic: that gene-environment interaction, which has
led to the evolutionary marvel we have in the human
species. This species can even destroy life as we know it.
“It is dangerous, to see luck as the determining factor in
the distribution of social value,” I wrote. “For, we can do
nothing about luck. It lacks political definition.”
The remarkable thing was that when I read it over, I
heard Tam. David-West’s voice in every word I had
written. It sounded every bit like Dad.
It was the kind of a scathing review that Dad would
give to a writer, who was so untidy a thinker. I could
see him fully enjoying the intellectual back and forth
with the writer.
I could imagine him, standing on the shoulders of
the great Zik of Africa (the first post-independence
president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe), in
attempting intellectually, to pulverize a careless
I could, indeed, see him reproducing one of those
pleasant memories of mine: reading the newspaper
rejoinders of the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to
critics of his article, which advocated a military/
civilian Diarchy for Nigeria.
With regard to the act of sending me a copy of the
note to his attorney, I would tell him in a letter from
Wisconsin: “you should never do that, because you do
not know the future.”
Was I trying to “pulverize” Dad as a thinker with my
review? Of course, not. I admired and respected him
too much for that. I also fully realized, that he had the
intellectual reflexes of the great Dr. Azikiwe.
He did know the future, however. As his son was
graduating with a summa cum laude in Political
Science, and a magna cum laude in Liberal Arts, he
decided that his son’s penalty for a worthy critique
of his book was death.
He would go into parental hibernation once more, in
order not to be bothered with his son’s plans for
graduate school. Indeed, he never asked me whether
I wanted to proceed to graduate school.
That was even before the book review was published
in the Times. My professors in the Political Science
Department and the Mass Communications Department ....