It is becoming evident that our father may have died in Nigeria and that he may have been brought in dead to Accra. The editor of the Rivers Ij
- It is becoming evident that our father may have died in Nigeria and that he may have been brought in dead to Accra.
The editor of the Rivers Ijaw Voice caught up with the ever-busy businessman and politician, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs on August 4, 2019 and it was a rare opportunity to ask him to throw light on many issues surrounding the ongoing feud in the Lulu-Briggs family.
It was a session of very frank interaction and the Rivers State 2019 governorship candidate of Accord party, who has not had time to rest after the elections, came across as a very worried man. He is worried that his father has stayed too long in the mortuary because his father’s wife has refused to hand over his mortal remains to his family and chiefs.
He speaks on the controversies around his father’s death in Accra, Ghana, the ongoing police investigation, the contentious autopsy and wishes that the family can come together, settle matters and give their father a befitting burial without any further delay.
Below are excerpts:
Your father died at the ripe old age of 88, so why can’t you let him rest in peace? Why the suspicion against your stepmother, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs?
It is everybody’s desire and prayer that my father should rest in peace. My father lived a fulfilled life; he was a very devoted Christian. He was a philanthropist per excellence. He cared for people that he did not know and would never have known. A lot of people he did things for, he didn’t care to know them. He was a strong community person who contributed in all community related activities. He made tremendous sacrifices.
He was a very well-known politician of his time, a successful businessman and a family man, father to all his children and to many more that he did not know and so it is our wish that we are able to come together as a family, his children, wife, everybody and give him a very befitting burial.
But again, as members of the family, we would want to know how exactly our father died, given the circumstances of his death. That our father lived up to 88 years is no reason that we should not be allowed to know how, where and when he died.
If as the Chief of the Lulu-Briggs family and the chief mourner, I was given his medical death certificate or it was even shown to me when I so requested of our stepmother, it would have been a lot easier for me to understand what happened. But when we consider that at his age, ailing and gone through several medical conditions, he was held up inside an aircraft that was aground for more than five hours with doors firmly shut; when we consider that he had done tracheostomy operation with tubes inserted in his throat; when we consider that even in the comfort of his home he needed suction at regular intervals, we wonder why anybody would keep him inside an aircraft on ground at the Port Harcourt International Airport for those number of hours.
If the aircraft, as they claimed, had no landing permit to land in Accra, although we had since discovered that the chartered plane had a landing permit, why did the aircraft proceed to carry passengers all of whom proceeded to board the aircraft without going through immigrations, when it was not a domestic but an international flight, only to stay on ground, with door shut for more than five hours? There was no Doctor in the aircraft only a personal nurse.
Moreover, the older children, including me, did not even know that they were embarking on such a trip, even though we were together the previous day and our father was so weak that he couldn’t stay through an hour thanksgiving function in Abonnema.
I am very concerned as a son that my father who was ailing, whom I saw a day before and who was not looking strong at all, was to be taken early the next day into an aircraft on holidays to Accra. Why would this happen and people are expecting us not to ask questions?
We, the older children of our father asked questions and we didn’t get answers, we were not given the medical death certificate, we asked for the mortuary receipts and were given none. At this point we became agitated and reported the matter to the police.
The information we got was that on arrival in Accra, they discovered that he was completely motionless. This bothered us because we felt that the wife and others in the aircraft, knowing the condition of our father, ought to be observing him on a minute by minute basis and not to discover in Accra that he was motionless.
The matter, by the laws of the Republic of Ghana, qualifies for police investigation and the police have instituted same in Accra. The Police authorities in Ghana needed to know why there was no report of such death to the police, why there was no record with the Airport Authorities and the Ghana Immigration Services.
These are the things that have raised serious suspicions and we are asking for answers and when we can’t get any, we worry. If things happen in manners that raise suspicions, it is only proper that we report the matter to the appropriate authority and that is all that we have done.
Fortunately, where we are now, the police are doing their investigation and there is nothing that says that whilst the investigation continues, we cannot give our father a befitting burial.
But his widow, our stepmother, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, has brought two court cases in Ghana that the mortal remains of our father should not be handed over to us, the family, but should be given to her, claiming that she is the next of kin. By Kalabari native laws and custom, the body belongs to the family and the older sons of our father are saying to his widow, can we have his mortal remains so that we can call everybody together and give him a befitting burial? Instead of doing the right thing, she goes to court asking to be given custody of the mortal remains of her husband. I will give you copies of Seinye’s suits against the older children.
(Hands over copies of Seinye’s suits against the older children).
