By David Diai, Olalekan Ige and Uche Woke

The much anticipated and eargely awaited funeral obsequies for the phenomenal and distinguished business mogul, outstanding industrialist, political colossus, celebrated labour leader, revered elder statesman and globally recognized oil industry Titan, late High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, commenced formally on Monday, March 8, 2021, with the University of Port Harcourt organizing an Evening of Tributes, Music, Drama and Arts Exhibition at the institution’s campus, Choba.

The interment date as well as an outline of the programme of activities marking the funeral rites for the great, late High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs, who passed on in December 2018, had been announced on January 1st, 2021, by the Chiefs of Oruwari Briggs family, after a prolonged delay occasioned amongst other factors by the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic, for whom the departed Sage was patriarch.

The announcement of the obsequies of their departed patriach, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari Kingdom and Paramount Head of oruwari house of Abonnema, was contained in a Press Statement delivered at a world Press conference by chiefs of Oruwari Briggs house, held in Abonnema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area in Rivers State, on Friday, January 1, 2021, and signed on behalf of the Young Briggs and Oruwari Briggs group of Houses by High Chief Navy Capt. A.B. Ajumogobia rtd, who was the then Acting Head of Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema.

It was thus an atmosphere filled with the outpouring of deep, sincere and profound encomiums upon encomiums, as members of the academia went down memory lane, detailing the impact the late Kalabari titleholder had on not just the University of Port Harcourt but humanity at large.

The Acting Vice-Chancellor of UNIPORT, Professor Steve Okodudu in his tribute titled “Exit Of A Rare Gift To The University Of Port Harcourt And Humanity,” stated that the death of our “benefactor, patron, father, and Alumnus is certainly a direct tragedy for the University of Port Harcourt. This is because of the boundless philanthropy and assistance, he rendered to the university.”

He noted that the university crossed paths with late High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs when efforts were in gear to improve on the infrastructural profile of the institution and that the lot fell on an equally illustrious son of Kalabari kingdom and then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nimi Briggs.

According to him, “The response from our High Chief (Dr) O.B Lulu-Briggs was the building and donation of a purpose-built structure to house the University Health Centre.”

Professor Okodudu stressed further that the deceased impacted on the university in many other ways including becoming one of the foremost “benefactors and rare friend of the university,” while also endowing a “Professorial Chair and never ceased to give unflinching support to the university when approached.”

In response to his acts of kindness and support to the university, Okodudu said he was awarded a Doctorate Degree Honoris Causa.

Indeed the Unique Uniport under the Chancellorship of Prof. Stephen Agochi Okodudu dished out a lofty package of biographic citations, squired by rhythmic poetic exultations in drama by the Thespians of the renowned Uniport Arts Theatre and Institute of Arts and Culture. Awesome words were spoken of the great Abonnema Iroko, High Chief Dr. O. B. Lulu-Briggs.

They said he didn’t die but has only gone to rest from his labours leaving memories that will live in many hearts forever.

They said he achieved greatness through personal sacrifices, hard work, perseverance and courage.

They said he was light in the wilderness and a timeless inspiration for greatness.

They said he fought selflessly for justice with matchless sacrifices.

Finally, they declared that Opuda, as High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs was fondly addressed, was a great Kalabari Patriot, a great Nigerian they concluded.

How else can anyone describe magnificence?

Indeed, it was a worshipful, solemn and convivial atmosphere filled with divine praises and a dramatized touch of the age-long melodious Kalabari heroic tunes and dances, in the dance drama presentation titled: “Born to Serve” produced by Prof Julie Oko.

“The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening but now the sun has gone very far away”, Dr. Ovunda, who played the role of one of the major narrators and protagonist in the dance drama, lamented as he swung his traditional Ikwerre waist sideways to meet the drums and gong beats.

It was a drama that will keep memories alive; guests were visibly elated; they waited for more elegies and celebrative songs but it had to end with a prayerful epilogue by the creative Dr. Ovunda who echoed “Opuda, may the spirit of your ancestors guide you as you journey into the afterlife.”

Expressing his gratitude, Chief Dumo O. B. Lulu-Briggs said he was short of words to describe how the university organized such an elaborate programme in appreciation of what his father did for the institution, just as he also promised to reach out to the school.

He went down memory lane to describe how his late father grew up from a humble beginning and how he was able to struggle through misfortunes in life to achieve his status as an entrepreneur.

Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who is also the Head of Young Briggs House of Abonnema particularly, recalled how his father encouraged his children to always share even when they were struggling to be comfortable.

While promising to embark upon the building project in the university once the funeral ceremonies had been successfully concluded, he disclosed that he was going to get the approval of Platform Petroleum, where he is the chairman to support students of University of Port Harcourt Women Association (UPWA) Secondary School Students, in addition to a handsome financial donation which he pronounced on the spot.

According to him: “I am grateful to you all. I learnt from the school children who just performed; that we don’t cry for heros, we celebrate them. And this I will remember as I remember my father.

“My father’s story is one of the toughest and intriguing stories of life but with it comes the lesson that no matter what your story is, you must keep faith in God and never give up.

“Tell everybody, it doesn’t matter what your story is, keep faith in God. It happened to my family, my father wasn’t rich growing up; he suffered from misfortunes but was able to rise from the adversities.

“I thank the University of Port Harcourt, the Vice Chancellor of the school Prof. Stephen and the various respectable former Vice Chancellors; Emeritus Prof. Nimi D. Briggs, OON, 5th VC of the school; Prof. Don Baridam, 6th VC; Prof. Joseph A. Ajienka, 7th VC of the school and the Registrar for the great honor done a great man; my father today.

