Melford Okilo

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Melford Obiene Okilo
1st Governor of Rivers State
In office
October 1979 – December 1983
Deputy Frank Eke
Preceded by Suleiman Saidu
Succeeded by Fidelis Oyakhilome
Member of Parliament
In office
Constituency Brass
Minister of Commerce and Tourism
In office
December 1993 – July 1994
Senator for Bayelsa East
In office
May 1999 – May 2003
Personal details
Born 30 November 1933
Emakalakala, Ogbia, Bayelsa State, Nigeria
Died 5 July 2008 (aged 74)

Melford Obiene Okilo (30 November 1933 – 5 July 2008) had a long and distinguished career as a politician in Nigeria from the start of independence in 1960 until shortly before his death in 2008. He was a member of parliament (1956–1964) and a Minister in the Nigerian First Republic. He was the first elected Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria (1979–1983) during the Nigerian Second Republic.[1] Later he was Senator for Bayelsa East, in Bayelsa State (1999–2003) during the Nigerian Fourth Republic.[2]

Early career[edit]

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.[3] Okilo was a member of Parliament between 1956 and 1959. 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

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).[5]

Second republic[edit]

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.[2] 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 scheme and industrial estates.[5]

President Shehu Shagari awarded him the honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1983.[3] 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.[3] Soon after taking power, Buhari established military tribunals to try public officers from the Shagari era who had been accused of embezzling public funds.[7] 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.[8]

Later career[edit]

In June 1989 Okilo was a speaker at a conference on World Balance: Action to Save our Planet held in Aspen, Colorado.[9] 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."[4] He served as Minister of Commerce and Tourism during the General Sani Abacha regime.[10] 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.[11] Although the committee's report was sympathetic to the plight of minorities in the oil-producing areas, little was done.[12]

Okilo was dropped from the government in July 1995 as the military consolidated their power.[10] 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.[13]

Fourth republic[edit]

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.[14] 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.[3] As senator, he served as vice-chairman of the committee on Natural Gas and chairman of the committee on Identify Card.[15]

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.[16][17] 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.[3] 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.[18]

After a prolonged illness, Okilo died at the age of 74 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State on 5 July 2008.[3]


  • Melford Okilo (1989). Nigeria: the search for political stability. Riverside Communications. ISBN 978-30333-4-4. 
  • Melford Okilo (1991). The law of life. University of Science and Philosophy. ISBN 1-879605-03-1. 
  • Melford Okilo (1992). Art of government and the Okilo administration. Riverside Communications. ISBN 978-30333-5-2. 


  1. ^ "Nigeria States". WorldStatesmen. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  2. ^ a b Samuel Oyadongha & Emmanuel Aziken (July 2008). "Melford Okilo, 74, is Dead". Vanguard. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Melford Okilo (1933 - 2008)". ThisDay. 15 July 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  4. ^ a b Augustine A. Ikein; Diepreye S. P. Alamieyeseigha; Steve S. Azaiki (2008). Oil, democracy, and the promise of true federalism in Nigeria. University Press of America. p. 73. ISBN 0-7618-3928-3. 
  5. ^ a b c Senator Ibiapuye Soala Martyns-Yellowe (April 27 – May 3, 2009). "FOR THE RECORDS :CHIEF MELFORD OBIENE OKILO: A Tribute". National Network Vol 6 NO 15. 
  6. ^ Patricia Keegan. "You Are the History Makers". Washington International. Archived from the original on 2011-06-10. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  7. ^ MAX SIOLLUN (August 4, 2008). "The Babangida Years - Part 4". NigeriaExchange. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  8. ^ "Some Sentences Reduced" (PDF). New Nigerian. 26 July 1986. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  9. ^ "Vegetarian Times". May 1989. ISSN 0164-8497. 
  10. ^ a b Eghosa E. Osaghae (1998). Crippled giant: Nigeria since independence. Indiana University Press. p. 277. ISBN 0-253-21197-2. 
  11. ^ J. Timothy Hunt (2006). The politics of bones. McClelland & Stewart. p. 167. ISBN 0-7710-4158-6. 
  12. ^ Cyril I. Obi (2001). The changing forms of identity politics in Nigeria under economic adjustment: the case of the oil minorities movement of the Niger Delta. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 61. ISBN 91-7106-471-0. 
  13. ^ "Can God-of-Light be Copyrighted as Someone's Exclusive Preserve?" (PDF). Contact, Volume 16, Number 1, February 11, 1997. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  14. ^ "NIGER DELTA UNREST - APPROACHES TO OIL COMPANIES". Amnesty International. 24 Jun 1999. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  15. ^ "CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMAN OF SENATE COMMITTEES". OnlineNigeria. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  16. ^ "Senator Melford Okilo, J.D". Vision In Action. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  17. ^ "Newsletter". The Twilight Club. April 2003. Retrieved 2010-03-31. 
  18. ^ Nengi Josef Ilagha (10 January 2010). "Jonathan Goodluck: In Tribute to Melford Okilo". Elombah. Retrieved 2010-03-31.