It is no longer news that the distinguished politician, statesman, corporate titan in the oil industry and philanthropist par excellence, the great and phenomenal High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs answered the glorious home call of his Maker in December 2018. What is news however is the controversy that has defined and surrounded his funeral rites and burial since he passed on over one year ago.
Though he was defined more by his philanthropy than by his other contributions to the nation, he was never the less, an ebullient and charismatic leader and a formidable political colossus in his days, who rose to become one of the revered leaders and outstanding statesmen of Nigeria’s political-cum democratic metamorphosis.
Indeed, the history of our national politics, especially the robust and exciting epoch of the Second Republic, will be grossly incomplete without critical chapters, dedicated to celebrate a man who gained unparalleled prominence and national recognition for his progressive role as the National Deputy Chairman of then ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, which was the dominant political party in Nigeria from 1979 to 1983.
Already grounded and well celebrated in the politics of trade unionism in his civil service years as a civil servant at the Nigerian Ports Authority, where he rose through the ranks during his 23-year plus career at the NPA, High Chief Lulu Briggs served as Secretary of the Workers Union for seven years; Chairman of the Maritime Trade Union Federation of the Eastern Ports for three years (1968-1971) and was a founder and President (from 1970-1972) of the Rivers State Council of Labour. When he retired from NPA in 1978, he was its Principal Industrial Relations Officer and Head of Division, Eastern Ports, a position never attained by an indigene before now.
His desire to affect the cause of national politics for the better informed his purposeful venture into partisan politics at the onset of the Second Republic and he was one of the founding fathers of the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN.
In September 1978, the military government, headed by General Olusegun Obasanjo, lifted the ban on political activities in Nigeria in preparation for the return to civilian rule. This led to the formation of new political parties – including the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). With its catchy motto, “One Nation, One Destiny,” and a strategy that included an alliance between Northern leaders and their southern minority counterparts, NPN was viewed as the party that best accommodated Nigeria’s diversity and stood a good chance of winning what would be a keenly contested election. High Chief Lulu-Briggs was active in politics in the Old Rivers State. As a vocal and influential businessman, he emerged as a leader at the Constituent Assembly of 1978
He became a founding member of the NPN in Rivers State, acting as its first Protem Secretary in 1979. He stunned political watchers during NPN’s first national convention, where he emerged as its National Vice Chairman (South) – defeating more experienced politicians. He was prominent in the NPN’s Presidential Campaign, travelling the length and breadth of the country with Alhaji Shehu Shagari, its presidential candidate and helping secure the votes from what is now known as the South-South.
As an NPN party leader, he was a major force for stability within the party, known for his discipline, honesty, fair mindedness and forthright manner. His was a respected voice, which he used to push for policies that promoted growth and human development, as well as recognition of issues of minorities and of what is today known as the ‘Niger Delta’, such as environmental challenges and inadequate funding for a region that provides most of the country’s revenue.
During his NPN years, High Chief Lulu-Briggs served as Chairman of the National Animal Feeds Company (the precursor to the National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria, NAFCON) from 1981-1983. He was also a director of the Rivers State Transport Corporation, RTC, 1979-1982, both of which became symbolic establishment success stories of which glowing tributes and nostalgic narratives are still referenced till date.
Even after the NPN government was overthrown by the military in 1983, High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs remained a popular go-to politician, regularly consulted and brought into progressive national conversations, dialogues and initiatives. His political stature was such that he even ran for the office of President of Nigeria in the early 1990s under the defunct Social Democratic Party (and the Option A4 political experiment). He was the elected candidate in Rivers State, polling over 72% of the popular vote in a field comprising five other contestants and when that political process was eventually truncated, he continued to champion the need for political service which placed his beloved country Nigeria and the empowerment of its teeming populace – not personal, parochial and petty interests – at its centre.
It is noteworthy that High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs emerged from political office and public service without any smear on his integrity. And during his time as a politician, his businesses continued to function and provided him enough income to keep his personal affairs running.