Customarily, the body should be handed over to me as the chief of the immediate family and the chief mourner. It should be noted that am not the oldest son. I have an older brother, who is 14 years older than me, who admits that as the chief, customarily, I am the chief mourner and the chairman of the burial committee.
It is instructive that the natural ruler of Kalabari, the Amayanabo, King T.J.T. Princewill has taken a position to this effect and relayed same in writing to us and to our father’s wife. Here is a copy of the Amayanabo’s letter to us. Our father was a paramount head of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema and therefore native law and custom should be applicable.
So, you wonder why our stepmother, the widow of our father, would take an action in Accra, asking the court not to release the mortal remains to the people who customarily should have the body of the deceased. She is rather asking that the body be released to her as the person who deposited the body at the mortuary in Accra and so has the receipts.
These actions are brought against the older children, who are not only children but sons of our father. My father’s first three children are boys; one is 69 years old, the other 55 years old and the third 48 years old. These are adult men and their stepmother is saying that the body of their father should not be released to them. In essence, she is holding the body of our father hostage and denying us the opportunity of giving him a befitting burial as quickly as we want.
But your stepmom says that you are the one delaying the burial of your father?
But I didn’t bring an action in Ghana, am not the person who sued. This is a situation where a person tells a tale and believes the tale absolutely, even when he/she knows same to be false. What she is saying is completely untrue because she is the person who took an action in court against the release of the body to the family for burial. I, Dumo Lulu-Briggs didn’t initiate a court suit in Ghana. I am not the one who sued. Rather it is Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs that has refused to release medical death certificate and mortuary receipts to the people that should have them.
Granted that she took my father’s body to the mortuary in Ghana because she claims that he died in Accra and there were no persons around who normally should have taken the body to the mortuary and as the only adult family member present, she took his body to the morgue. Even in that situation, my younger brother, Dateim, 25years, that was in Accra with them, customarily ought to have been the person to take the body to the mortuary.
The proper thing that she is expected to do thereafter, was to hand over the body and the papers to the family as required.
As it stands, the family can’t even convene a meeting to plan my father’s burial when they do not have custody of the body. My lawyers wrote to my stepmother, complaining about her antics in delaying the burial.
But Chief Abiola Ogundokun speaking in defense of your stepmother said that the family had twice set dates for burial but you, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs cancelled those dates.
There was no time the family decided such. She decided on her own to take a date for burial and sent out invitations to everybody and people asked how can she do that as the wife, without reference to us?
The Chiefs of Oruwari Briggs House intervened and told her that she didn’t have the right to do that because there are people in the family who ought to come together in a meeting to decide on the date for burial.
As a matter of fact, by our Kalabari-Ijaw native law and custom, at the passing of her husband, she takes a back seat and allows the family to plan the funeral and I, as the chief mourner, would be informing her and taking her counsel in the arrangements because she is not to be seen in public until the burial day.
But in the case of our stepmother, she has even organized, alone and by herself, a funeral service for our late dad in Accra, done a posthumous birthday for him, she is seen everywhere, even to the extent of going to the mortuary to identify his corpse for autopsy, all of which she ought not to do customarily.
At the time she unilaterally fixed the burial date, we were still asking questions about his cause of death, his medical death certificate and mortuary receipts. Nobody had seen any papers apart from her.
An autopsy was conducted and you do not appear to be satisfied with it. Your stepmother has accused you of misinforming the public when you said that the autopsy was hijacked by a pathologist that was not officially assigned for the autopsy. She said after about three hours, the pathologists came out smiling – indicating great satisfaction with the procedure, concluding that your statement about ‘hijack’ was a lie because you were not even near the venue.
What happened on the day the autopsy was conducted is a thing of great concern to us. This was because a consent order was taken as demanded by Seinye’s own lawyer that the whole processes should be consented to by the parties before the autopsy is done because the matter had become very controversial.
In that wise, the police wrote specifically that the autopsy would be conducted at 37 military hospital in Ghana by Col (Dr.) Attoh. As a matter of fact, the first letter the police wrote stated that the autopsy will be conducted at a military hospital in Ghana by the military pathologist without stating any name. But our stepmother’s lawyer wrote to the police to say that in order to remove all doubts, please let us know the particular pathologist that will perform this autopsy and the police responded that it shall be done by Col. (Dr.) Attoh. But even Col Attoh admitted that the autopsy was actually conducted by one Dr. Lawrence Edusie, that he, Col. Attoh was also there when the autopsy was conducted but it was actually carried out by Dr. Edusie. I will give you a copy of the letters from the Ghana Police stating the venue, the time and the name of the pathologist to conduct the autopsy.
