In 1998, Maxwell Oko was just a young graduate, fresh from service to his nation under the compulsory NYSC scheme. But he was not comfortable with what was going on in the Niger Delta. With so much energy, he joined forces with fellow compatriots, including the late Oronto Douglas and the then president of the Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, Dr Felix Tuodolo, in launching what has now become the historic Kaiama Declaration.
That was during the military era. They were not afraid. They made a clear case to the then military government: they wanted resource control. They wanted development for the Niger Delta. Soldiers went after them. Many were killed in the process. But they never gave up.
Oko, tiny as he looked, had the bravery of the biblical David. He would look at soldiers eye ball to eye ball and challenge them to do their worst. He, and his fellow compatriots, would look at the then military government with a daring and an otherwise melancholic spirit of an Adaka Boro.
The only language they understood at the time was resource control and self determination for the Niger Delta people. They fought to freedom for the region. Many fell by the wayside. Many fell to the bullets of those khaki guys who could barely speak or understand the English language.
Oko was as resolute and solid as the rock of Gibraltar. A short man he was. And short has he remained till date. What he lost in height, God gave to him in abundance in the area of sagacity and brilliance, very unassuming and stubbornly resilient; yet humble to a fault.
He was to later emerge chairman of the IYC in the central zone. And the struggled continued. It was struggles of that nature that gave birth to the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, by the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria.
Obasanjo contemplated the establishment of the NDDC to assuage the region. The idea was to use the NDDC as platform to reach out to those parts of the region that needed urgent development.
Unfortunately, successive managers of the commission did not seem to get it right, especially in the area of management of the funds accruing to the commission. Also, the managers did not do much to compel the federal government to contribute the expected funds, in line with the provisions of the law establishing the commission. On the flip side, even funds from the IOCs, which figure is put at N350 billion per annum, is said to have been wrongly channelled and grossly mismanaged by those who have been superintending over the NDDC funds.
Stories are told of abandoned NDDC projects everywhere, even when substantial amount must have been paid. In some other instances, payments are made for jobs not done. Fake contracts are awarded and monies siphoned through non-existent companies. The commission is largely seen as a cash cow. And the region remains underdeveloped.
Fast forward the scenario. The same youthful Oko has now been appointed into the board of the NDDC as executive director, finance and administration. Expectedly, a lot of stakeholders from the region have expressed high expectations from him.
Beyond what is known of Oko, not many may have known that he is a successful entrepreneur, sitting on the board of very successful oil and gas and other blue chip companies in the country.
Oko studied architecture at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology. He had a successful career in both public and private sectors. He served the Bayelsa State Government at various times as commissioner for youth, conflict resolution and employment generation and later as commissioner of energy. He was the Special Assistant to Nigeria’s first Energy Minister and President/Secretary General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), King Dr. Edmond Daukoru (CON). He also had a stint at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Having worked with him closely, Daukoru therefore knows him too well. He spoke recently about Oko’s integrity and character, especially where money and service delivery are involved.
Hear him: “Maxwell is very committed to his work and duties. He served under me as my SA. It was just revealing to see how much Maxwell parked into his brain. He is very committed, principled, disciplined person and it is just the kind of appointment that we anticipate.
“He is a disciplined person, he understands priorities. When I say he is disciplined, I’m saying it based on what I know about him. He never accepted gratifications from people who tried to see me desperately; people who would want to try to break roadblocks to see the minister. Maxwell wasn’t like that. I never saw any fault in him.
“I can vouch for him. In terms of doing the job, I have full confidence that he will not let the authorities down. I am extremely proud of him. As an elder and a king, I pray for him to succeed.”
Oko also has broad complementary competencies covering entrepreneurship, investment, youth leadership development and management. He is currently the Executive Vice Chairman of Eraskorp Nigeria Limited, an indigenous conglomerate with diverse interests in the Nigerian economy, several industries such as, power, oil and gas, security, agribusiness, infrastructural development and real estate.
President of the Ijaw Youths Council, Pereotubo Oweilaemi is one other person who knows him too well. In an interview recently, the IYC leader however challenged Oko not to disappoint those who believe in his forthrightness and ability to effect changes in the NDDC.
The IYC president said “Comrade Maxwell Oko’s appointment as Executive Director of Finance and Administration of the Niger Delta development Commission is a square peg in a square hole and is well deserved. You know that Comrade Oko is a founding member of the Ijaw Youths Council who is passionate about the development of the region.
“He was chairman of IYC central zone. He has held several other political offices including commissioner of power and energy in Bayelsa State under Chief Timipre Silver as governor. He also worked with the then petroleum minister, king Daukoru. Maxwell is experienced and he is a man of the youths.
“We are very certain that he will use his office to redirect the vision of the creation of the commission and bring about desired peace and the long awaited development to the region. I congratulate him on behalf of the ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide. Our agenda for him is that he should use his position to address the issues IYC has been canvassing for. As a former chairman, IYC central zone, of course he will not expect us to remind him that the Ijaw nation needs an even development from the NDDC. He should ensure that all ongoing projects in Ijaw land are completely executed.
“The commission should also initiate youth empowerment programmes in order to engage our teaming jobless youths across the region. The purpose for which the commission was established has not been successfully utilised. The developmental response by the commission towards the region is still below expectation. Now that we have a former national executive member of the IYC on the board of the NDDC, we are very certain that most of our demands will be achieved. All we care for is that let the commission adequately respond to the developmental needs of the region which should be commensurate to its budgetary provisions.
“I think that for Buhari to make the choice of Maxwell Oko in the new NDDC Board means he has listened to our yearnings and aspirations. I think this is a test case to the Maxwell to show that he has concern for his people which is glaringly the reason why Buhari considered him. Mr. President must have noticed that someone having the spirit of our struggle will know our concerns more than others. The bulk now ends in Oko’s table to prove Buhari’s sincerity to the Ijaw people.” What this means is that all eyes are now on Oko as the region awaits the inauguration of the new board of the NDDC.