On Saturday, March 13, 2021 High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, the Emine 1 of Kalabari, the Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari kingdom and the Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema was lowered to mother earth. He was “Opuda” and “Opu Alabo”.
The 808 days journey to the grave for High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs began on the 27th of December, 2018 when the news of his sudden death permeated the yuletide casting sadness over the festive mood.
The earlier story was that the multi billionaire oil mogul and philanthropist of exceptional class had died in the West African city of Accra, capital of the Republic of Ghana where he had gone on holidays.
The Coroner Court in Ghana had since ruled that the Kalabari-Ijaw War Canoe Chief died before arriving Ghana. The court ruled that by all the evidence before it, High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs died in Port Harcourt before his body was airlifted to Accra, Ghana.
His death did not come as a surprise to many, considering that he was 88 years old and had suffered Parkinson’s disease for so many years. His death was however sudden.
It was a shock to his family and kinsmen who saw him the previous day, December 26, 2018 in his native town of Abonnema and who never knew that he was to be taken on holiday to Ghana the following day. The High Chief was in Abonnema for his usual annual thanksgiving ceremony.
The death of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs threw up series of controversies and litigations that held up his mortal remains in a morgue in Accra, Ghana for 445 days.
The litigations were mainly centered on two main issues. First, who between his widow Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs and his older sons, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Elder Senibo Lulu-Briggs and Mr. Sofiri Lulu-Briggs should take custody of his corpse for burial? Second, how and where did High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs die?
The widow, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs said that her husband took ill on arriving the Kotoka International Airport, Accra and was rushed to the Airport Clinic where doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him and pronounced him dead.
But Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who following the demise of his father, is the chief and head of the Lulu-Briggs family and now head of the Young Briggs House, said that intervening events suggest strongly that his father died in Port Harcourt and his body was smuggled to Accra in a chattered aircraft. Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs’ suspicion has been confirmed by the ruling of the coroner court.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs narrated the intervening events as follows:
- That High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs and other passengers were inside a fully loaded chartered aircraft, aground at the Port Harcourt International Airport Omagwa, for more than five hours. The aircraft doors were shut, the engines were steaming, yet the aircraft was on ground.
- The statement to the Police by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs’ bodyguard, Mr. Ilaye Philemon that “chief was calm and quiet all through our journey he did not make any sound or noise throughout the journey till we got to Ghana … as we were trying to bring him down, I notice his weight has double, he was much more heavier than when we boarded the flight and … his hands dropped like someone that is not alive”.
- The report of the Medical Director at the Kotoka International Airport Clinic, Accra, that said the High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs was “dead on Arrival on December 27, 2018 and his body showed a degree of stiffness”.
- The blunt refusal by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs to hand over the Medical Death Certificate and Mortuary Receipts to Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs who is the chief and head of the Lulu-Briggs family and now head of the Young Briggs House.
The dispute about how High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs died became the subject of petitions and several law suits. There were court cases initiated by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs against Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs; cases by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs in conjunction with the younger children against Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Elder Senibo Lulu-Briggs and Mr. Sofiri Lulu-Briggs and cases instituted by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs in consultation with his two brothers against Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs.
On her part, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs brought two interlocutory injunctions and two suits seeking the order of court that she and the younger children are the rightful persons to take custody of the body and asking the court to stop the Ghana Police and the Transition Funeral Home (mortuary) from releasing the body of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs to Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, his two brothers, Senibo and Sofiri or to any of their agents and restraining them from having access to the body.
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs acting in consonance with his brothers wrote petitions to the Inspectors General of Nigeria and Ghana Police and also instituted a suit that they are the rightful persons to take the custody of the mortal remains of their father.
The main suits however, were: (1) The two initiated by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs against Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and the suit by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs with the younger children against Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs and his two brothers. These suits were consolidated into one.
A lot of suits also emanated on both sides. These include applications for an autopsy and an inquest by the Ghana Police supported by an affidavit from Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
These litigations went from the Magistrate Court, the High Court, Appeal Court to the Supreme Court of Ghana, spanning almost two years and it is still ongoing.
On July 12, 2019, the Coroner court ordered for an autopsy and went further to order for an inquest into the death of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs on September 6, 2019.
On the 23rd of December, 2019 after applications to and from the Supreme Court to stop the High Court from ruling on the suits initiated by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs on July 12 and 15, 2019 (now consolidated), the Ghana High Court among other orders, ruled that the body of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs be released to the family by custom, led by Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs.
This ruling of the 23rd of December, 2019 was contested by Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs even when she stated publicly that the High Court Order to release the body of her husband to the family was not directed at her but at the Ghana Police and the Mortuary. Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs appealed against to the judgement at the Court of Appeal; applied for a stay of execution at the High Court and filed an application at the Supreme Court to quash the entire ruling. She also tried to stop the release of the body through her pending suit against the orders of the Coroner Court for an inquest, arguing that releasing the corpse would jeopardize the suit.
On Tuesday, February 25, 2020, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs took custody of the mortal remains of his father following the High Court refusal to grant the request to restrain the family from taking custody of the body.
On March 16, 2020, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs brought the body of his father back to Nigeria having waited for almost three weeks without actions from the Attorney General of Ghana in response to Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs suit to cancel the “Export Permit” granted to him, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs.
However, the mortal remains of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs was brought into the waiting arms of the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. On March 20, 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria restricted entry into the country from 13 countries including US and UK, thereafter the government closed its boarders.
On Monday March 23, 2020, Governor Nyesom Wike in a state broadcast declared a partial lockdown of the state from Tuesday March 24, due to the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic. This included open religious worship, public burial and wedding ceremonies.
On March 30, the federal government banned inter-state travel of persons and goods that are not essential and imposed a nationwide curfew.
There arose the need to wait for the relaxation of the Covid-19 because High Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs was a man of many parts who had positively touched so many lives. It would therefore be a gross disservice to his memory to deny his legion of friends and associates the opportunity to honour him at his funeral.
Below is the Chronology of Events from Death to the Grave: