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War in the Lulu-Briggs house: Is it love for the late sage or love for his wealth?

…Wife, step-son, fight to finish …Battle rages from Nigeria to Ghana and back …VIPs, including governor, step in but hurry back

The Lulu-Briggs family is one of the most famous and wealthiest in Kalabari ethnic nationality in Nigeria. The high chief, now late, Olu Benson Briggs, popularly called O.B. Lulu-Briggs, is one of the few Ijaws that captured oil wells or oil mining licence (OML) early and did not sell the licence. He turned his into what is now known as Moni Pulo Petroleum Development Company (MPPDC) which employs hundreds of youths and mints wealth per day.

Signs that trouble would explode any day the patriarch would depart were everywhere because he was not strong any more (sick) and his second wife, Sienye, managed the oil company for years. One of his daughters from another wife was a top manager. His first son, Dumo, once worked there before creating his own oil empire with waves in Lagos. It was clear that any day the old man would go to his Maker, there would be both internal strife (succession and hierarchy issues in the company) and intra-family warfare that would send fires to Moni Pulo. This appears to have started already.

Lulu-Briggs lost his own father (Benson Snr) very early and this did not deter him from confronting life and conquering it through Mandilas, Karabaris and the Nigerian Ports Authority, and making enormous wealth from oil. Many say his descendants who rather enjoyed more than him to his ripe age of about 90 and who many expect to have had a head-start in life seem not to be alright but eager for what is left after death; or is it more than that?

Both Sienye and Dumo insist they are in the fight for the integrity and love of the old man but many observers say the open warfare points to the opposite. Those, who do not like the scandal of leaving the wealthy sage in the cold rooms in Ghana, say the sage tried to solve the impending crisis by carefully scribing a will, but the same will has become the cause of crisis. Glimpses from it indicate that much (including the oil company) was left for the wife, Sienye, while the sons did not get much, but sources close to the wife argued that both father and sons had estranged relationship while the man was alive. Many say the sons would have tried to resolve most issues while their father was alive to avoid conflict upon his death.

That not done, the will seemed to speak with anger and hatred on the sons and threatened to disinherit them from the little given to them, should they create problems. The will also threatened to reveal a letter that allegedly contains the anger of the sage on his sons, but that this would only be if they made trouble.

The fighting strategy from the sons has however, shifted the battleground from the will to the cause of the old man’s death, and also creating doubt around the will. Culture has been imported into it, subsuming the legal rights of a widow or the weight of a will over the cultural high grounds of the sons. Insinuations from the sons are that the wife created the will, but they have not produced the one that should be the genuine one.

A source close to one of the generals told his close associates that the old man who was till his death the chairman of Moni Pulo and that of his foundation, could not have failed to write a will, nor could he have failed to protect the sensitive will in the hands of top lawyers that he had frequent access to. Sources said his brains were very alert to the end because books written on him were read to him and he approved every single phrase. So, pinning the fight around cause of death and suspected murder could succeed in discrediting the beneficiary of the will and thus discredit the will, as a fighting strategy. Attacking the will straight could be dangerous, so, flanking, as they call it in law, could be the better strategy, sources explained. The outcome could be for peacemakers to set aside the will and table middle ground resolutions which parties would be pressured to accept.

Since the death occurred in the middle of 2019, many dates have been fixed for burial but none worked. Each party has pointed fingers at the other for the hitches. It is not known whether the top men and retired generals that were close to the high chief are helping to resolve the dispute or are rather lining behind one or the other. What is open is that many chiefs and elders have intervened to no avail. The most prominent was the outburst of the state governor, Nyesom Wike, who promised to take over the burial of the elder statesman to reduce scandals. Instead, the meeting of Kalabari elders summoned for the matter rather created its own scandal where the Kalabari monarch was berated for hosting a governor from a sister state without approval.

The governor later expressed exasperation on the matter, saying the wife was too difficult. Details of what the governor tabled and how it was approached by each party were not made public. The matter returned to the court in Ghana.

Lulu-Briggs early life: hard work, humility

According to newspaper publications in October 2015 when he clocked 85, Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs (OON, DCF) is the quintessential father of the fatherless. “Born 85 years ago into the royal lineage of Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs, to Papa Benson and Madam Rachel Kioba Harrison Briggs in the idyllic, quiet town of Abonnema in the Kalabari kingdom, the trajectory of his early life was abruptly interrupted by the early demise of his father. Despite the rough start to his early years, over time, providence and God’s favour set him soaring above all adversaries. His resilience and hard work rewrote the history of his rugged childhood experience and today he is ranked the 31th richest man in Africa by Forbes magazine.

“The measure of a man is not in the setbacks he experiences but how he overcomes those setbacks. The young Olu Benson overcame his setbacks with resolve. After his education in Abonnema, Jos and later in the United Kingdom, he plunged into his professional career, which saw him working in various capacities in the then Mandilas and Karabaris and later in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in 1955.”

