By Bankole Adesina
Seven months after his death, the Will and last Testament of late Kalabari chief and businessman, High Chief (Dr) O.B. Lulu-Briggs was read on July 26, 2019 despite opposition from three senior sons of the deceased, Dumo, Senibo and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs.
The High Chief left most of his assets in a Trust to be managed on behalf of his children and their offspring, with former governor of Cross Rivers, Donald Duke as one of the four trustees. The deceased also left substantial wealth to his widow Dr (Mrs) Seinye O.B. Lulu Briggs.
Interestingly, High Chief Lulu-Briggs did not accommodate any of his three elder sons in the will, although he stipulates that their children should be taken care of. This suggests all has not really been well in the family since the three attempted to fraudulently snatch his company from him in the early 2000s. The matter ended with him settling them with substantial sums of money.
The Will was supposed to be read in April because the High Chief’s lawyers were aware that it contained his funeral wishes. However, Dumo Lulu-Briggs approached a High Court in Umoku, Rivers State where he secured an Exparte Order barring the reading. He also filed another Will which he claims his father gave to him in 2003 at another High Court in Rivers State.
However, High Chief Lulu Briggs’s Will was eventually read after another court overturned the Order of the Umoku High Court. In the Will, the late statesman expressed a wish to be given a Christian burial and specified that his wife be involved in his burial. He also warned that anyone that contested the Will should be cut off immediately.
There are indications that the publication of the Will might not resolve the disagreement between members of the family that has delayed the burial of the High Chief.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs passed away on December 27, 2018 in Ghana, aged 88. He had lived with and managed increasingly debilitating Parkinson’s disease for close to two decades. His death, rather than reinforce the family unity he had spent his life promoting, blew open the internal frictions and latent hostilities among family members. Things spiraled into an open war of attrition involving the Police and other security agencies – and the law courts, as accusations of murder, harassment, extortion and fraud fly about.
The battle line pitches a faction of the family led by the second son of the deceased, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, a politician and oil mogul chairman of Platform Petroleum, and two other sons Senibo and Sofiri, against the rest of the family led by their mother and widow of the deceased, Dr (Mrs) Seinye O.B. Lulu- Briggs.
While calls to the phone number of Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs went unanswered, Mrs O.B. Lulu-Briggs declined to comment on the matter of the Will.
Although the Amanayabo of Kalabari, King (Professor) J.T. Princewill Amachree, has waded into the internal crisis by setting up a committee to find out why High Chief has not been buried, he recently wrote a letter which appears to have truncated his committees work by stating that in Kalabari widows have no role to play in the burial arrangements of their husbands. The committee has held public meetings in which Dumo had stated his side’s case and Mrs O.B. Lulu-Briggs has not completed her statement. However, the King recently wrote a letter which appears to have truncated his committee’s work by stating that in Kalabari ,widows have no role to play in the burial arrangements of their husbands.
This is even as the Nigeria Police continues its investigation into a petition by Dumo Lulu-Briggs that the late Lulu-Briggs was murdered, allegedly by his wife. The murder allegation is another twist in an intense internal battle over the control of the wealth left behind by the late Ijaw billionaire.
Although efforts to get the police to speak on the investigation have been unsuccessful, it is curious that the investigation did not begin in Accra where the High Chief passed away. Instead there was a police invasion of Moni Pulo Limited on June 3, 2019. On that day, a large contingent of police from Force CID Abuja, led by ACP Adaku Uche-Anya stormed the company’s corporate head office in Port Harcourt without a proper court order and broke doors in an attempt to interrogate staff and gain access to company documents. They left after about 8 hours.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs’ death was initially announced by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs on his Facebook page on January 1, 2019 and he used the same platform to announce the postponement of the burial of the late Lulu-Briggs on March 24, 2019.
But signs that all was not well after all, first came to light when the same Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, filed a lawsuit and secured an injunction to stop the opening and reading of the Will of the patriarch of the family.
This was followed a few weeks later by a surprising advertorial by seven chiefs from Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema, Rivers State, of which the High Chief was Paramount Head until his death, in ThisDay of May 23, 2019. The write-up claimed that the late High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs was missing, even though the same body of chiefs had published an announcement of his death on January 1, 2019 in the Punch. This signaled that the divisions in the immediate family had spilled over into the larger family and that they are on Dumo’s side.
Although the result of the autopsy eventually carried out on the body of the High Chief at the Military Hospital, Accra, Ghana on July 19, 2019 is not yet out, Dumo and his brothers objected to the procedure and requested another autopsy be carried out. However, following a meeting between the team that carried out the autopsy and both parties, Ghanaian authorities rejected the request and mandated that the military hospital team continue with the coroner’s assignment.
Both Mrs Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs and Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, in media interviews, have expressed a wish to give the family patriarch a befitting burial. But the two parties are divergent on the mechanics of how this will be achieved.
Mrs Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs stated that Chief Dumo demanded that she hands over what he considers his father’s choice assets as a condition for the burial to proceed. In Kalabari culture it is the elder son’s responsibility to lead the father’s funeral arrangements. Dumo, however, claimed that he wanted what he considered the circumstances behind the death of father cleared up before his burial.
A chief in Abonnema, who spoke on condition of anonymity, however said the content of the Will is a pointer to what lies behind the family crisis. “In the Will, Lulu-Briggs makes it clear that he considers the settlement payments made to Dumo (in 2003) and Senibo and Sofiri (in 2004) their inheritance. As such they are excluded in the Will to the extent that there is a sealed letter attached to the Will and only to be opened and read if they contest his final Will and Testament,’’ he said. ‘’Could this be the reason why Dumo and his brothers have been viciously fighting their father’s widow, Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs? Is this the reason why they blocked the reading of the Will? Well it has now been read and we hope the family can come together, close ranks and show respect to their greatly loved and admired patriarch- the most successful Ijaw man ever in history- by burying him with the simple dignity he has personally requested in his Will. As if he knew there would be this problem when he is dead. He was such a great man. He deserves much better than this. We are praying for peace to come back to his home.”