– By David Diai
At long last, the mortal remains of celebrated oil industry Titan, renowned philanthropist and distinguished Niger Delta Elder Statesman, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari Kingdom, Ebuye Lulu and Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs War Canoe Houses, was finally commuted to mother earth in his home town, Abonnema, in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, on Saturday, March 13, 2021.
Former Nigerian President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, accompanied by his wife and former First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan; wife of Nigerian President, Aisha Buhari (represented by Mrs Alanyingi Sylva, wife of Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, who was also present at the occasion) were among a glittering array of national and international special guests and dignitaries, who graced the colourful occasion, to pay their last respects to the departed elder statesman and business magnate, who passed on to glory in December, 2018.
The successful accomplishments of the funeral rites and interment of High Chief O.B Lulu-Briggs, who passed away in December 2018, allegedly in Accra, Ghana, was a monumental milestone in a saga that had already seen the burial date shifted at least twice in the last two years and delayed not only by the 2019 general elections and the outbreak of the global coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic, but centrally by a seemingly unresolvable family disagreement over the authenticity of the last will and testament of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs and the modalities of establishing ownership of some of his key assets.
Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had personally intervened and previously attempted to broker an amicable resolution to the conflict on not less than three occasions, before urging, via a terse but necessary suggestion, that the late elder statesman be laid to rest and given a befitting burial as a matter of utmost priority to the family, irrespective of the assets sharing conflicts. He also offered that Rivers State would accord High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs a State burial.
Buoyed by the Rivers Governor’s open directive, as well as the messy and scandalous proportions which the acrimonious and unsavoury media brickbats on opposing sides of the matter, had elevated the inheritance altercation and continued to delay the funeral of their departed Patriarch, the Oruwari Briggs Chiefs did the needful as a family and after wide consultations with all the relevant parties and authorities, announced at a world Press Conference, on January 1st, 2021, that a definitive date, March 13, 2021, has been fixed as the substantive burial date, accompanied by a series of established and befitting pre-burial funeral rites and activities to bid High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs farewell.
Rivers State and the entire world heaved a huge sigh of relief, applauded this quite amazing breakthrough announcement with great gusto and endorsed the plans of the Oruwari Briggs Chiefs to ensure they delivered a resounding ceremony for a great man who life was an inspiring narrative to so many people and who lived his entire life in service to his family, his community and humanity.
The vast expanse of land reclaimed from the Sombreiro River and mangrove swamps of Ijaw-land and aptly called “Lulu Kiri” (translated as Lulu Land), was the perfect setting for the convergence of well wishers, guests and dignatries and a fitting arena for the conduct of a breath-taking funeral ceremony of the grandest colorful magnificence, beauty and extravaganza
The event was complete with an Inter-denominational church service, choral hymns from a mass choir, funereal solos and duets from renowned tenors and sopranos, rich and pulsating cultural dances and displays and a sumptuous reception for the thousands whose hands were hosed with generous sanitizers at the entrance and who sat patiently throughout the ceremony, wearing their Covid-19 mandated face masks, from as early as 9am in the morning until the end of the event.
The funeral hearse and golden casket borne by the colourful pall bearers, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who is the Chief mourner and son of the late business mogul and accompanied by the Briggs family members and Oruwari Briggs House Chiefs, was ushered into the venue by uniformed horsemen on beautifully decorated horses, around 12.45pm in the afternoon and mounted on the well laid platform, to receive the glowing tributes and encomiums from the distinguished guests and tumultuous well wishers, who had gathered to pay their last respects to a great man and hero.
In a moving tribute to the departed High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs at the burial ceremony, former President Jonathan described the late Lulu-Briggs as a philanthropist that touched many lives positively. The former president said Lulu-Briggs contributed to his election, first, as vice president during the time of the late President Musa Yar’Adua, and, later, as president.
Jonathan, who regretted that Lulu-Briggs left at a time he was needed more, but encouraged his son, Chief Dumu Lulu-Briggs, to carry on with the legacies his father.
He said, “It is a sad moment for us all. I know Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs very well. In 2007 when I got into national politics, when the PDP nominated me as vice to the late President Yar’Adua, he contributed to the success of my position.
“Yes, he has his direct children, but we are also his children. Lulu-Briggs started his life from a humble beginning but ended successfully. He came from a very sophisticated community, Abonnema. He touched the lives of so many people and that is why you see the crowd here today. My prayer is that God gives Dumu the grace to carry on the legacy of his father.”
Speaking also, Hajia Aisha Buhari, wife of President Mohammadu Buhari said the late Lulu-Briggs was known in Nigeria for his proficiency in the oil and gas industry.