Who invited Dr. Edusie, nobody knows, how did he come, nobody knows. There is also a circular from the Attorney-General of Ghana to the Police, prior to that time, not to engage that Dr. Edusie again in any autopsies that has to do with police investigation due to his previous poor records. So, even the police were wondering how they managed to get Dr. Edusie into the autopsy room, and take over the conduct of the autopsy. Of course, the autopsy was done at the 37 military hospital and the military may not be aware of that circular from the Attorney-General but the police have that circular. The reason the military hospital was chosen was because the facilities have been upgraded much better than that at the police hospital. So, for a man of our father’s status, it was best it was done at the military hospital. But the police made it clear who was going to perform that autopsy yet it was done by somebody else, an interloper.
The police also stated that at the end of the exercise, three tissue samples will be taken; one to the police one to either parties; to herself and to us. The samples were demanded by our pathologist, Dr. Faduyile but Dr. Edusie refused to give any samples to him as agreed. So, it was done without samples given to any of the parties.
Let me repeat for the sake of clarity. The police wrote to the parties on how the autopsy would be conducted but Seinye’s lawyer felt that the police statement was inadequate and insisted that the police statement must be taken to a high court for it to form part of a consent order of the court so that what the police had written must be followed to the letter. This was done. The autopsy process was not just a police instruction it was also endorsed as an order of the High Court of Ghana.
And now they conduct an autopsy not as ordered and agreed and this is supposed to be a criminal investigation – it means very clearly that whatever comes out of such autopsy, if it is incriminating, the defense will simply say that the autopsy didn’t follow the procedure as ordered by the police and the court and therefore inadmissible in evidence.
So, why would the police engage in an exercise in futility? That is what we are saying. The process of that autopsy already created a fait accompli of sort – that no matter the outcome of the autopsy, you cannot use that autopsy report in court should you decide to prosecute. So, if you find enough reason to prosecute, you can’t use it! Because the procedure that was prescribed by the police, taken to court, consented to by the parties, and given as a Consent Order of a High Court in Ghana, was simply not followed.
We all know that in a criminal trial, the benefit of doubt, however slim, must be given to the defense. So, that is the issue that we have with that autopsy and anybody would have had those issues, if indeed we are seeking answers to questions about the death of our father. My lawyers were therefore instructed to write a protest to the Ghana Police on the hijacked autopsy.
However, it is left for the police that are investigating the matter to decide on what to do with all of that. What is important to me now is how we can come together and bury our father. Nothing else should be important to all of us.
The claim is that your father did not die a violent death but you said that tissue samples were not given to the parties, would you then prefer that a fresh autopsy is conducted to really ascertain the truth?
Well, the police in Accra have not said anything yet. Is our stepmother in a position to say that our father did not die a violent death? It should rather come from the pathologists after a proper autopsy and not from her. How would Seinye know when there is no autopsy report?
Let me also say this about violent death, it is not every unnatural death that is a violent one. If someone has been poisoned over the years, he would still die at the point the heart fails but that death would not be violent yet unnatural.
However, I don’t know who has alleged that our father died a violent death. Nobody has said so. Nobody has accused anybody of causing a violent death. May be those who are saying that he didn’t die a violent death know exactly how he died? May be they are their own worst enemies by saying something that nobody has accused them of.
What do you want going forward?
We won’t decide for the police because it is an ongoing investigation and there are several things that are unveiling, several things that witnesses are saying. It is becoming very evident that our father died in Nigeria and that he was brought in dead to Accra. As a matter of fact his body was said to be quite stiff at the time they got into Accra. I have that report from the Medical Director of the Airport Clinic in Accra who is said to have issued the death certificate. So, you see, our father didn’t die in Accra but in Nigeria. And I say so with every sense of responsibility. So why take our father’s corpse to Ghana? Well, the police are doing their investigations.
One of the persons on board the flight has given statements to the effect that my father was heavy when he was being carried into the plane in Nigeria but at the time they arrived Accra, some six hours later, he had become more than twice his weight and they struggled to carry him out of the plane. That evidence points to the fact that he had died at the time they arrived Accra as against the claim that they suddenly realized that he was motionless when they got to Accra.
It’s not just about whether he died a violent death or not, the questions are, where did he die? How did he die? When did he die?
From all indications, your stepmother is talking about you alone. Are you on the same page with your siblings on these issues?
My stepmother would choose to talk about only Dumo because she believes that Dumo is a politician, someone that has a great affinity with the public, saying to herself, let me attack him publicly since he would insist on the truth about his father’s death; Dumo was very close to his father so, let me destroy Dumo.
But Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs has brought an action in court against even my older brother and my younger brother, saying that our father’s corpse should not be released to them as well. It is therefore not just Dumo.
