The protracted legal battle among family members of the late octogenarian and Rivers State-born billionaire and philanthropist, Opuda High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, seems to have subsided as his burial has been fixed on March 13, 2021.
Members of the family of the late business mogul have been engrossed in a long legal battle over circumstances surrounding his death, as well as his will.
Lulu-Briggs died in Ghana on December 2018 when his family went on Christmas holidays.
Soon after his demise, his second son, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, a lawyer, raised some concerns over the circumstances thereof.
Dumo, alongside two of his siblings, accused their stepmother, Dr Seinye Lulu-Briggs, of being responsible for the death of their father. She was with her husband when he passed on in Ghana.
They instituted legal actions in Ghanaian and Nigerian courts.
The legal battle, which raised concerns among family members and friends of the deceased, delayed his burial. Subsequently, this attracted negative comments in both the social and conventional media.
The legal battle polarised the once united family as Dumo, Dr Seinye and some others now see themselves as enemies, using media platforms to wash their dirty linens.
In January 2020, Oraye St. Franklyn, a lawyer and the spokesman of the late Lulu-Briggs wife, came out with a public statement that the deceased’s widow had responded to the alleged cancellation of her husband’s January 25, 2020 burial date as announced by Dumo and some family members.
She pointed out that the burial of the octogenarian was achievable because the pre-conditions a Ghana High Court set before the corpse could be released were not difficult.
Dr Seinye had alleged that Dumo’s cancellation of the burial date of his father for the fourth time was indicative of his unwillingness to lay the deceased to rest.
She maintained that the cancellation was unnecessary and the excuse that her appeal against the High Court judgement was responsible for the postponement was untrue and grossly misleading.
Prominent Nigerians, including the governor of Rivers State, had intervened in the family squabble and made several efforts to bring truce between the people involved, but to no avail.
At a point, the governor offered to take custody of the octogenarian’s corpse and accord him a state burial, but the contending parties objected.
However, the January 1, 2021 press conference organised in Abonnema by the Oruwari Briggs Group of Houses, where it was agreed that the late businessman would be buried on March 13, seems to have doused tension in the family.
Dumo Lulu-Briggs, through his media aide, Sotoye Ijuye Dagogo, had said the chiefs and family members of the late High Chief were seriously preoccupied with burial plans, adding, however, that those who were only after the late billionaire’s estates were not resting.
He said the position of the head of the family, Chief Dumo O.B. Lulu-Briggs, was that as a mark of respect for their departed patriarch, all media brickbats must be halted during this period so that the burial would take place early this year.
Media aides and associates of Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs said he had remained silent on all the failed legal actions by the deceased’s wife to overturn the allegation of the Coroner Court in Ghana that her husband died in Nigeria before he was airlifted to Ghana.
The aides have also been silent on applications by Dr Seinye, accusing a High Court judge of bias and requesting that he recues himself from the appeal she filed against the court.
Dagogo said Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs would not allow himself to be distracted from the immediate task of according his father a befitting burial.
He said that heirs of the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs would utilise all the legal opportunities at their disposal, while concentrating on the burial plans of their father.
At the crowded press conference in Abonnema, High Chief A.B Ajumogobia, who spoke through Sir Ibim Dokubo, said their paramount head died at the age of 88 and they were making plans to give him a befitting burial.
He expressed sadness and regret that more than two years after the demise of their leader, he is yet to be buried due largely to family crisis.
“The major reason we could not plan the burial ceremony was because, for more than 15 months, we could not take custody of the mortal remains of High Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs because of the series of court cases.
“The controversies that surrounded the demise of our paramount head were widely reported in the mass media.
“Even when, on December 23, 2019, a High Court in Ghana ruled that the body be released to the family, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, the matter was appealed, up to the Supreme Court before the body was finally brought back to Nigeria on March 16, 2020, into the waiting arms of the prevailing COVID-19 restrictions.
“The overwhelming view was that we needed to wait for the relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions because High Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs was a man of many parts who had positively touched so many lives.
“He was a public servant, labour leader, politician, businessman, a philanthropist par excellence and a very high chief.
“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.
“His obsequies should be designed to enable various personalities who interacted with him in his lifetime to participate actively.
In spite of the protracted litigation that held the mortal remains of our paramount head hostage in Accra, Ghana, and despite the length of time we needed to wait for the easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, it is unquestionable that the determination of the date of burial of our late paramount head is the prerogative of the chiefs of the Oruwari Briggs House and the head of the Lulu-Briggs family,’’ he said.
A burial programme released by the family shows that there will be an evening of drama and tributes at the Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium, University of Port Harcourt on Monday, March 8.
There will also be a service of songs and tributes on Wednesday, March 10, while his body will arrive at Abonnema in the traditional war canoe and boat regatta on Friday, March, 12, 2021. This will be followed by a Christian and traditional wake-keep.
He said a central burial committee had been set up to actualise the mandate of giving the patriarch the honour he deserved.
He said that apart from family members, membership of the burial committee had representatives across Rivers State and beyond.
He called on all family members to come forward and play their respective roles as prescribed by Kalabari custom and tradition.
He expressed gratitude to Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike for approving a state burial for the late High Chief.
“We are also grateful for the governor for his untiring efforts to broker peace within the Lulu-Briggs family during the past two years,’’ he said.
Expressing happiness that a date has been fixed for the burial of his father, Dumo Lulu-Briggs also commended the governor of Rivers State for his role in fostering peace in the family and the approval to accord him a state burial.
Also expressing happiness that a burial date has been fixed for the High Chief, a member of the Oruwari Briggs Group of Houses, who pleaded anonymity, said it’s a taboo in Kalabari land to keep the remains of a traditional ruler for so long without performing all the traditional rites.