By Our Reporter
The crisis rocking the family of the late Ijaw businessman and national statesman, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs is linked to a long-term ploy by some of the children of the deceased to take over his wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs’ controlling interests in his businesses, multiple sources have confirmed.
Since the late Lulu-Briggs passed away on December 27, 2018 in Accra, Ghana, efforts to organize a befitting burial for the man have been frustrated by the antics of a section of the family.
Signs that all was not well first came to light when Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Chairman of Platform Petroleum and second son of the deceased (he was also the Accord Party Rivers State governorship candidate in the last election), 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 a faction of seven chiefs from Oruwari Briggs Chiefs of Abonnema, Rivers State, in ThisDay of May 23, 2019. The write-up claimed that the late High Chief 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 Newspaper.
Matters, however, came to a head on Monday, June 3 when a group of heavily armed policemen led by ACP Adaku Uche-Anya, claiming they were sent from Force Headquarters in Abuja stormed the business premises of Moni Pulo Limited (MPL), a leading indigenous oil company.
The policemen, who claimed they were at the premises to investigate a petition alleging the late tycoon High Chief Lulu-Briggs was murdered, broke into the offices in an attempt to take away several documents and also forcefully extract statements from staff of the company whom they kept hostage for up to eight hours.
One of MPL’s lawyers, Bright Georgewill said the company neither received a notice prior to the invasion nor did the team of policemen come with a search warrant.
Sources close to the family told our correspondent that the police invasion of the MPL office and the alleged petition that the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs, who died aged 88, was killed by his wife during his last trip to Ghana, was not an isolated incident. They said that this was likely part of the plot by a son of the deceased to blackmail the widow to concede assets in the businesses, in which she has controlling shares, to him.
The source said Dumo, his brother Senibo and their other siblings have actually visited Ghana to see the corpse of their father privately and were in the know about his demise.
The tussle for control of the oil firm predates the death of High Chief Lulu Briggs. According to law reports available to our correspondent, in 2003, the three eldest sons of the family – Senibo, Dumo and Sofiri –dragged their father before a Lagos High Court, asking it through their lawyer Mohammed Belgore, to kick him out of the company he founded and making them the directors of the company.
The suit, FHC/L/CS1156/03 followed a purported Extraordinary General Meeting, EGM, of Moni Pulo held at a hotel in Port Harcourt in which they, among other things, sought the removal of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs as Chairman and director of the company and his replacement by Senibo. The EGM also named Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Managing Director/CEO of the company and also agreed to change the signatories to all the company’s bank account and to remove their father as the sole signatory.
The three sons however lost the suit and the court affirmed High Chief Lulu-Briggs as the chairman of the company. In his judgement, Justice Mohammed Shuaibu noted that the suit was filed in December 2003, whereas the EGM which would have conferred rights on the plaintiffs, was held in January 2004. Justice Shuaibu ruled that the plaintiffs ‘failed to show an existence of his legal right which needs to be protected’ by the court.
Incidentally, the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, whose representative attended the purported EGM, faulted its proceedings and refused to accept the resolutions that resulted therefrom. The CAC, in its letter dated November 10, 2003, noted that ‘no resolutions were passed’ during the meeting. ’The report indicated that when issues of votes were raised by the company secretary, Solola & Akpana, there was chaos which prevented the passing of any resolution and the meeting had to be adjourned.’
But the sons did not relent. In February 27, 2004, they filed a notice of appeal against the judgement. They also asked the court, pending the determination of the lawsuit, to appoint a receiver/manager for the company so that their father (the defendant in the suit) would no longer have access or control over it.
’The appointment of a receiver and manager to control the bank accounts and assets of the plaintiff pending appeal would ensure that both the already earned income and future income of the plaintiff is safeguarded,’they pleaded.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs, in a Save-My-Soul letter to the Inspector General of the Police at the time, alleged that there had been several threats to his life while the cases run through the judicial process. He therefore sought police protection for himself and his family.
In an interview published in the Tribune of Saturday February 7, 2004, titled ‘You are too old, give us your oil coy – sons tell father’, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs said his three sons’ aim at instituting the lawsuits against him was, ‘to further the unlawful, illegal, fraudulent, unjust, greedy and ill-motivated attempts and plans to expropriate and seize the company and its prized assets to meet their respective reckless and insatiable desire.’’
‘’In buttressing his argument that none of his three sons has investment in the company in form of shareholding, he said that apart from Dumo who had once worked in the company, the others have never worked in their lives because they depended on him for their existence,’’ the newspaper reported.
A member of the Lulu-Briggs family, who claimed anonymity, said the lawsuit was dropped after the sons received two tranches of payments from their father. An initial $3million and a later $5million was paid to settle and separate them from the company. They relinquished their shares and all interests in the company.
Dumo Lulu-Briggs later established his own upstream oil company, Platform Petroleum, which he Chairs to-date. It is one of the two companies behind Seplat Petroleum, a Nigerian oil firm listed on the London Stock Exchange.
However, based on what is happening now, the acrimony within the family did not end with those payments and the separation from his companies.
Since the death of her husband, according to one of the late chief’s children, Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye Lulu-Briggs’ top priority remains on securing a burial date for her husband as soon as possible and she is enjoining all parties not to lose focus of that fact.
‘’It is sad that the legacy of the late statesman and philanthropist High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs is being dragged through the mud by his descendants,’’ said a senior Kalabari chief, who spoke anonymously because he didn’t want to be seen to be taking sides. ‘’One can only hope that the elders of Ijawland would step in to resolve the crisis before it assumes dangerous dimension.”
By Our Reporter