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  Background and Early career Okilo was born on 30 November 1933 at Emakalakala, Ogbia, Bayelsa State, and was of Ijaw origin. He qualified as a lawyer but entered politics at the age of 23. Okilo was a member of Parliament between 1956 and 1959.
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In December 1959, he was re-elected to represent the Brass constituency on the Niger Delta Congress platform. The Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, later appointed him Parliamentary Secretary and Minister. He played a significant role in the enactment of the Niger Delta Development Board (1961), which sought to address problems of the neglected Niger Delta region. While visiting New York in 1965, he came across a book about Walter Russell, The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe, which had a profound influence on his thought. Walter Russell’s University of Science and Philosophy later published his books, and in the late 1990s, he served as president of the university. During the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, Okilo served in the government in Rivers State first as Commissioner of Education, and then of Agriculture, Fisheries and Natural Resources (1971–1975).

Involvement in the Second Republic

During General Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, he was a member of the Constituent Assembly (1977–78) leading to the Nigerian Second Republic. He was Chairman of the Rivers State branch of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) (1978–1983) and was elected on the NPN platform as governor of Rivers States in 1979. As governor, Okilo established the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. He opened the Independent Power Plant at Imiringi in Ogbia local government area, now in Bayelsa State, a major gas turbine power station. He created fifty development units for the much neglected rural areas, introducing a policy where local people were given the responsibility and power to govern and develop their local communities. He undertook programs to reclaim land, control erosion, construct roads and canals, and build rural housing schemes and industrial estates. President Shehu Shagari awarded him the honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1983. He was re-elected on the NPN platform in 1983, losing office when General Muhammadu Buhari took power in a military coup in December 1983. Soon after taking power, Buhari established military tribunals to try public officers from the Shagari era who had been accused of embezzling public funds. In July 1986, he was acquitted of his accusations and regained his freedom following a judicial review of the tribunals and later freed by Babangida.
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Later Career

In June 1989, Okilo was a speaker at a conference on World Balance: Action to Save our Planet held in Aspen, Colorado. Writing in 1992 on the question of oil revenue sharing, Okilo referred to traditional morality, saying that “when an individual kills or finds a big fish or animal, the villagers or community expresses their appreciation … by first giving him or her the best part of the animal or fish before the rest of the meat or fish is shared.” He served as Minister of Commerce and Tourism during the General Sani Abacha regime. In January 1994, he was a member of a ministerial committee that toured Ogoniland following disturbances by Ogoni protesters against Shell activities in the area. Although the committee’s report was sympathetic to the plight of minorities in the oil-producing areas, little was done. Okilo was dropped from the government in July 1995 as the military consolidated its power. Returning to the United States, he became president of the University of Science and Philosophy, which had earlier published his philosophical writings including his 1991 book The Law Of Life.

Involvement in the Fourth republic

In January 1999, shortly before the return to democracy and while running for office, Okilo was briefly detained by the outgoing military government following disturbances among the Ijaw in the Niger Delta. Okilo was elected Senator for Bayelsa East on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform, serving from May 1999 to May 2003, but failed to be re-elected in 2003. As a senator, he served as vice-chairman of the Committee on Natural Gas and chairman of the committee on Identify Card. He remained a director of the University Of Science And Philosophy and became a director of the board of Vision In Action, an institute formed in 2003 to share and communicate experience on issues of leadership, creativity, visionary and strategic thinking. In 2005, he read his own obituary after a mistaken story that he had died. Later he addressed a press conference, saying he was in a coma for four days and was mistaken for dead. Speaking in July 2006, in Brixton, London, Okilo called on leaders of the Ijaw to take their case over sharing oil and gas revenue to the International Court of Justice. At the same time, he asked youths of the area to give up violence and seek peaceful means to address their grievances. After a prolonged illness, Okilo was moved back to Bayelsa from his Abuja residence by his Administrator, Hauwa Ogbeide-Ihama. Okilo died at the age of 74 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State on 5 July 2008. References Wikipedia Timothy Hunt (2006). The politics of Bones. McClelland & Stewart. Melford Okilo (1992). Art of government and the Okilo Administration. Riverside Communications Featured Image Source: The Nation Newspaper
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This article was first published on 4th January 2022 and updated on January 5th, 2022 at 12:26 am


Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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