When the sad news of Lulu-Briggs’ passing in Accra, Ghana, filtered through at the end of 2018, many, especially in Rivers State, looked forward to attending what was expected to be a befitting burial for the distinguished elder Kalabari statesman whose business acumen and legendary philanthropic donations are renowned. Indeed, preparations were well underway in Abonnema earlier this year. However, disquiet in his immediate family which first filtered into the public in a short story in one of the national dailies mid-January 2019 is now fully in the open with two opposing camps. On the one hand are the High Chief’s elder sons Senibo, Dumo and Sofiri. Led by Dumo, who is Chairman of Platform Petroleum, they appear to have the backing of some of their compound chiefs in Abonnema. The High Chief’s wife, Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs, with their four other children, who has been by his side for the last two decades, is in the second camp.
After several attempts to get her feedback on matters arising from our investigations, we were able to meet briefly with her to discuss the murder charge lodged against her by Dumo and his siblings and other matters arising.
Q: It has been over six months since your husband, distinguished elder statesman High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs passed away in Accra, Ghana. Why has he not been buried?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: The fact that my beloved husband has not yet been buried is a source of great anguish and pain particularly because he did not like delayed burials. He often said a dead person should be allowed to go and rest as quickly as possible.
And in keeping with his generosity, he would even provide funds to families who were too distressed to give their dearly departed a dignified burial. But, be that as it may, the burial of my late husband has been delayed because of opposition from some of his sons who appeared to think that 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. I am however grateful to our father, the Amanayabo of Kalabari, King Theophilus J.T. Princewill, Amachree XI, who has set up a committee to help us resolve this matter so that the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs is given a befitting burial without too much further delay.
Q: It is interesting that you mentioned the intervention of the Amanayabo. Recently, some Abonnema chiefs placed an advertisement in some national dailies in which they claimed that your late husband was missing and that you were responsible for his disappearance?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: Yes, I read that advertisement, which was signed by seven chiefs from our Oruwari Briggs compound in Abonnema. I also saw another one placed by another group of our Abonnema Chiefs in which they faulted the one placed by the seven chiefs. The advertisement claiming that my beloved husband is missing is part of a malicious and unjustified conspiracy against me. On the 27th of December 2018, my beloved husband, High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs passed on to glory shortly after our arrival at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. We travelled on a chartered flight with family, friends and some members of our staff. As soon as we alighted from the flight and the captain and crew bade us farewell, my husband’s nurse asked for an ambulance when she noticed his pulse had dropped. The ambulance took him to the medical centre at the airport where a doctor informed us that my husband had passed on. You cannot imagine how shocked we all were. Somehow, I managed to notify my husband’s son and eldest daughter: Dumo and Solate. They arrived with their siblings on the evening of 28th December and on 29th December, as a family we all visited the mortuary where my husband’s body was eventually on the morning of 28th of December. Thereafter, Senibo and Dumo, his two elder sons, started making arrangements for a casket that would be used to bring back his body to Nigeria.
They visited the mortuary at least twice on their own. At the time, we all agreed that we should bury Chief before the upcoming general elections to enable our esteemed guests from outside Port Harcourt attend the burial without fear of the usual election-related insecurity volatility in Rivers State. We agreed on 26th of January and Dumo travelled to the village to inform the larger family and compound chiefs of the date.
While we were preparing for the burial, Senibo – my husband’s eldest son – informed us that he was not ready, and the initial burial date was cancelled. After several family meetings, we agreed another date which was 6th of April 2019. While preparations were ongoing, Dumo, who was contesting for the Rivers State governorship on the platform of the Accord Party, cancelled the funeral because of polls. However, the elections have come and gone, winners and losers have emerged, but chief’s sons have not indicated any interest to bury my husband till date. Instead, they are using the chiefs to cast aspersions against me and attempting to cover up the disrespectful manner in which they are handling their responsibility towards their father.
Q: What of the accusation that you were responsible for the death of your husband?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: Sighs! The ways of some men could be extremely evil and as Shakespeare rightly said, there is no way to divine the wickedness in the heart of some. My husband died at almost 89 years of age. It’s a well-known fact that he suffered from Parkinson’s disease for upwards of two decades. He passed away peacefully- no struggle, no cough, no fever. Just like a saint should go. Until the moment he took his last breath, he worked to bring dignity, joy and happiness to the lives of members of his family, those whose paths crossed his, and those he didn’t even know but he believed needed material or financial support. It was part of an agreement he made to God when he prayed for success as a young poverty-stricken child. He succeeded by the grace of God and lived a long life during which he used his resources and influence in the service of humanity.
I don’t know why the plot to destroy his legacy has taken root in the heart of some members of this family. The truth is that there were family members, friends (including his pastor) and our staff on that chartered flight to Ghana – not to talk of the captain and crew of the aircraft – 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? Or did we all conspire to kill my husband and cover it up? Of course not. I loved and cared for my husband through several health crises. Only a sick mind would even think I could harm him. My beloved husband, High Chief (Dr.) Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs died of natural causes. The day before, he had joyously presided over our family’s annual Thanksgiving ceremony in Abonnema. He was very much looking forward to vacationing in Accra. We had sent our last son, some members of our family and staff, two days before, to prepare for our month-long vacation.
