It has been a long one-year battle to get to the end of the curious case of a dead billionaire’s missing body. High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs, founder and President of Moni Pulo Petroleum Ltd and Philanthropist would never have imagined that his wealth and love would be the same things that would drive his wife whom he married and loved even in his frail health to want to ridicule his memory and name.
On December 27, 2018, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs and his wife Seinye took off on a private flight from Port Harcourt International Airport to Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana. The short hop from Nigeria to Ghana on a charter flight was hardly a rarity for the billionaire businessman and his wife, but the fallout of that day’s events is still reverberating across Rivers State and the wider Niger Delta region more than a year later
On the day in question, according to flight records at Port Harcourt International Airport, the flight conveying Lulu-Briggs and his wife took off later than scheduled. A request emanating from the flight was made for a ‘cargo permit’ before takeoff. A cargo permit is an official permission that an aircraft needs to convey certain types of loads. Such as a human corpse for example.
As yet, however, there is no material evidence to say that a death occurred before takeoff, so it must be assumed that everyone onboard was alive at takeoff. Here the story starts getting complicated. According to the official story, upon landing at Kotoka International Airport in Accra, High Chief Lulu-Briggs was pronounced dead, and his corpse was conveyed to 37 Military Hospital on Mills Road, Accra. The family back home was informed of his death and at this point, all proverbial hell broke loose as the enraged family pointed accusing fingers at Seinye.
Suspecting foul play in his father’s death, Dumo Lulu-Briggs immediately demanded that an autopsy be carried out. At this point, one would think that the autopsy report would have determined once and for all what happened so everyone could get their closure. Unfortunately, while the autopsy report determined that the philanthropist died of a heart attack, the toxicology report (a report on the substances found in his bloodstream), which would establish or debunk foul play once and for all, was not provided.
Despite an order from the Kaneshie District Magistrate Court in July 2019 for this report to be provided, it has somehow not surfaced since then. In September, the court Magistrate and Coroner, Mrs E.K. Barnes-Botchway granted an ex parte motion application by Dumo Lulu-Briggs for an inquest into his father’s death. While ordering the inquest, Barnes-Botchway stated that she had probable cause to believe that High Chief Lulu-Briggs did not, in fact, die a natural death.
In response, Seinye Lulu-Briggs then filed a motion at the High Court in Accra demanding that the Magistrate Court should be prohibited from proceeding with the inquest. According to court papers, her reasons for demanding a halt to a process that could comprehensively clear her of all suspicion were that the Kaneshie District Magistrate Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case, and the Coroner’s prior comments about the case exposed a bias against her.
An excerpt from the court filing reads:
“I am advised by Counsel and I believe same to be true that, when an autopsy has been conducted, the proper and fair procedure is for the Coroner to rely on the contents of the autopsy report to determine whether to order an inquest.”
Bear in mind that at this point, the toxicology report had still not been provided, so the thrust of Mrs Lulu-Briggs argument was essentially that the incomplete autopsy report should have been enough for the Magistrate to declare the matter closed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dumo and the late billionaire’s other sons have since embarked on a series of public media skirmishes with their father’s widow, hinting at but not quite accusing her of culpability for the man’s death.
Amid all of this, the corpse of the late man remains in a Ghanaian mortuary, to the chagrin of his Kalabari kinsmen back home in Rivers State.
To understand why the late High Chief’s survivors are involved in such a bitter dispute, it is important to note that Dumo, Seinbo and Sofiri Lulu-Briggs who are the late billionaire’s oldest sons are not Seinye’s biological children. Dumo’s mother, Madam Irene Ine Sokari Lulu-Briggs nee Danagogo was the first wife of the family patriarch. This hints at a predictable and extant power struggle pitting Seinye against her husband’s oldest sons.
More significantly, since his death, the many assets and business interests he controlled have come under the control of his widow – something that his biological children have taken great exception to. Indeed, an unverified document purporting to be the late billionaire’s Will released to the media in the immediate aftermath of his death points to the heart of the dispute.
According to the above-unverified document, Dumo Lulu-Briggs and his siblings were expressly omitted from all inheritance by their father, and all his assets and business concerns were willed to his wife. While stranger things have been known to happen, it raises the question of why High Chief Lulu-Briggs would have taken such a drastic stance in 2012 while just a year before, he installed Dumo as Chief of the Lulu-Briggs family and head of the family in his absence.
Even more bafflingly, why did he – apparently two years after doing the legal equivalent of blowing up his children with napalm – then support Dumo’s bid to gain the PDP ticket for Rivers State in the 2014 gubernatorial election?
While the matter lingered, there is, however, one important update on the fate of the High Chief’s corpse and the wider asset dispute which it serves as a proxy for. On December 23, 2019, an Accra High Court presided over by Appeal Court Justice Eric Kyei Baffour ordered that his remains be released to his biological family led by Dumo Lulu-Briggs and conveyed to Nigeria for burial and funeral rites in line with Kalabari customs.
While Dumo, Seinbo and Sofiri saw this as a win after a year of frustrating legal processes, it turned out to be just the start of a series of lengthy legal and media battles as the proverbial unstoppable force meets its immovable object which finally came to an end yesterday, 11th February 2020 when the Supreme court of Ghana quashed all cases concerning the late billionaire and his estate and ordered that status quo of the High Court ruling on the 23rd of December 2019 remain.
Only one thing is sure – the late man would not have wanted any of this. But perhaps now, he can rest in peace, God willing that his wife does not throw another spanner in the wheels of progress as she is known to.
In a statement signed by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, he expressed his thanks to those who kept faith with the family and prayed with them to see the end of the protracted and needless litigations over his late father’s mortal remains.
While explaining the ruling of the Supreme Court of Ghana, Dumo also explained the ruling ;
“What the Supreme Court did was to confirm the orders of the High Court presided over by Justice Eric Kyei-Baffour, to the effect that the mortal remains of the deceased, High Chief (Dr.) Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs be released by the 4th Defendant, Enterprise Funeral Services Ghana Limited and the Ghana Police Service, to the family by custom, led by Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs, to convey same to Nigeria, for the burial and funeral rites.
“Since the Certiorari application filed at the Supreme Court by the widow of our father, Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs to quash those orders of the Ghana High Court that the Ghana Police and the Enterprise Funeral Home should release the mortal remains of our father to his family by custom, led by Chief Dumo O.B. Lulu-Briggs, Head and Chief mourner, but rather return the matter to the Ghana High Court has been dismissed by the Supreme Court, the final impediments to taking custody of the corpus of our dearly departed father has been removed and his body can finally come home.
“With that impediment removed, our family will meet and together with the chiefs of the Oruwari Briggs House, announce a burial date the day after our father’s body arrives in Port Harcourt and promptly organise a befitting burial for our dearly departed Opuda, the Paramount Head of the Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House of Abonema.
“We hope that this Ruling of the Supreme Court and the various interventions of well-meaning public officials will bring finality to the controversial issue of who has the right, under Kalabari native law and custom, to take the mortal remains of our father for burial. We also hope that our stepmother will keep her word, given at a recent meeting between the Inspector General of the Nigerian Police Force, the widow and the children of the Late High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs, at which she, Seinye Lulu-Briggs agreed to withdraw all pending matters before the courts in Ghana and to let the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of our father continue before the Kaneshie Magistrates Court in Ghana hold, so that we can all have the needed closure and begin to heal.” -Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs
While the case may seem to have come to a final end, the entire Kalabari people wait with bated breath in hopes that Seinye Lulu-Briggs will not attempt to scuttle yet again the finality of the entire matter.