She knows that the spokesperson for the immediate family is Dumo Lulu-Briggs because I am the person that her husband, our father, made chief in 2011 and Seinye is not disputing this fact.
It follows therefore that, I am the person to speak and ask questions at this time on issues about my father’s house. It is therefore not about Dumo. My older brother that is my father’s first son who is 14 years my senior is with me completely on this matter, in fact he is asking more questions but he is doing it through the right channel by allowing the chief to speak for the family. My younger brother, who is 48 years old, is on the same page with me on this matter and so ‘am not alone.
Some people are saying that what is happening between you and your stepmother is the normal African discrimination against women. They say that now that your father is dead, his wicked lazy sons, who depend on their father’s property, want to disinherit her.
You only know how it feels when something happens to you. If you had a father with whom you have had a wonderful relationship and you think that your father was not treated fairly and you needed answers to worrying issues, is that the time to bother about what people would say?
If I set out bothering about what people would say, then I would do nothing about the controversies around my father’s death because there are bound to be people who would agree with our stepmom and those that would agree with us. But the point here is not who agrees with me or who doesn’t. The point here is that I am asking questions, am seeking to know the truth.
Talking about people who depend on their father, I don’t know how Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs can be seen as one of such persons. You can see Dumo as somebody who has been very supportive of his father and of the family.
We are holding this interview in my house; I don’t know how I depend on my father. I hold a Masters Degree in Law from the London School of Economics, University of London and I have been called to the bar since 1986. I run very successful businesses; I have run elections to become governor of Rivers State, spending my money.
If you talk about the Lulu-Briggs family anywhere in Nigeria, who people know is the father and the son, Dumo Lulu-Briggs and so, I am very well established and our late father was very proud of me.
Let’s talk about those who depend on my father’s wealth. Since my father died who are those who have moved all his cars and moving furniture and property? I have not asked and none of his children as far as I know, has asked for a pin from our father’s assets since his demise last December. Who has insisted on reading a purported Will when her husband’s mortal remains is still in Ghana? It is his wife of course.
Your stepmother alleged that you asked for inventory of your father’s property and proposed that some of them be sold to raise money to bury him.
You must have been listening too much to her.
Nobody needs to sell one pin of our father to be able to bury him because I his son, Dumo O.B. Lulu-Briggs had indicated countlessly that I was prepared to bury our father, take all the expenses, not demanding one penny as assistance from anybody, if it comes to that and if others would allow me.
There can’t be any such issue of selling property to bury our father and there was none. I have given that undertaking and I am giving it again even now. But you know that you cannot deny my other siblings, especially my older brother, their right to spend money on their father’s burial and to play the roles they ought to play.
The point I am making is that if for instance, there is no capacity anywhere, whatever it would cost to give our father a very befitting burial, Dumo is prepared to bring it out. If they want the amount in an account, they should say so and I will bring it in twenty-four hours.
So, the point is not about anybody wanting to sell property but somebody looking for cover-ups on the main issue of how our father died. How did he die? Did he die in Accra? If he didn’t die in Accra, how did he get to Accra?
Do you see the possibility of your father being buried without the report of an official autopsy?
The Nigeria police are running their investigation and they need to conclude that. The Ghanaian authorities are also doing their investigations. Unfortunately what happened was that, at the time the Nigeria police wrote to the Ghana police through the Interpol to assist them with some aspect of the matter that happened in Ghana and see if an autopsy can be done in Ghana or here in Nigeria, the Ghanaian authorities said that they have no records of such death and no records of the matter at all.
The Ghana police therefore requested that a fresh petition has to be written to the Inspector General of Police in Ghana because they were not aware that there was such a corpse in the mortuary in Accra.
The Ghana police said that this is a matter that qualifies by Ghanaian laws for a corona’s inquest automatically. They wanted to know how this happened and how people were able to beat the Ghanaian security architecture and take a corpse out of the airport to a mortuary inside Accra. This according to the Ghana police is a serious matter for investigation.
You can see that this is not just as simple as Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs is trying to make it appear. There is nothing personal between both of us; I have had good relationship with our stepmother, it may not have been a wonderful relationship but it wasn’t a bad one as such. We were carrying on.
The ongoing controversy started when we began to ask questions that if the trip to Ghana on that fateful day were a normal trip, as they got to the airport in Port Harcourt and boarded a chartered aircraft, won’t they have left immediately to Accra, considering that our father has been ailing?
If you have him in an aircraft without a doctor and you find out that you cannot travel for any reason, is it not expected that he is taken back to the house? Why would they leave him inside the plane for more than five hours with doors shut? They have not denied this.