For such a focused and determined young man, it was just a matter of time before his uncommon work ethic and deep seated humanitarian spirit earned him early recognition in the work place. The management of the NPA quickly recognized his passion for ensuring equity in the work place and accordingly transferred him to the Industrial Relations Department of NPA. There, he rose to the position of Principal Industrial Relations Officer and was later promoted to the position of Head of Division, Eastern Ports, a post from which he voluntarily retired in April 1978.

During his time at NPA, Chief Lulu-Briggs attained a number of milestones. He served as Secretary of the Workers’ Union of the organization for over seven years. During this time, the innovations like the establishment of a staff canteen came into being. The high chief was also the chairman of the Maritime Trade Union Federation of the Eastern Ports from 1968-1971. In addition, apart from being one of the founders of the Rivers State Council of Labour, he also served as its President between 1970 and 1972.

The investor

After a stint in the public service, where he had a meritorious career, Lulu-Briggs moved out into the larger society as a successful entrepreneur and politician. His fundamental values of hard work, tenacity and integrity continued to stand him in good stead, as he successfully set up businesses like Rachael Hotels Limited and Lubrik Nigeria Limited in the mid-1980s. In 1992, he founded Moni Pulo Limited, an indigenous oil exploration and production company and thereafter went on to set up Krakrama Investments Limited in 2003 and Lubrik Construction Limited in 2007.

Apart from his unwavering faith in God, the High Chief is motivated by the desire to build excellent and sustainable institutions. As Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Moni Pulo Limited, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs has sought to make the company a leader in the areas of operational excellence, local content and proactive corporate social responsibility. These areas of emphasis have helped attract the best indigenous and national talents to the company and ensured continuous goodwill and total support for the company from its various host communities. In addition to his interests in oil and gas exploration and production, the High Chief has interests in Construction, Real Estate and Banking.

His exploits in life are not limited to entrepreneurship. His name also rings a resounding bell in the political arena. His foray into partisan politics was guided by the same principles – integrity and diligence. As one of the founding members of the now defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in Rivers State, he rose to the position of National Deputy Chairman of NPN in 1980 and remained in that position till 1983. Chief Lulu-Briggs later contested for the post of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the now defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). Unsurprisingly, he left active partisan politics with his head held up high and his reputation untainted.

His love in action

If this was all the High Chief achieved in his life, coming as he has, from humble beginnings, it may have been enough; but not for this man! Totally driven by a desire to positively impact the lives of others, this large hearted, detribalised Nigerian has increasingly poured out his love, time and resources into caring for others; showing them care that they cannot possibly reciprocate.  Some may call it philanthropy but High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs prefers to see it as living well through Love in ActionThis is reflected in many ways such as through his corporate scholarships which have enabled thousands of Nigerian children and youths receive qualitative education at the primary, secondary and tertiary school levels within and outside the country.

Education is of extreme importance to the High Chief. For him, with the right education, exposure and experience, Nigerian run organisations can compete favourably with international organisations. Being a man who puts actions behind his passions, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs has endowed a Chair in Petroleum Geosciences in the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. He has also built, equipped and even renovated many secondary schools in Rivers State. On the international scene, he has made, among other contributions, an endowment to support gifted but indigent students regardless of race or ethnicity in the Department of Petroleum Engineering in the University of Texas at Austin in the USA.

The life of High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs has been guided consistently by the biblical injunction to love your neighbor as yourself and this has been praticalised in the deep concern he evinces in the life and plight of others – especially the less privileged at home and abroad.

In 2001, Chief Lulu-Briggs and his beloved wife, Seinye, conceptualised and began their Care for Life Programme under the auspices of the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation. Through this Foundation, they have organised well over 20 Free Medical Missions in Rivers Sate, Bayelsa State, Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State. This aside, the lives of indigent and aged rural dwellers have been improved through providing them regular allowances, life giving provisions and fully paid care givers in cases where the senior citizens have no able relatives in residence. One would have thought this was enough-but for the High Chief, love has no boundaries for he has gone on to provide a magnificent edifice-the Biokpo Recreational Centre at Abonnema- where the elderly visit daily, to socialise, relax and receive any on-the-spot medical attention they may require.

It’s no wonder that the motivation for the actions of High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs stems from his Christian faith. Having received the salvation and promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the High Chief not only demonstrates this love by his sharing resources and time, he has also set up the Chiefs-In-Christ fellowship, a Christian faith-based gathering of chiefs, traditional rulers and others in leadership positions, preaching the same gospel of love and salvation to them.

The testimony is that “The high chief, O. B. Lulu-Briggs, built a monument of love worthy of emulation. It would serve us all well to study and emulate the life of this national treasure.”

Those so far interviewed say what is not clear is whether those he left behind have emulated this life of peace and love to others.

Dumo’s position

Those behind Seinye say they are angered by Dumo’s position and allegations. They said Uche Woke, a media aide to Dumo, had, on December 39, 2019, published on Facebook 9in his fb name, Uchman Dela Rosa) that Seinye was responsible for the death of her husband.

Dumo’s man further alleged in his publication that Seinye, after allegedly murdering her husband, smuggled his corpse to Ghana and deposited it in a mortuary there in the absence of his children.

Woke was also said to have alleged in his publication that Seinye went to court to stop her husband’s children from having access to their father’s body for burial and that she hurriedly organised an autopsy without following the lawful procedures and guidelines meant to guarantee transparency as ordered by the court, adding that she was so concerned about her husband’s wealth that she read a certain Will before burial, relocated companies and packed her husband’s property to unknown destinations.

The publication sought to corroborate Dumo’s earlier allegation that Seinye killed his father –her husband – for which he wrote a petition to the Inspector-General of Police on 19th April, 2019, through his solicitors, Abu Samson and Co., Attorneys & Solicitors of Law, demanding for an investigation of the death of his father.

Is the fight about multi-billion naira estate?

Widow’s revelation

The widow, Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs (PhD) finally opened up on why her step son is fighting her.

Speaking through her spokesman, Oraye St. Franklyn, in a statement made available to the media recently, Seinye said that Dumo was planning to destroy her husband’s legacy and undermine his last will and testament. She spoke in reaction to a publication from the Dumo camp on the outcome of the case in Ghana.

But reacting to the allegations by Chief Dumo and his media aide, Seinye described them as false and malicious, adding that they were aimed at denigrating her person.

The statement by Oranye St. Franklyn, reads in part: “Dr. Seinye Lulu-Briggs recalls that the trauma suffered by High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs in standing in the dock as an accused person, watching his son and friends prosecute him for fraud and trying to wrest the company he founded from him over two decades ago was enough to have killed him. Fortunately, the great man survived that, including serial heart attacks, lived for many years after and continues to live on today in the hearts of many who love him.

“Dr Seinye Lulu-Briggs is amazed at the character of a son who transferred documents to his father who at the time was battling a heart attack in order for the ill man to sign over his shares to the son as he (the father) was being rushed overseas for treatment. What other purpose could that have been for, other than in anticipation of his father’s death? She is further amazed at the audacity of the son who would later refuse to handover the share transfer documents back to his father when God saved him and he survived the heart attack. For the High Chief to have survived that heart attack could reasonably have been quite upsettling for the conspiring sons as it complicated their plans. Perhaps, it is the same reason the son saw, addressed and consented to his aides to address his own father as being dead while he was still alive.”

Putting the records straight, Seinye reiterated that her husband, the high chief, Lulu-Briggs, died in Accra, Ghana, on December 27, 2018 shortly after arriving for his annual vacation, noting that all his seven children, including Dumo, were at the mortuary on December 29 to see the corpse at least twice, after which Dumo arranged with the managers of the mortuary to make a casket with which to convey the corpse for burial, with him and his elder brother, Senibo, later returning to the mortuary to inspect the casket that was delivered there.

Revealing the real reason why Dumo is fighting and accusing her of killing their father, Seinye said it was because of her inability to set aside her husband’s Will and allow Dumo to take over the high chief’s four major companies and property.

The statement reads: “The allegation that Dr. Seinye Lulu-Briggs killed her husband, High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs, began after she was threatened by Dumo Lulu-Briggs, her step son, right before his pastor that if she didn’t give him four legacy assets namely: Moni Pulo Limited, Sombreiro House (her matrimonial home), Rachael Hotel and the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, he would go public with an allegation against her that she killed her husband. Seinye Lulu-Briggs told Dumo Lulu-Briggs that he knew she didn’t kill her husband and that what he wanted would mean setting aside her husband’s Will.

“She reiterated that she told him that she had no powers to do so, that moreover the Will provided for the well-being of his children, grand children and future generations of whom Dumo’s first son is the only grandchild mentioned by name and bequeathed with a property in the Will.

“She, however, agreed to gift 50 percent of her shares in Moni Pulo Limited to all seven children of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs, which Dumo demanded for himself alone. He accepted the offer and later declined it in writing.

“Dr. Seinye Lulu-Briggs also told Dumo that most of his father’s assets were bequeathed to a trust that he had set up by himself during his lifetime. As such, she had no powers to cancel the trust and or redistribute the said properties as Dumo would have wished.

“Failing to satisfy his untoward and unreasonable demands, Dumo Lulu-Briggs wrote a petition to the Nigerian Police Force falsely alleging that she killed her husband.”

BDSUNDAY gathered that the petition resulted in an investigation by the police into the circumstances surrounding the death of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs and culminated in an autopsy test being conducted on the body of the late High Chief on Friday, 19th July, 2019, at the 37 Military Hospital, Accra, Ghana, in the presence of both Seinye and Dumo’s medical representatives.

The result of the autopsy, despite showing that O.B. Lulu-Briggs died of natural causes, is still being contested by Dumo Lulu-Briggs who believes that it was manipulated.

Conclusion

Dumo is expected to respond in writing as he always does through his trusted media aides. And the scandal spirals from level to level while the sage lies-in-state in a foreign land.

 

Ignatius Chukwu & Sam Esogwa

 

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