Chief Melford Obiene Okilo(CFR) was born November 30, 1933 at Emekalakala in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa state into the family of Late Chief Otio Okilo and Mrs Ibidi Okilo.
His father, Otio Okilo was a farmer and a fisherman and was amongst the three that founded St. Batholomew’s Anglican Church Emekalakala. Otio Okilo was baptised by the church missionary society led by Bishop Histop and changed his name to Simon.
His mother, Ibidi, was a daughter of a local warlord, Chief Ojoko, the son of Chief Amangi of Ogbolomari, Nembe. Ibidi (meaning good birth) was delivered a day Chief Ojoko returned from battle against the British incursion into the Niger Delta. Early in life, the child Obiene was faced with many challenges that ultimately revealed divine reason and strength of his character.
For example, he fell off a rickety foot bridge into a river and was saved after some minutes under water. Melford Okilo from youth was a man of many parts and master of all. He was a local wrestling champion, a successful fisherman, palm wine tapper and palmfruit cutter.
Melford Okilo who grew up under the protection of his uncle, Chief J.E Egba, commenced formal Education at St. Michael primary, Oloibiri in Ogbia LGA between 1940-1946, which was a year after the second world war, after which he trained at St. John’s Training college, Diobu, Port Harcourt between 1947 and 1949, funding his education partly with money he made from palm wine tapping and fishing. He thereafter taught at St. Cyprian’s primary school, Port Harcourt till 1955. Chief Okilo moved on to become a judicial clerk and court interpreter in Degema, under the defunct Eastern Nigeria. This position earned him lots of respect, popularity and fame.
Melford Obiene could not resist the urge to take part in pre-independence political activities as the Zikist philosophy clicked with his passion for social and political emancipation. Melford , encouraged by a founder of Niger Delta Congress, NDC, a respected Ijaw leader and a foremost nationalist, Late Chief Harold Dappa-Briye, courageously gave up his comfortable judicial job at the age of 26 to run for election into the House of Representatives, after selling his bicycle a few days to the end of nomination.
Obiene who was very young and inexperienced as at that time shocked book markers by becoming the only victorious candidate out of the eleven fielded on the platform of the Niger Delta Congress/Northern People’s Congress Alliance. This unique coalition and indeed Melford Okilo’s election victory facilitated the final British endorsement for Nigeria’s independence as Okilo’s victory was seen as a bridge between the North and the South.
His qualities of patriotism and resourcefulness were irresistible as the young Okilo was part of a pre independence goodwill delegation on a mission to neighboring countries at the instance of the Prime Minister, Dir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Regardless of his humble upbringing, Melford was made Parliament Secretary to the Prime Minister and in 1961, Parliamentary Secretary (Deputy Minister) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was among the brains that brought life into the organization of Africa Unity, OAU. He was part of the formation of the African Liberation Committee in the Tanzania Capital, DaresSalam in June of that same year.
Okilo was found worthy to lead a Federal Government delegation to the 18th session of the United Nations Organization, UNO General Assembly in New York, 1963.
The young leader from Ogbia, addressed the world. Just before the political upheavals of the first Republic, Melfold Okilo registered as an external student at the University of London, and at the Blackstone school of Law, Chicago, USA, from where he obtained an LLB degree. He later spent a year at the university of Buckingham, England for postgraduate studies.
Chief Melford returned to the country at the end of Nigerian civil war and between 1970 and 1975, served Rivers state in numerous capacities from the chairmanship of the Rivers state Transport Corporation to the commissioner of Education, Commissioner of Petroleum Matters, Labour and Field Administration. He was also chairman, Agriculture Production and Marketing Corporation.
He was also elected Councillor, Ogbia Oloibiri ward 1, Brass LGA , from 1976 to 1977. Chief Okilo was elected the Brass LGA member of the Constituent Assembly to draft the 1979 constitution. Melford Okilo held many party offices, including the Vice Chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, Rivers State chapter.
Chief M.O Okilo was the first civilian Governor of the old Rivers State in 1979. He was actively involved in the appeal to shell D’Arcy in 1956 for fairness to the Oloibiri land owners. He was foremost in the campaign for accelerated development of the Niger Delta leading to the passing in 1961 of the Niger Delta Development Board, NDDB Act. He spearheaded the just demand for the abrogation of the onshore/offshore dichotomy; the struggle for adoption and enforcement of the derivation principle and the continuing fight for enhancement of the percentage derivation.
He created the first university of Science and Technology in Nigeria; increased by over 50% the number of primary, post primary and tertiary institutions in the old Rivers state; introduced free education for all, from primary to tertiary levels; he generously granted post graduate and overseas scholarships; reformed and enlarged educational scope and facilities; he encouraged the revision of school syllabus to include character building in young people; he mordenized and equipped hospitals and built 12 new hospitals; he encouraged training and retraining of health workers at all levels; he undertook massive improved portable water supply in the state; he was the innovator of the decentralization of the government to grassroot level, by creating for each LGA useful committees to handle each sphere of governmental activity.
He embarked on massive land reclamation, canalisation shore protection, land and tidal wave erosion control; he undertook the development of new towns, massive rural electrification including two 20 Megawatt gas turbines, encouraged small scale industries and other commercial activities. He complemented his excellent leadership qualities with his masterly ability to communicate and relate well with all categories of people even in pidgin English.
Nigeria rewarded him with the meritorious award of the Commander of the Federal Republic, CFR, which is the third greatest national honor, honorary doctorate degrees and many other honors which included chieftaincy titles.
Chief Okilo was elected for a second tenure as Governor of Rivers state in 1983, a term that was deliberately ended by military coup. Chief Okilo was held in custody with other politicians; he appeared before five tribunals but was found to be with stain. This same military later vindicated him with his appointment as Minister of Commerce and Tourism.
He was recognised internationally as a philosopher and human developer, Chief Okilo was elected as President of the prestigious University of Science and Philosophy, Waynesboro, Virginia, USA in 1996 and President of International Studies of the same university in 1997. He later established in Port Harcourt, the Lao Russell Memorial Secondary School, an affiliate of the university.
Chief Okilo was made a Bishop of the ORTHODOX CHURCH IN New York on April 7, 1968. He was elected into the Nigerian Senate in 1999 to represent Bayelsa East. He was also an accomplished author.
Chief Okilo was a loving father of six lovely children, Peter, Azibola, Enaiya,Eluana, Idi and Otio. He was also a great husband to his wife, Mrs. Felicia Pamaro Melfold Okilo.
May His Soul continue to rest in perfect peace.