Shola Oyeyipo writes that the cold war that has ensued between oil magnate and Accord Party governorship candidate in the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and his father’s widow, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, is not showing any sign of abating any time soon
Following the December 27, 2018 controversial death, at 88, of renowned oil mogul, Kalabari-born multi-billionaire and philanthropist, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, who was a traditional ruler in his community, things have not remained the same between his widow, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, 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 his deceased father, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs himself on October 8, 2011, in his capacity as Paramount Head of the Briggs Oruwari House.
The deceased family suspect foul play in the circumstance that led to Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs’ death and the suspicion is attributed to the conflicting accounts of the widow and other persons who were also on the chartered flight, concerning how and when he died on that chartered flight heading to Ghana. Chief Dumo says that the accounts suggest 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, Col. (Dr.) Attoh. 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 series of allegations against her step son, Dumo.
In one of her interviews, she alleged that, “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.”
Hearing about these allegations which he considered as deliberate attempt to distort the true position of things, Dumo agreed to a chat with THISDAY to put, as he said, “the issues in proper perspective.”
It is alleged that part of her plan is cast aspersion on Dumo’s character such that he will not be able to sustain a contest for public office henceforth. Known to be an incurable optimist, the younger Lulu-Briggs has not given up his quest to rule Rivers State. He is convinced that given the right circumstance, the majority of Rivers indigenes who have benefitted from the collective generosity of his late father and himself will vote to help realise his ambition of governing Rivers State.
First, he explained why the family feels suspicious about the death of his father and secondly, he clarified that rather than what their step-mother 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 mortal 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 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 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. His wife does not want to release even his mortal remains to the family. By our own native laws and customs, even by Christian beliefs, the body belongs to the family. 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 enquiry 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, “I write in response of your letter dated July 2019 for the above subject matter and wish to state as follows: In order to situate my response in a proper perspective, it will be proper to reproduce your question before my response: (i) Upon the death of a Kalabari chief, like the Briggs Oruwari House, what is the role of (a) the widow (b) the chief – head of the family (c) his immediate family (d) his extended families and (c) other chiefs of the same group of houses as the deceased.
“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.”
“You will wonder why somebody will take an action in a court in Accra that don’t release the mortal remains to the people whom you ought to release the mortal remains to?
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. You can understand where people have been fixated. The issues have always been how, 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? If our father was alive why were the aircraft doors shut preventing anyone from going in? 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. Nobody has made claims except his wife who has been approaching his banks with death certificate and moving even his furniture from all his homes to unknown destinations.
“She has moved all his choice cars, Rolls Royce, Bentley and Maybach to unknown destinations and none of us has even asked her why. She is running when nobody is pursuing. She even recently read a purported Will whilst holding her husband’s corpse hostage, preventing his burial. Who is after property? She is the person so much fixated on assets so much so that she would kidnap our father’s corpse and take same from Port Harcourt, Nigeria to Accra, Ghana so she could procure death certificates and mortuary receipts in Accra and begin to assess bank accounts and properties. The law has a long arm, it will certainly catch up at some point.
“I have not asked for a pin, none of us has asked for a pin of our father since he died. None of us has even gone to look at property or anything since he died. Not any one of his children as far as I know.
“So, that is not the point that we want to sell our father’s property but somebody looking for things to say to the public to cover the fact that the issue all along has been how did he die? Did he die in Accra? If he didn’t die in Accra, how did he get there?”
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. 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 a 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.”
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 years 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. There is no autopsy report that is known to anybody at this time, not even known to the Ghanaian Police or known to the Nigerian 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.