Vanguard (Lagos)

6 July 2008

Nigeria: Melford Okilo, 74, is Dead

Yenagoa — THE first civilian governor of the old Rivers State, Senator Melford Okilo, died Saturday, aged 74, he died at the Federal Medical Centre Yenagoa following a protracted illness, according to family sources.

Before his death, Okilo had withdrawn from public functions for about two years as a result of illness associated with old age.

His death was confirmed by his younger brother, Dr. Aranya Okilo, was also his personal physician.

He said the remains of the late politician had been transferred from the Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa to an undisclosed hospital in Port Harcourt .He was said to have relocated from Abuja to Yenagoa because of his failing health early this year.

The elder statesman was sometime last year flown abroad for treatment by the Bayelsa State government but was brought back to the country over what a source described as irreconcilable differences between a government official from Ogbia and the Okilo family.

Okilo, who represented the Bayelsa East senatorial district between 1999 and 2000, caused a stir in 2005 when he was reportedly dead only to resurface hale and hearty from the United States of America where he had gone for medical treatment for an undisclosed ailment.

Okilo as governor of old Rivers State established the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and the Independent Power Plant at Imiringi in Ogbia local government area which turned out to be the only source of electricity supply in Bayelsa at the creation of the latter from Rivers State in 1996 by the late Gen Sani Abacha.

The former governor had at a press conference in Government House Yenagoa said contrary to his purported death he was in a trance and was communicating with his peers and contemporaries and that he never knew he was asleep for four days.

Governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State led a high powered government delegation to the country home of the late elder statesman while the Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Mr. Doifie Ola, said government would issue a statement on the transition of the elder statesman tomorrow.

The late Ijaw leader was a Director of the Board of Vision In Action and an accomplished statesman and author.

In one of his books, "God, Man, and Politics," Okilo spoke of his life experience: Excerpts

"I have travelled from Africa to America to present an unusual topic: God, Man, and Politics. All I know about this topic is my little experience in touching others as a human being and in being able to identify and solve the problems of humanity; God-I don't know God, but I know things that have happened that I believe are beyond human comparison so that we allude them to God; and what you call politics, the role I played in politics.

"People who know me know that I have prospered in Nigerian and African politics for over 40 years. They have been posing some questions to me. They ask me: 'Has politics had any special meaning for you, other than the dictionary meaning?' Others ask: 'Is there any relationship whatsoever between politics and the Russellian science and philosophy?'

"Since politics is noted by many people as a polluted profession, some people ask the question: 'Is there any relationship whatsoever between the politics you are involved in and God?'

". . . People see only the bad side of politics. But the common man can do something to help his fellow human beings, to help the suffering masses, to provide for those who are not provided for, and this can happen through politics. When I became Governor, I was able to build the first University of Science and Technology in Nigeria. The Federal Government was afraid of doing it.

Yet, as a mere Governor of a small state, I did it, although it brought me trouble, because, when I was impeached, they claimed that by so building a university, by doing something that the Federal Government could not do, I had wasted the government's money. But I knew that we could do it, and we did it, and the university we built is still today one of the best and most successful universities in Nigeria

". . . In politics, what I enjoy is the extended freedom to give to everybody and talk to everybody, love everybody and serve everybody. People look down on me for that. They do not know that therein lies my strength..."

Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State in a statement said: "It is a sad loss. He was a visionary leader, the state has lost a statesman, a senator per excellence and a father. We condole with the family."

The late Okilo was born on November 30, 1933 and married Felicia Ogbara in 1971. The marriage was blessed with six children.

Between 1956 and 1959, he was a member of Parliament and served as the Parliamentary Secretary between 1959 and 1964.

Other political offices held by the late Okilo included member, Constituent Assembly (1977- 78); Chairman of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Rivers State branch (1978-1983); member and Senator-elect under the PDP in 1999.

He was given the national honour of the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1983 by former President Shehu Shagari.

Commenting on his death, Prof. Kimse Okoko, President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), in a telephone chat with NAN, described the late Chief Okilo as a great patriot.

Okoko said Okilo was very humble and served the nation to the best of his ability. He said Okilo was worthy of emulation in the Niger Delta and the Nigerian nation at large.

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