Lulu-Briggs: Much ado about demise, interment of a philanthropist
The late High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs (OON) was by all means a great personality who placed immense value on people. A native of Abonnema in Akoku Toru local government area in Rivers State, was always at the side of those in need notwithstanding his status as a wealthy man.
The young Lulu-Briggs had lost his father early in life and had to struggle to remain in school because of scarce resources. But once he broke through as a business mogul, he easily took to philanthropy, impacting lives.
Rated as one of the 10 richest Nigerians, with an estimated net worth of $500million in cash and total assets of $1.1billion by Forbes Magazine in 2012, Lulu Briggs, who founded Moni Pulo Limited, an oil exploration and production company, gave back in various ways through his Foundation. It was, perhaps, in acknowledgement of his benevolence, that he was conferred with the traditional title of Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari kingdom.
However, following his demise on December 27, 2018, aged 88, the family has been embroiled in a seemingly bitter wrangling, which has stalled his burial, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of the multitude whose lives he touched while alive.
Worried by the happenings, concerned leaders of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema have appealed to all sides to sheathe their swords and allow the late business mogul be buried peacefully and honourably.
With the widow, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, Chiefs of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema and older sons of the deceased as main actors, allegations and counter allegations have specifically been rife between the widow and another prominent member of the family, multi-billionaire oil magnate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs. Dumo, an Accord Party governorship candidate in the last elections in Rivers State, is the second son of the late Lulu-Briggs.
There has been uncertainty surrounding the circumstances leading to Lulu-Briggs’ death. This has been followed by a stall in the burial arrangements, as his widow is said to have instituted legal actions in Ghana, requesting her husband’s remains be released only to her contrary to the Kalabari custom and tradition.
But Dumo Lulu-Briggs contends that since an autopsy has been conducted on their father’s remains, nothing else should hold the family back from proceeding to give the late philanthropist a befitting burial.
Dumo said, “Having gone ahead and done autopsy, the Police have whatever evidence they are looking for and the investigations can even continue after we have buried our father. What is now important to us is to come together and bury our father.
“Mrs. Seinye has brought two court injunctions from Ghana that the body of our father should not be handed over to the family but her as the next of kin. But by our native laws and customs, even by Christian belief, the body belongs to the family. We are the oldest sons asking to have the remains of our father so that all of us can go together and give him a befitting burial.”
Worried by the confusion and given that the late Lulu-Briggs was a chief back home, elders of the Young Briggs House had sought clarification from the traditional leaders of their community on the matter.
The Young Briggs House had asked: “Upon the death of a Kalabari chief, like the Briggs Oruwari House, what is the role of the widow, the chief – head of the family, his immediate family, his extended families and other chiefs of the same group of houses of the deceased?
The King of Kabalari, King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill, in his response to the enquiry by the Young Briggs House, which was communicated to the two parties, had said the late Lulu Briggs’ remains be handed over to Dumo.
King Princewill said: “In response to your letter, dated July 2019, on the above subject matter, I wish to state as follows: As the custodian of the Kalabari culture and tradition, may I sincerely say I am deeply constrained to respond to your questions? If I don’t respond to your questions, I may be seen as neglecting the Young Briggs House…I therefore make bold to state my sincere response.
“Role of his widow: according to Kalabari customs and tradition, when a woman loses her husband, her family immediately removes her from sight until the day he will be buried. This therefore presupposes that she will not see the corpse of her husband until the burial day when she will be accompanied to her husband’s house, surrounded by her family members in mourning attire. At this time, she sits in the top corner of the funeral bed (Ede) where the corpse is lying in state. From time to time, she cried and engages in recounting all his good deeds towards her in songs, praising him. Role of the chief, head of the family: he is the custodian of the corpse – that is, Dumo, as well as the chairman, central burial committee.”
Considering the position of the traditional ruler, Dumo lamented the action of the widow asking an Accra court to ensure that the Lulu-Briggs remains was not given to the people who ought to have it.
Said Dumo: “The first action was against me, in which she said the body should not be released to me. The second action was where she sued on her own and on behalf of a minor who was adopted by our father and other siblings of our father, that failing the first action, the body should be released to her and the younger sibling but should not be released to the older children of her husband. The first three of the older children are sons; one of them is 69 years old, the other is 55 and the third is 48. These are adults, and you as the widow is saying the body should not be released to them?”
Dumo dismisses allegations that the late business mogul’s sons were interested in getting him buried on time so they could take possession of his assets, saying that there is no truth in such.
“Nobody is saying anything like that; it has not got to the point of taking over anything. You can now understand where people are fixated. The issue is how to bury our father. She is the one who is trying to read a will when the man has not been buried. Nobody has made any claim to anything. Nobody is arguing over any property. We have not said we want to take anything. Our concern is to know how our father died? Not about businesses, not about who gets what; that is beside the point.
“None of us has asked for a pin of our father since he died; that is not the point. But somebody is looking for things to say to the public to cover our queries as to how he died? Did he die in Accra? If he didn’t, how did he get there? Then let us give my father a befitting burial. Those who are concerned about property are the ones who are running up and down. That is why a lot of people think our father’s corpse was taken from Port Harcourt to Accra, so that death certificate and all that will be issued to the person who brought the corpse, and then they will use it to access banks and all of that,” Dumo stressed.
Meanwhile, the widow, Mrs. Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs has insisted that the burial of her late husband was delaying because of opposition from some of his sons, who think the only way they can take over their father’s assets is to hijack his funeral and blackmail the rest of the family to bow to their demands.
She hinted that attempts by Dumo and his other siblings to take over Moni Pulo Limited from their father, was responsible for the face-off between her and the family.
She also dismissed the insinuation that she was responsible for the death of her husband, saying, it is known that her late husband suffered from Parkinson’s disease for about two decades.
She said, “Why the plot to destroy my husband’s legacy by some family members? Contrary to insinuations, there were family members, friends (including his pastor) and our staff on the chartered flight to Ghana. And there was the doctor that attended to him when we arrived in Accra and two other doctors that joined him to confirm my husband’s passing. When and how did I murder him? Did we all conspire to kill my husband and cover it up?
“My husband passed peacefully. Till he breathed last, he was committed to the dignity, joy and happiness of members of his family, those whose paths crossed his, and those he didn’t even know but believed needed material or financial support.”
Mrs. Lulu-Briggs, however, expressed gratitude to the Amanayabo of Kalabari, King Theophilus J.T. Princewill, Amachree XI, whom she said has set up a committee to resolve the matter so that the late Lulu-Briggs could be giving a befitting burial without further delay.
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