Represented by Mrs Alanyingi Sylva, Aisha said, “His son, Dumu, is well known to the first family, hence the visit. Dumu should continue to fly the late Lulu-Briggs flag high.”
Pastor Belema Obunge, Special Assistant to General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), in his sermon, urged the congregation to always work on their integrity and inspire others to greatness in life.
Obunge said, “I believe we are all here because a legacy has been created. Your greatness is seen in your ability to improve the lives of others. Our purpose in life is to make impact and inspire others positively. If you miss out on integrity, you have done harm to your children than good.”
Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, who had welcomed all the special guests and stood aside in quiet humility as former President Goodluck Jonathan eulogized his late father, gave the vote of thanks in which he expressed deep and sincere gratitude to the dignitaries for coming to sympathise with his family as they laid their father to rest. He commended Wike for giving his father a state burial.
Dumo told the dignitaries, “It had not been easy for the sacrifice you all made to be here. Our father’s humble beginning to successful end should be an encouragement and inspiration to all who want to succeed.
“I thank the former President Goodluck Jonathan, representative of the first lady and every other dignitary for honouring my father. My thanks also goes to His Excellency Nyesom Wike for deciding that he would give my father a befitting state burial,” Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs concluded.
The mammoth crowd that escorted the hearse back to the final resting place of High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, addressed lovingly as “The last Don”, was an overwhelming testimony and appreciation to a remarkably extraordinary man, who lived once and will live forever in the hearts, minds and memories of the men, women and multitudes, whose lives he touched with profound kindness, humane warmth and eternal compassion.
The funeral ceremony was also attended by Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo; former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, and his wife, Mrs Onari Duke; and former Governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine Omehia.
Others were Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva; Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah; former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Austin Opara; Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rivers State chapter, Ambassador Desmond Akawor; and Secretary to Rivers State Government, Dr Tammy Danagogo.
Present also were His Majesty, King (Dr.) Dandeson Douglas Jaja JP, Jeki V, Amayanabo of Opobo Kingdom and Chairman, Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers; Amayanabo of Abonnema, King Disrael Bob-Manuel; Chairman, Rivers Elders Council, High Chief Ferdinand Alabraba; and former Managing Directors of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe and Ms Joi Nunieh.
The robust and pulsating Pre-burial sequence of events in Honor of the late High Chief (Dr.) O. B. Lulu-Briggs, involving eager, excited and highly enthusiastic Abonnema men, women, youths, kinsmen and kindred, included the traditional daily “Igira-Sira” in his home-town, Abonnema at Onubio in Main Briggs Compound, by the combined Youths of Young Briggs and Oruwari family, at the Akialame Square (Kala-Ogwamabiri) and Onubio in Main Briggs Compound, Abonnema.
The exciting display of the legendary Sipiri and Pipiligbo Masquerades, as well as carnivalesque fanfare and Games and Cash Prize rewards for the best and most colourful displays, dances and costumes, courtesy of Chief Barr. Dumo Lulu-Briggs hallmarked the performances.
The Judisiri traditional games display which happened at Akialama Square witnessed 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,
A 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 also graced the pre burial activities and 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 formal four days program of activities for the funeral ceremony in honnour of High Chief OB Lulu-briggs, commenced on Monday, March 8, with a well attended evening of Drama and Tributes and a weeklong Arts exhibition celebrating the life and times of the departed elder statesman, organized by the University of Port Harcourt at Ebitimi Banigo Auditorium, UniPort.
This was followed by beautiful Service of Songs and Tributes, which held at the EUI event Centre on Sani Abacha Road, GRA Phase 3, Port Harcourt and had distinguished special guests in attendance including, former Governor of Rivers State, Sir Dr Peter Odili, distinguished Senator Magnus Ngei Abe, who represented Rivers South East Senatorial zone in the Senate from 2011 – 2019, former Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, National President, Onueze Okocha and Mohammed Bello Adoke who served as Attorney General of Nigeria and Minister of Justice under the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, from 2010 – 2015 and Chief Timi Alaibe, former MD of NDDC.
The mortal remains of High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs arrived his hometown, Abonnema, on Friday, March 12, in traditional War Canoes and Ceremonial Boat Regatta, which was followed by an all night Christian and traditional wake keeping, which heralded the Interdenominational Funeral Service/Interment at Lulu Kiri, Abonnema, Rivers State, on Saturday, March 13, 2021 to bring a fitting and worthy conclusion to the burial ceremony of 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, also known affectionately as “The Last Don”.