In any case, as you are aware, the police are already investigating the petition they received alleging that I killed my husband. I am cooperating with them as I have nothing to hide. I have even passed on High Chief’s medical records and shared the contacts of the medics who attended to him in Accra, Ghana. I am confident that with the leadership and guidance of the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, the police will do a thorough and professional job and find out that they have been misled.
Q: It is strange that accusation of murder is levelled against you. Why do you think this has happened?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: Before the cancellation of the second burial date agreed upon by the family at a family meeting, chief’s older sons asked for a list of his properties so that they could decide which one to sell to raise funds to bury him. I told them that we are all aware that their father had a Will and it was not for me to get involved in such matters. I also indicated that as a family we were in a position to bury their father without having to sell any of his property. Soon after, Dumo cancelled the April 6th burial date and there seemed to be no interest in setting another date.
I took it upon myself to reach out to him through mutual friends. Eventually, Dumo and I met a pastor whom we both have high regard for, with a view to resolving whatever issues that gave rise to the indefinite postponement of my husband’s burial. At that meeting, Dumo stated that unless I handed over to him what he believed were 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. There is no way I will ever negotiate over my beloved husband’s body nor will I go against whatever wishes he has in his final Will and Testament.
During that meeting, Dumo also asked me for my husband’s death certificate. I showed him the scanned copy I had on my phone and later forwarded it to him. Dumo’s response was to the effect that he was not satisfied with the death certificate I sent to him. I believe that is the origin of the spiteful allegation against me, as well as the formal police petition.
Q: Madam these are weighty allegations. What efforts are you making to resolve this matter before it spirals out of control?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: Well, apart from the commendable intervention of the Amanayabo, there have been several others attempting to bring about a resolution. But frankly, the most important things on my mind are to ensure my husband is buried with the dignity that befits his lifelong achievements and the legacies he left behind. Unfortunately, at the same time I now have to fight to clear this grave charge of murder that is hanging over my head. Dumo is fighting me on several fronts. He is bent on depriving me of my rights as a woman, as a mother, as a wife and companion to my husband, now of blessed memory. Lawyers tried to have my husband’s Will read which according to them have instructions on his funeral. However, once he got wind of the probate filing, he approached a remote court in Rivers State and stopped the reading of High Chief’s Will. Interestingly, he approached another court in Rivers State and filed a Will he claims his father gave to him 2003. Since he filed the petition alleging that I murdered his father, me, my staff, family members and close friends have received threatening messages and warnings. The 3rd of June, 2019 siege by a large contingent of police from Force CIID Abuja and my detention for over 5 hours and the seizure of my passport without any explanations by Nigerian Immigration Service are all related to him and his brothers’ efforts to intimidate and harass me to go against their father’s wishes.
Q: What has the Immigration service got to do with this matter?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: You would think nothing, wouldn’t you? But my experience was not palatable. On June 17, 2019, as I returned from a trip overseas, I was stopped, stripped of my passport and held against my will for over 5 hours by staff of the Nigerian Immigration in Abuja for no tangible reason other than, ‘the DG of Immigration wants to see you.” Fortunately, my lawyer located where I was being held in Abuja and insisted that I be released. That detention almost ruined my effort to attend a critical meeting of the committee established by the Amanayabo to look into the issues stopping the burial of my husband. The Nigerian Immigration Service eventually returned my passport, but I still do not know why I was detained.
Q: For a woman who is mourning the death of her husband, you have surely gone through a lot lately. How did your relationship between yourself and your son, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, deteriorate to this level?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: Well it is now clear to me that the animosity I am facing at the hands of Dumo and his siblings is related to the attempts they made to take control of Moni Pulo Limited from their father by charging him like a criminal to courts in Abuja, Lagos, Houston and London in the early 2000s. You may be too young to remember the cases which were widely reported in the media at the time. Though I was not a party to the proceedings, I bore the brunt of a lot of their accusations against their father.
As expected my late husband prevailed at the courts and in order to buy himself peace of my mind and settle the matter once and for all he entered into two settlements through which he symbolically bought the ‘purported shares’ of his three eldest sons- Senibo, Dumo and Sofiri- from them. Part of the agreement is that they would hands off the company in perpetuity. But now that he is dead, and not minding about their father’s other children, they have renewed their plot to seize their father’s assets and I am obviously standing in their way, so they are trying to push me aside.
I am confident, however, that they will equally fail in this as they failed in previous efforts because the God I serve is a just God. Those who were close to my husband know this sad history and how much it broke his heart. However, he refused to disown his children as many of his friends advised him to do. In fact, he considered the settlement he made to them the payment of their inheritance from him. I loved my husband and we cared for one another. I am my husband’s next of kin and I will not allow anyone to disrespect the wishes he has made in his Will which will be read at God’s appointed time.
Dumo, particularly, is threatening my life and that of the people that work for me. He monitors my movements (he has confirmed this at a public hearing). He is doing everything he can to bring me down, but my God will disappoint him and destroy all his efforts against me.
I am calm and focused on the task of getting my husband a burial that is respectable and on clearing my name. Once that is taken care of, I know that God will take care of the rest. My husband, High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs legacies will live on as he wished by God’s grace and mercy.
Q: So, when do you believe your husband will be buried?
Mrs Lulu-Briggs: As you can see, there are lots of moving pieces. However, as I have just stated, I am confident that in the coming weeks we will be able to lay my husband’s body to rest at a befitting funeral. Please make sure you come and cover the event. Thanks and God bless you.