Since December 27, last year, when Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs announced the death of her husband, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, while they were travelling to Ghana, all has not been well in the family of the Kalabari-born multi-billionaire, elder statesman and philanthropist.
While the Chiefs of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema, Rivers State are at a loss as to what may have happened to the head of the ancient War-Canoe House, his wife and children are at dagger drawn.
Consequently, they have not agreed on a burial date for the departed high chief as the son, Dumo and wife, Seinye told Sunday Sun.
Son: Dumo Lulu-Briggs is the candidate of the Accord Party in the 2019 governorship election in Rivers State. In this interview, he speaks on the issues delaying the burial of his late father, Lulu-Briggs.
What is delaying the burial of your father?
The family feels suspicious about the circumstances that surrounded our father’s death. Contrary to what the public has been made to believe, the delay in his burial arrangements is because of the two legal actions his widow instituted in Ghana asking that his body should be released to her against the Kalabari customs and tradition. The first action was against me where she said that the body should not be released to me. The second was where she sued on behalf of a minor who was adopted by our father and other siblings, that in the event of the failure of the first action, the body should be released to her and her younger sibling instead of the older children of her husband. The first three children are all men; one of them is 69-year-old, the other 55 and the third 48. These are adult men and you are saying as a widow that the body should not be released to them. Having done the autopsy, what is of importance to all of us is how to come together to bury our father. Thereafter, the police investigations can continue. There is nothing that says we should not give him a befitting burial. But his widow is insisting that the remains should be given to her as the next of kin. I don’t know where there is next of kin as it relates to mortal remains. By our own native laws and customs, even by the Christian belief, the body belongs to the family. But while the oldest sons of our father are making every effort to rally all of us together to give our father a befitting burial, she brought a court injunction to stop us from doing the right thing.
Now, what is the position of the traditional leaders of your community on this matter?
The king of Kabalari, King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill, in his response to an enquiry by the Young Briggs House, which was communicated to the two parties, said the late O.B. Lulu Briggs’ mortal remains should be handed over to Dumo. His response to the question we put before him reads in part: “According to Kalabari customs and tradition, when a woman loses her husband, her family immediately removes her from sight 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. Head of the family is the custodian of the corpse – that is (Dumo) as well as the chairman, central burial committee.”
How about the allegation of your moves to take charge of your father’s assets?
I don’t know if we have gotten to the point of taking over anything. We haven’t made claim to anything. The issue here now is how to bury our father. She is the one who is trying to read a Will when the man has not been buried. Nobody is arguing over any property. We have not said we want to take anything. Our concern now is to know how our father died, not about businesses, not about who gets what. I have not asked for a pin. None of us has asked for a pin of our father since he died. Somebody is just looking for something to say to the public to cover the fact that the issue all along has been how did he died. Did he die in Accra? If he didn’t die in Accra, how did he get there?” We are not concerned about Moni Pulo. We will be concerned about Moni Pulo when our father is buried. For me, we have to separate the issues. What is important to me is to see that my father is given a 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 that our father’s corpse was taken from Port Harcourt to Accra so that death certificate will be issued to the person who brought the corpse and then use it to access banks and all of that.
Are you saying that if your father is buried today, you may likely not bother about his assets?
That is not possible. It is our wish that we are able to come together as family to give him a befitting burial, but we are also committed to unraveling how he died. That my father has lived up to 88 is no reason he should not be allowed to die naturally. If, for instance, we saw his medical death certificate, it could have been a lot easier to understand how things happened. But the circumstances of his death raise curiosity when you hear that he was holed up in an aircraft for five to six hours and that the aircraft doors were shut, nobody was entering and nobody was leaving the plane. Questions were asked when we didn’t see any response coming or medical death record and no mortuary receipt. So, the matter was reported to the police. There is no autopsy report that is known to anybody, 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 will be here. If you take the corpse to Accra, you get access to all of those things. I am not likely going to back down on the efforts to know how my father died.
Wife, Seinye: Meanwhile, the deceased widow, Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs, has dismissed the insinuation that she was responsible for the death of Chief Lulu-Briggs, saying, ‘it is a well-known fact that her late husband suffered from Parkinson’s disease for upwards of two decades.’
She explained that the late Lulu-Briggs breathed his last in the presence of ‘family members, friends (including his pastor), our staff on the chartered flight to Ghana, the captain and members of the crew. Her words: “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?
“He passed away peacefully like a saint, no struggle, no cough, no fever. Until the moment he took his last breath, he worked to bring dignity, joy and happiness to all members of his family, those whose paths crossed his, and those he didn’t even know, but believed needed material or financial support.”
Seinye attributed the delay in the burial arrangements of her late husband to the opposition from some of his sons, who she said, thought the only way they could take over their father’s assets was to hijack his funeral and blackmail the rest of the family to bow to their demands.
This is even as she expressed gratitude to the Amanayabo of Kalabari, King Theophilus J.T. Princewill, Amachree XI, for the committee he set up to resolve the matter so that her late husband could be given a befitting burial without further delay.
She said the raging animosity within the family was being masterminded by Dumo and his siblings who had wanted 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.
She also accused Dumo of threatening her life and that of the people working with her, saying that she remains resolute in her determination to see that her husband is given a befitting burial to clear name of any wrong doing.
In the meantime, the leaders of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema have appealed to both sides to sheathe their swords and allow the late business mogul to be buried peacefully and honourably.