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Furore Over The Death And Fortunes Of Late Briggs

Death is a necessary end. An accomplished and fulfilled Kalabari-born multi-billionaire and philanthropist, High Chief Lulu-Briggs, who died on December 27, 2018, aged 88, was a man of great stature respected worldwide for his astuteness and business acumen, among other virtues. 

However, since his passage, there have been issues among his widow, Chiefs of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema in Akuku-Toru local government, Rivers State and the older sons of the deceased.

There have been allegations and counter-allegations between the widow and another prominent member of the family, also a multi-billionaire oil magnate – the younger Lulu-Briggs and the second son of his late father, who was the candidate of the Accord Party in the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State, Chief Dumo O.B. Lulu-Briggs.

Chief Dumo was installed a chief by their now-deceased father on October 8, 2011, in his capacity as Paramount Head of the Briggs Oruwari House.

The deceased family suspects foul play in the circumstances that led to Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs’ death and the suspicion is attributed to the conflicting accounts of how and when he died on that chartered flight heading to Ghana. Chief Dumo says that the account suggests that their father died in Port Harcourt.

Though in Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs’s narration, the ailing old man, who was on his way to Ghana for holiday on December 27, 2018, arrived Accra alive before he eventually passed on. Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who by his position as his late father’s chief and the chief mourner, and the mouthpiece for the family, has insisted that thorough investigation be conducted to ascertain the cause and time of death.

While the younger Lulu-Briggs disagreed with the autopsy process, particularly due to the involvement of one Ghanaian pathologist, Dr. Lawrence Edusie of the Korle-Bu Hospital, a different entity and person from the 37 Military hospital and their pathologist, Dr Attoh. Dr. Lawrence Edusie, they say has been barred by a circular from the Attorney General in Ghana from being involved in any autopsy following police investigations.

Mrs Lulu Briggs also raised a series of allegations against her stepson, Dumo.

In one of her interviews, she alleged that “Dumo stated that unless I handed over to him what he believed was my husband’s key assets – Moni Pulo Limited, Rachael Hotel, O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation and Sombriero House (our home in Port Harcourt) he (and his brothers) would not set a burial date for his father. He also stated that he would start a murder inquiry to know how his father died on the plane and that he would go public with the accusation that I killed him if I did not cooperate. He also shared his wishes with some other people who informed me that Dumo said my husband’s body is what he will use to get me to accept his demands.

Hearing about these allegations which he considered as a deliberate attempt to distort the true position of things, Dumo agreed to a chat with Leadership to put as he said “the issues in proper perspective.”

First, he explained why the family feels suspicious about the death of his father and secondly, he clarified that rather than what their stepmother wants the public to believe, the delay in the burial of his father is basically because his widow had instituted two legal actions in Ghana asking the court to release the remains of their father to her, quite contrary to the Kalabari custom and tradition. This has never happened in the history of the Kalabari kingdom. No widow has ever asked that the corpse of her husband should be given to her and not his children led by the chief mourner of the family. In this case, she went to court in Ghana to seek an injunction against the release of the mortal remains to the chief mourner or anybody else but herself.

Dumo stated that “What is important to us now is that having gone ahead and done the autopsy, the police investigations can continue even after we have buried our father. So, what should be of importance to all of us now is how to come together and bury our father. All other matters are secondary.

“The police are doing their investigations, there is nothing that says we should not go and give our father, her husband, a befitting burial. She even claims to be next of kin.

“I don’t know where there is next of kin as it relates to mortal remains. Even his mortal remains his wife does not want to release to the family. By our own native laws and customs, even by Christian beliefs, the body belongs to the family. And these are the oldest sons of our father saying ‘can we have the mortal remains of our father so that all of us, including you his widow can go together and give him a befitting burial rather she brings an action that the right thing should not be done.”

Dumo buttresses his argument with the position of the king of Kabalari, King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill, who in his response to an inquiry by the Young Briggs House on the matter, which was communicated to the two parties, said late O.B. Lulu Briggs’ mortal remains should be handed over to Dumo.

King Princewill in his response wrote that: “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, which I will never do or contemplate doing. Furthermore, some individuals will interpret it to say that I do not want to state the truth and if I do, some individuals will equally say I am in support of one particular party. However, no matter what people will say I am doing this because of the enormity of the burden the Kalabari kingdom placed on my shoulders in issues such as this.

“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, she is immediately removed from sight by her family 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 cries 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.”

Therefore, Dumo’s contention is that by going to court, his father’s widow is “holding the mortal remains of their father hostage and denying us the opportunity of giving him a befitting burial as quickly as we want.”

Reacting to the allegation that he demanded that his father’s widow should handover his key assets to him, Dumo said: “I don’t know if we have gotten to the point of taking over anything. So, you can understand where people have been fixated. The issues have always been how and when and where did our father die? Did he die in Nigeria and was taken in a charter aircraft to Ghana? What were they doing, holed up in the static plane for upwards of five hours, with the airplane doors shut so no one could come in or go out for more than five hours?

“The police are investigating that matter so the focus now is on how to give him a befitting burial. I haven’t made claim to anything.

He emphatically said “For me, we have to separate the issues, what is important to me is that I know how my father died and give my father a very deserved, befitting burial.

He said further that while it is their wish that they are able to come together as his children, his wife – as family, to give him a befitting burial, as a son; he is also committed to unravelling how his father died.

“That my father has lived up to 88 is no reason he should not have been allowed to pass on peacefully. If I thought that a few things had happened, I should ask questions.

“When questions were asked and we didn’t see any response coming – we also didn’t see medical death record. No mortuary receipt, we had to petition the police.

“If my father died in Nigeria here, all of those papers will be given to us because we are his children and I am the Chief Mourner and we were all here in Port Harcourt.”

The Ahmadu Bello University and London School of Economics, University of London, trained lawyer-turned businessman and politician who feels this is a premeditated ploy aimed at controlling his father’s fortunes is not likely to back down. He is determined to ensure that the right thing is done and as such, the last may not have been heard in this matter.

The entire community however wishes that the furor over the death of the late monarch should be laid to rest so he can be accorded a befitting burial rites.

Written by – Okoh from Lagos.

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