“This institution has always shown a sense of oneness with my family; truly, the school has always appreciated my family. God bless you all. I will try not to let the school down.

“I have always kept faith with the legacies of my father. Immediately after the burial I will take up one of the building projects outlined here.

“God bless you all”, he concluded.

Earlier, the University Orator, Professor Bridget Nwanze had led Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, UNIPORT VC, Professor Stephen Okodudu, former vice-chancellors, management staff, and guests to an arts exhibition in honour of late High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs.

The Arts exhibition, which will last for one week, showcases the life and times of the institution’s friend and benefactor, High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs.

There were also performances from University of Port Harcourt Women Association, UPWA, secondary school students and a gift portrait art work of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs, presented to Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs by the President of UPWA, Dr. Mrs. Ezinneka Okodudu, as well as special renditions by the UNIPORT Concert Choir and Symphonic Orchestra, led by Dr. Precious Omuku, among others, to cap an unforgettable evening of Tributes, music and drama.

The event which was also graced by distinguished visitors and special guests with strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood to the late High Chief and the Lulu-Briggs family, including a high powered delegation from Bakassi and the Cross Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, was conducted in full compliance and impressive observance with all Covid-19 mandated protocols, especially wearing of face masks and generous sprays of hand sanitizers for all who attended the colourful, yet elegiac evening of Tributes, to cemmence the journey home in honnour of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs.

Prior to the commencement of the formal funeral ceremony activities however, a robust and pulsating Pre-burial sequence of events in Honor of the late High Chief (Dr.) O. B. Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, the Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari Kingdom and Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema, had already been set in motion by eager, excited and highly enthusiastic Abonnema men, women, youths, kinsmen and kindred.

Their delayed preparations to accord their departed patriarch a beffiting traditional farewell replete with full cultural glamour and the majestic displays of the Kalabari ethno-existential essence, was finally released with fervour following the January 1st announcement of the obsequies for the departed icon known as “the last Don”.

Full pre burial ceremonies for their respected father, Opu-da, High Chief Dr O.B. Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, Iniikeroari V of Kalabari Kingdom and Paramount Head of Oruwari-Briggs House of Abonnema commenced 11-days to the Burial date proper with the traditional activities of daily “Igira-Sira” in his home-town, Abonnema at Onubio in Main Briggs Compound.

The evening Igira Sira at Abonnema by the combined Youths of Young Briggs and Oruwari family, at the Akialame Square (Kala-Ogwamabiri) and Onubio in Main Briggs Compound, Abonnema, was hallmarked by the exciting display of the legendary Sipiri and Pipiligbo Masquerades, as well as carnivalesque funfair and Games and Cash Prize rewards for the best and most colourful displays, dances and costumes, courtesy of Chief Barr. Dumo Lulu-Briggs.

Thursday, 4th March 2021 witnessed the turn of Abonnema Women to honour late Opu-da in dance celebrations and Igira Sira at Onubio in Main Briggs Compound, Abonnema. The event also featured some household games referred to as Judisiri in Kalabari. The games included Checkers, Mancala, Ludo etc.

The Judisiri traditional games display also happened at Akialama Square with a huge turnout and Winners of the games were rewarded handsomely as the elated participants testified to the effectiveness of the ceremony in reawakening the spirit of togetherness and community love galvanized by the celebration of the life of Opu-da, High Chief Dr O.B. Lulu-Briggs,

Friday, 5th March 2021 usherd an evening display in honour of late Opu-da at Main Briggs Compound (Onubio), Abonnema, featuring Oyibo Iriabo, Ngepu Owu and other displays, as more groups and Youths led by Victor Tubotamuno Abiye Briggs came to celebrate their great Icon in Abonnema.

The funeral rites proper kicked off on Sunday, 7th March 2021 with the solemn and sombre evening Candle Light Procession from Owusara to Main Briggs Compound (Onubio), Abonnema with Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs in the midst of the procession. This was followed by a Christian Carol Sing Song Night by the 200 man interdenominational choir, in honour of late Opu-da, High Chief Dr O. B Lulu-Briggs

The 200 man choir cordinated by Mr. Tamunoemi Wokoma, which rendered soulful uplifting hymns and Christian choruses, with Chief Dumo Lulu, his brothers and members of the Lulu-Briggs family fully present, was made up of choristers from St. Augustine Anglican Church Choir, led by their choirmasters Omubo Don-Pedro and Adasuko Briggs, St. Michael’s Christ Army Church Choir led by Telema Danagogo, and the choristers and choirmasters from St. Mary’s Anglican Church, St. Paul’s Cathedral Magnificent choir, including Mr. Omuso and Bro. Damiete, as well as the choir of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Abonnema, led by Kingsley Hanson, amongst others.

Monday, 8th March 2021 witnessed the continuation of the Igira Sira displays with a morning display in honour of late Opu-da, by the Youths of Oruwari-Briggs House, Unity Brothers of Oruwari for DLB, the Women Asara Gang and the Ine-Aboirimaa Family Youths.

The funeral ceremony activities for late High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs, continues on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, with A Service of Songs and Tributes at the EUI Centre, Plot F 11, Sani Abacha Road, GRA Phase 3, Port-Harcourt, at 4 p.m

On Friday, March 12, 2021, the body arrives his hometown, Abonnema in traditional War Canoes and Ceremonial Boat Regatta, followed by Christian and traditional wake keep at 9 p.m.

The funeral ceremonies will be brought to a beffiting conclusion on Saturday, March 13, 2021, with an
Interdenominational Funeral Service/Interment, at Lulu Kiri, Abonnema, Rivers State, from 10.00 a.m

To God be the glory!

Additional report by Nimifaa Sepribo Gilbert

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