High Chief Dr. O.B. Lulu-Briggs was a diligent Kalabari community leader, who lived up to and promoted the standards of his community and culture established by his renowned maternal and paternal forebearers.
He established the Lulu-Briggs chieftaincy stool in 1991 and was elevated to the Young Briggs Iniikeiroari V chieftaincy stool of the Kalabari Kingdom in 1993. He built the Chief Young Briggs Memorial Hall and Mausoleum, cementing his place in the history of the Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House as a worthy son. He also constructed the Oruwari Briggs Memorial Hall in Abonnema. It is therefore not surprising that the family and community fondly bestowed on the High Chief, the great Kalabari warrior’s sobriquet, ‘Opuda.’
In 2017, High Chief Lulu-Briggs was appointed Acting Chairman of Abonnema Council of Chiefs till the controversies raised by the suspension of the Chairman of the Council were resolved.
Indeed, it is against the backdrop of these outstanding, achievements, contributions and the peerless and legendary personality of his phenomenal reputation that the controvesy and acrimony which have overshadowed his final burial rites leave a sour taste in the mouth and a sad reflection of the absolute disrespect which his excellent legacy has been subjected to since his passing in 2018.
His son and Chief mourner, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs succinctly captured the unsavoury sequence of events that have bedeviled and truncated every effort to give the mercurial partrach a befitting burial, while addressing a meeting of the Oruwari War Canoe House in Abonnema, headquarters of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State on February 15, 2020 to give an update on the latest impediment standing in the way of choosing a date for the burial, following the recent dismissal of all cases and the order to hand over the mortal remains of the great man to his family for burial, by the Supreme Court of Ghana
Lulu-Briggs said: “Our father, the late Paramount Ruler of Oruwari War Canoe House died on December 27, 2018. Until this day, we have not been able to bury him and the simple reason is that we do not have his mortal remains.
“This matter has been subject of several litigations brought by his widow, Mrs. Sienye Lulu-Briggs, against his sons and myself, the Chief of the house that his mortal remains should not be given to us.
“There have been several interventions and the latest intervention we had was the one from no less a person than the Inspector-General of Police. That intervention was on February 4, 2020.
“The condition of the intervention is that all legal hurdles should be withdrawn. That Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs is the Chief Mourner and Head of the Lulu-Briggs house and therefore, the mortal remains should be released to him by custom. So that we can come together to give the late Paramount Head of the Oruwari House a befitting burial.
“He was a great philanthropist; his works are known across the globe. The Nigerian government was very concerned and the Inspector-General of Police also expressed concerns that he has not been buried till this day. To pave way for this was to withdraw all the cases in Ghana.
“An inquest is ongoing; whatever be the outcome of the inquest, the Nigerian Police will be informed and they will make their opinion on the inquest. However, let the body be released so that he will be given a befitting burial and we all accepted, including Mrs. Sienye Lulu-Briggs, who was also present at the meeting with her legal team and some relatives.
“The inquest in Ghana would have nothing to do with the burial. Inquests continue long after deceased persons had been buried. So, it would have nothing to do with it. The IGP’s instruction was that we should withdraw all the suits that had been filed at the Courts”.
According to Dumo Lulu-Briggs, the family had thought that when all the petitions were dismissed by the Ghana Supreme Court, the matter would finally come to end, everybody would be happy and at least, the mortal remains of their father would be brought home for a befitting burial, especially with the release of the autopsy report, which the Supreme Court had also said should be filed at the High Court.
Alas that was not to be the case, as a fresh suit was filed by the widow on the very day of the Supreme Court judgement and against the express directive of the Inspector-General of Police, challenging the decision to release the mortal remains to the family
Dumo Lulu-Briggs said: “She went to the High Court in Ghana asking the funeral home not to release the body to us. Today, we don’t have the mortal remains of our father after the express decision of the Inspector-General of Police and after the express decision of the Supreme Court of Ghana.