Why was he kept in the plane for those number of hours? Why didn’t they travel immediately? They say that they were trying to get a landing permit.
If an aircraft was chattered that comes from a location, say Dubai or Abu Dhabi or anywhere and the purpose of the chatter was to pick passengers from Port Harcourt to Accra, would the airline operators leave their location to Port Harcourt, knowing that they didn’t have a landing permit in Accra? By standard aviation practice, would the aircraft leave its original location without having permit to land both in Port Harcourt and Accra?
If they had no landing permit as claimed, why did they take passengers into the plane? Why was the aircraft door shut with the passengers inside? Where were they going since they had no landing permit?
Where has such happened in the history of aviation that passengers are locked up in an aircraft for more than five hours on ground, going nowhere?
In any case we have found that there was indeed a landing permit, so they can no longer say that there was no landing permit. Now in this sort of situation, is it right to say because our father was 88 years old, we shouldn’t ask questions? Does he not have a family?
What then was the purpose of taken him to Accra in that condition?
These are all the questions that people should be asking. Our stepmother said that they were going on holiday. On the 27th of December, you take a man who on the 26th of December had a thanksgiving service in Abonnema and couldn’t sit through a one-hour occasion because he was not looking strong and was taken back into his house in Abonnema and rushed to Port Harcourt. You take that man the next day to travel to Accra.
There were other people in the aircraft; there was one of our father’s son who is twenty-five years old and I asked my brother who was in the plane what they were doing for more than five hours in the plane? Did he attend to his father during the five hours, he said no. Did your father make any sound during this period, he said no. He said he thought that his father was sleeping and I asked him when last our father slept for five straight hours. He said he sat in front of the aircraft and that our father sat behind him and he didn’t turn to look at our father to know how he was feeling. He said he was playing computer games.
Did your father tell you how he would want to be buried? What are the consequences if he is buried outside his wish? Did he leave a Will?
He was a paramount ruler of his community and would want to be buried according to the native laws and custom of his people. He would want his burial to be very befitting and as Christian as possible. Kalabari burial ceremonies are not in conflict with Christian belief.
In all of this, his widow has a major role to play. Before he is buried, she would be escorted by her people and she would sit by the head of the bed on which he is lying in state and sing in his praise. This is so, because from the day of his death, the wife was not to see the body of her husband again until the day of burial when she performs her role as a widow.
Even though, I am the chief of the family and the chief mourner, it is the first son, according to custom, that buys the casket. I can’t buy the casket; at best I can only liaise with the first son.
Yes, my father gave me a copy of his Will which we have since lodged at the probate registry. There is also a Will that my stepmom said she has which she has also lodged at the court.
She wanted the purported Will that she has to be read on April 12th but we said Wills are not read until after burial. We couldn’t understand the haste and since we now have more than one Will, the courts would decide which one is the authentic Will of our father.
The haste that we have now is that our father has been in the mortuary for several months and we want to give him a befitting burial under Kalabari native law and custom. In fact, even in the purported Will that Seinye lodged and was read, our father was quoted to have said that he wants to be buried according to the Kalabari native laws and custom.
How was your relationship with your dad? Did you have a smooth relationship all through or where there moments of cracks?
We have always had wonderful relationships with our father. It must be understood that Seinye married our father when he was already 72 years old but we have been with him right until he became 72 and it was a fantastic family, and against all the orchestrations, we still kept a great relationship till he passed in December, 2018.
I was running the family business, Moni Pulo Limited when Seinye came into the family. We have been with our father all through. Even the issues we had were orchestrated by her. We are the only persons, who have taken positions to ensure that our father was happy at all times. We have been the ones concerned about him. Those who came with the agenda to grab wealth do not really care about how he feels and would therefore drag every issue. But those of us who know that he is our father and who know how sweet and smooth it has always been until certain strangers came into the family and became a part of the family at some point, would always look back on those good times, filled with those memories and would want it to continue.
So, we had a wonderful relationship with our father. Pictures that captured those good memories abound and I wonder when our stepmother says that we have been estranged from our father since 2004, yet he made me a chief in 2011. There were ceremonies where all of us have sat down together, even during his chieftancy in Calabar in 2006, his father’s “home coming” in 2008, his 80th birthday in 2010 and even his 88thth birthday in 2018 and the times at the Wellington Hospital in London, we were all together. I also told you that I was with him in Abonnema a day before he was flown to Accra on that fateful day. Indeed, I was a constant presence, a big family member. Anybody who says anything to the contrary is a story teller.
Here are some photos of wonderful memories:
High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs and son, Dumo
High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs Birthday ceremonies
Visit to the palace of the Amayanabo of Kalabari
“Fenguma te diwi” rites