On her part however, the widow of High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs also insists that she is not responsible for the delay in the burial of her late husband. A statement from her publicist, Mr. Oraye St. Franklyn, while reacting to the post Ghana Supreme Court allegations reads in part: “What Mrs. Lulu-Briggs wants is the burial of her husband and thankfully, the Rivers State Governor has committed to it. But the moves to solely go to obtain the body of the deceased without a burial plan and without complying with the court-imposed preconditions can only be stopped by an injunction especially since he is also personally pursuing an inquest in Ghana.
“Meanwhile, he intends to pick up the body of his father on the 17th and 18th of February 2020 without fulfilling the preconditions imposed by a December 23, 2019 judgment of the High Court of Ghana, which has also been upheld by the Supreme Court of Ghana,” St. Franklyn said.
It could be recalled that in recognition of the huge national and global stature of High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs and in appreciation of his massive contributions to the political and socio/economic growth of Rivers State, the Governor of the state, Chief Nyesom Wike has not only met with the family on no less than four occasions to find an amicable resolution to the conflicts delaying the burial of the Lulu-Briggs partriach, but has even pledged the commitment of Rivers State Government to give High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs a beffiting state burial.
Governor Wike even went further in his intervention efforts to solicit the cooperation of the Amanyanabo of Abonnema, King Disreal Bobmanuel to work with both parties to ensure the High Chief receives a State Burial. A committee of prominent Kalabari indigenes was set up to achieve this purpose and it was widely corroborated by both parties that they appeared before the committee and stated their positions clearly on the matter.
So, as the litigations continue in the courts, what has become obvious is that the burial of High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs will still be delayed a little bit more as the unfortunate saga surrounding his rites of passage drags on towards its eventual resolution.
By: Victor Tew
Bayelsa Assembly Committee on Environment To Curb Unlawful Sand Dredging Activities.
With various complaints and pettitions by communities impacted by the activities of illegal sand dredging and mining in the Bayelsa State, the state House of Assembly has organised a public hearing on a bill to regulate the operations of sand dredging to ensure that the environment is not adversely impacted on.
The bill tagged ” Regulation of Sand Dealing and Dredging Operations Bill 2019″ according to the House Committee on Environment is aimed at gathering inputs from experts, technocrats and the public in order to formulate a people-friendly bill that will serve the best interest of Bayelsans.
The House Committee Chairman on Environment and member representing Nembe Constituency one, Hon. Ebi Ben Ololo noted that the public hearing became necessary on the need to remediate the environment and tackle the challenges posed by sand dredging operations in the state.
” The importance of this bill cannot be overemphasized because it can save lives. You are aware a number of times so many communities and their representatives have sent pettitions to this House, specifically the Chairman House Committee on Environment as per the environmental degradation that has taken place as regards the illegal sand dealing and dredging activities in various communities all around the state”, he said.
“With those number of complains and pettitions we thought it wise to put up a bill to take care of those issues. Most important thing is that we all know that public hearing is a mechanism by which parliamentary Committees obtain information, deal with the information obtained and also exchange views with experts and the public so as to fine-tune whatever bill there is for the public hearing to come up with a top class bill that will be people- friendly and also save lives of the people in Bayelsa”, he added.
” Lots of suggestions, contributions, opinions and interactions have been made as regards this very important bill, like we have assured the representatives of the various groups that we will go back in our committee, look at those very important areas where they have suggested and also fine tune the bill. So that in no distant time we will come up with a very formidable bill that will stand the test of time. That the people will benefit from”, Ololo reassured.
He lauded participants for their insightful contributions and opinions during the public hearing, promising that the Committee would do justice to come up with a bill that would meet the expectations of Bayelsans.
In her contribution, House Chief Whip and member representing Yenagoa Constituency 2, Hon. Ebiowu Koku Obiyai lamented the deliberate connivance between communities and the sand dealers, warning that if nothing is done to regulate the activities of sand dredgers Bayelsa communities will be eroded away.
The House Whip also expressed concerns on the activities of companies carrying out dredging business near bridges and sued a delibrate efforts by all in order to save the bridges from collapse.
By Ariwera Ibibo-Howells, Yenagoa.
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