Eulogy: A Life of Glory
High Chief Dr. O.B. Lulu-Briggs OON DCF DSSRS
May 22, 1930 – December 27, 2018
“You cannot always control the cards that life deals you and you must stand up and play your best possible hand.”
High Chief Dr. O.B. Lulu-Briggs, 2005
High Chief Dr. O.B. Lulu-Briggs was born on May 22, 1930 in Abonnema, in what is today Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, into illustrious Kalabari families. His father, Benson Lulu-Briggs of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema, was the grandson of the legendary Kalabari warrior, Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs (Oruwari II), merchant prince, founder, and sole defender of Abonnema. His mother, Rachael Kioba Harrison Kio Lawson of the Atonaye Pakaa (Pepple) of King Amachree Royal House, was the first daughter of Chief Harrison Kio Lawson. Her maternal great grandmother was a daughter of Agama, the founder of Krakrama.
When High Chief was three, his father lost his job at United African Company, UAC, because of illness. The family’s life, hitherto idyllic, became precarious. His father eventually passed away in 1938. His only sibling, an older brother, Onyema Tubonimi Benson Lulu-Briggs, died 11 days later. Soon after his mother became ill.
High Chief attended primary school in Abonnema. His classmates recall that he was a happy, intelligent, articulate and charming boy, who excelled in his schoolwork and made friends easily. However, because of the disruptions at home, he had to fend for himself and the family by fishing and taking on menial jobs. His paternal grandmother Madam Agbani Lulu-Briggs stood by him as best as she could.
She was a devout Christian whose gifts of healing and prophecy drew thousands to her prayer house, Agbani Teke Wari, in Abonnema. Through her, High Chief became acquainted with Jesus Christ and the Holy Bible at an early age. Despite her love and support High Chief was compelled to abandon his formal education. This was very hard for him as his father had had big dreams for his sons and planned to send them abroad for higher education. However, confident with the knowledge of Kalabari folklore and history which included the impressive accomplishments of his ancestors, as well with his grandmother and mother’s encouragement, High Chief never stopped dreaming of the bright future that lay ahead. He knew he must educate himself and achieve his dreams of being a successful man. His optimism was boundless as he left Abonnema and traveled north in search of work.
Life Away from Home
He spent time in Zaria, Kaduna and Jos. Life was hard, but he kept learning, and later taught himself to type and became a clerk. In 1950 he decided to relocate to Lagos, believing that he would find work that would allow him to further his education.
Life was even more difficult for him in Lagos. None of the people he turned to for help were supportive. He fervently prayed to God for help, promising that if God helped him and he succeeded, he would never allow anyone around him to suffer the hardships, rejections and betrayals he endured.
Nigerian Ports Authority
Eventually, with the help of some good Samaritans he overcame and secured employment at the newly established Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, in 1955.
As a civil servant at NPA, High Chief’s natural leadership abilities, collegiality, innate sense of fairness and the high quality of his work caught the attention of his colleagues as well as the NPA management. He began to make good on his promise to God by his willingness to listen and support his fellow workers. In a short period of time he was promoted to the Labor Department.
During his 23-year plus career at NPA, High Chief served as Secretary of the Workers Union at NPA for seven years, was Chairman of the Maritime Trade Union Federation of the Eastern Ports for three years (1968-1971) and a founder and President (from 1970-1972) of the Rivers State Council of Labor. When he retired from NPA in 1978 he was its Principal Industrial Relations Officer and Head of Division, Eastern Ports.
By the time High Chief left NPA, he was knowledgeable about the maritime sector’s role in the burgeoning oil and gas sector and the business opportunities it offered. He secured a loan and established a marine equipment leasing company that serviced the sector. An astute administrator and disciplined professional, he adapted many of the lessons he had garnered during his career at NPA. The goodwill and extensive network of friends and associates he had developed over the years across Nigeria and around the world, served him well.
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 engaging motto, “One Nation, One Destiny,” and a strategy that included an alliance between Northern leaders and their southern minority counterparts, NPN was popularly 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. He believed that the opening of the political space provided an ideal platform for him to return to public service at a higher level. He became a founding member of the NPN in Rivers State, acting as its first Protem Secretary in 1979.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs stunned political watchers during NPN’s first national convention, where he emerged as its National Vice Chairman (a position which was zoned to southern minorities) defeating more experienced politicians. His supporters hailed his charismatic personality, natural powers of organization and ability to connect with people as his key strengths. He was prominent in the NPN’s Presidential Campaign traveling 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 Chieftain, 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 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, 1979-1982; and was Chairman of the Governing Council of the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, 1982-1983.
The NPN government was overthrown by the military in 1983, but Chief remained a popular go-to politician, routinely consulted and brought into progressive national conversations and initiatives. He ran for President of Nigeria in the early 1990s under the defunct Social Democratic Party (Option A4). He was the elected candidate in Rivers State, polling over 72% of the popular vote in a field comprising five other contestants. When that political process was eventually truncated, Chief 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 center.
It is noteworthy that High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs emerged from political office and public service without any smear on his integrity. He never sought government contracts and even though he helped many Nigerians as a party chieftain, his deliberations and interventions were always above board. And during his time as a politician his businesses continued to function providing him enough income to keep his personal affairs running.
Back to Business
As a businessman, High Chief Lulu-Briggs diversified his interests to include, hospitality, telecoms, banking and real estate. However, he was best known as founder of Moni Pulo Limited (Petroleum Development), MPL. Moni (Nyemoni) Pulo which translates from High Chief’s mother tongue Kalabari language to mean Abonnema Oil in English, is proudly named after his beloved hometown.
In 1992, when High Chief Lulu-Briggs was 62 years old, MPL was awarded its first oil block license. Presently, Moni Pulo has oil blocks in Ondo, Abia and Akwa-Ibom states and is admired and applauded as one of the most successful indigenous oil producing companies in Nigeria.
High Chief was extremely happy with the progress made by his company over the years in institutionalizing its processes and achieving full indigenization. The culture of excellence he created is the bedrock of MPL’s stellar health and safety record and its exemplary community relations and corporate social responsibility. As with all his endeavors High Chief viewed a platform through which he could serve his constituencies and add value in a manner that shows what Nigerians can and must do to lead the way forward.
High Chief (Dr.) O.B. Lulu-Briggs was a diligent Kalabari community leader, who lived up to and promoted the exemplary standards of his community and culture, established by his renowned maternal and paternal forebearers.
High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs dutifully took up the task of reinvigorating the Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House by leading the peace, consensus building and reconciliation deliberations that paved the way for its reintegration with the Abonnema community and restoration of the Briggs chiefs’ position in the Abonnema Council of Chiefs.
High Chief established the Lulu-Briggs chieftaincy stool in 1991. He 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. During its commissioning in 2014 he was received by the Amanyanabo of Kalabari, King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill, JP, CFR, Amachree XI as the Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House. Indeed, no other member of the Oruwari Briggs family has been able to live up to and surpass the exploits of the storied Chief Iniikeiroari Young Briggs (Oruwari II). It is therefore not surprising that the family and community fondly bestowed on High Chief, the great Kalabari warrior’s moniker, ‘Opuda.’
Chief’s commitment to peace and security, which he believed are prerequisites for inclusive social and economic development, was evident from his early days in politics. He quietly mediated and supported many peace initiatives and thus was openly credited for building peace in many difficult circumstances. For example, he was able to broker peace after longstanding conflict between warring factions of the Tombia and Bakana communities in Rivers State. He also reconciled the princes and chiefs of Buguma in the disagreements that arose over the ascension to the throne of the current Amanyanabo of Kalabari. In addition, he was instrumental in the reabsorption of West Elebike Chiefs into the Kalabari Council of Chiefs after more than six years.
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. In the process there was a bold attempt to assassinate him in Abonnema. Speaking after the incident he stated, “I want to call for a dialogue among all concerned to immediately resolve their differences and for that matter, grievances, so that Abonnema will be restored to its characteristics acclamation of ‘York City’.”
Over the years, Chief developed and promoted interest in community leadership, constructive nation-building, cultural diplomacy and stable communal relationships. Thus, he forged friendships and partnerships with royal and traditional rulers across Nigeria and around the world.
Among the chieftaincy titles that he proudly received are those of: Efun-Alaye, bestowed on him by the paramount ruler of Owo in Osun State; Obubedike of Obowu conferred on him by the Obowu clan of Imo State; Opomulero and Yeye Opomulero of Ijero Kingdom awarded him and his wife, Seinye by the Oba of Ijero Ekiti in 2008; the Mene Doole (Chief of Philanthropy) of Bangha Kingdom, Ogoni in Rivers State by the Mene Suanu. In 2007, he was conferred the exceptional honor of being High Chief ke Efik Eburutu and Eka Iban ke Efik Eburutu with his wife Seinye by the Obong of Calabar, Edidem (Prof.) Nta Elijah Henshaw.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs was also the humble recipient of many other commendations. He appended the following to his name: 1). The Nigerian National Order of the Officer of the Niger (OON) bestowed on High Chief Lulu-Briggs for his notable leadership, service and commitment to his beloved Nigeria in 2003 by his bosom friend President Olusegun Obasanjo; 2). The distinguished title of the Defender of the Christian Faith (D.C.F.) from the Board of Trustees of the Communions of Pentecostal Bishops of Nigeria for his his service to the church and his charitable and philanthropic giving, “which exemplified Jesus Christ’s commandment that without love for one another, all our efforts are in vain and mostly like clanging bells” in 2008; and 3). The Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State (DSSRS) from Rivers State Government during the State’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2017 by Chief Nyesom Wike, Executive Governor of Rivers State.
From an early age High Chief Lulu-Briggs learned to trust fully in God. He would let anyone who asked, know that it was his unwavering belief in Christ’s promise that stood as the constant in his life. During the extremely difficult times he endured as an adolescent he had made a promise to God that if He helped him and he succeeded, he would ensure that no one around him suffered as he did after his father’s illness and subsequent death.
He was true to his promise to God by making it a daily duty to help as many people as he could afford to in keeping by the injunctions of his Christian faith as codified in the Holy Bible which he studied. Not only did he live by key tenets of the Christian faith throughout his life, he actively evangelized in his later years through the “O.B. Lulu-Briggs Campaign for Christ.”
High Chief did not become a philanthropist by chance. His legendary giving came from his heart with love and compassion and grace. He is, arguably, the greatest Nigerian Philanthropist of his generation.
He supported the church and its work. He trained the clergy, provided vehicles, and donated musical instruments, including pipe organs. He constructed and made generous donations to church buildings, bishops’ courts, hospitals, and schools. He continued to support his grandmother’s church in Abonnema. He included a chapel in his Akuku Toru (Sombreiro) House in Port Harcourt, and he built the Chapel of God International Worship Center in Port Harcourt.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs cared deeply about people and their plight. He was always ready to listen and learn, inspire, mentor and if necessary, provide the support required, if he could. He believed that everyone deserves the opportunity to progress in life and be the best they could possibly be.
He provided financial support when required, to meet immediate, emergency, or short-term needs. He was interested in providing assistance that enabled people to carry themselves and their family in dignity and not be beholden to others. High Chief also recognized that there were those who were vulnerable and needed to be taken care of. To those he provided monthly cash transfers. Despite the fact people often took advantage of his kindness, Chief continued to give from his heart to the end.
To help give structure to his giving, his beloved wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye Lulu-Briggs, established the O.B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation in High Chief’s name in 2001. It began with the Care for Life Programme for the Elderly, which has since cared for over 500 seniors and remains its flagship programme to-date. The programme was designed to bring joy, purpose, care and meaning to the lives of poor, neglected elderly, and unhealthy, seniors.
In addition, since 2005 the Foundation routinely hosts free medical missions in rural and peri-urban communities across the Niger Delta.
It also equips people with skills through education/scholarships and training, and by injecting working capital or providing equipment to micro and small businesses. This is achieved through its, Education and Scholarships, and Micro-Credit and Entrepreneurship Programmes. Through its Access to Clean Water and Sanitation and Special Initiatives Programmes, the Foundation also provides communities with social infrastructure- portable water, schools, health centres, toilets and more. For High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs the success of the Foundation’s work was extremely gratifying.
Chief Lulu-Briggs cherished life. He appreciated the fine things of life. He was curious and adventurous, and he loved to entertain and to celebrate his family and friends. He loved to travel and routinely made time to visit world capitals and notable places.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs did not allow Parkinson’s disease which he developed in his later years, stop him from living his best life. He gave grants to the Rochester Research Institute in New York and to the Virginia Keily Benefaction of the University College Hospital, London, towards research to find a cure for the condition. Through those years Chief bore his illness with grace and dignity, counting and savoring all the awesome blessings in his life.
A loving patriarch, he led his family by the values of humility, honesty, integrity, discipline, self-discipline, hard work, compassion, patience, civic responsibility and collaboration he lived by. He instilled these values in them and the larger family who called or considered him their very own ‘Big Daddy’ as well. Although he was a fun person, he was also a no-nonsense, focused person, who kept his word and held no malice against anyone. He took all that he decided to do seriously and succeeded in doing it perfectly well. He could not abide sloth, dishonesty, greed and lackadaisical behavior.
On December 26, 2018, High Chief Lulu-Briggs hosted the Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House’s annual thanksgiving celebration at the Onubio in Abonnema with the theme, Endless Halleluyah. It was a joyous occasion attended by family and friends including, High Chief C.P.D. Amarchree (JP) Oruagbani III, Chairman of the Kalabari Council of Chiefs – now also of blessed memory, representing the Amanyanabo of Kalabari, King (Prof) T.J.T Princewill, JP, CFR, Amachree XI, and 88 chiefs from across the Kalabari Kingdom. Chief’s spirits were exceptionally high as he personally presided over the distribution of gifts to all his guests. With hindsight it is evident that the event was also a glorious thank you and celebration of all he stood for and all he had achieved in his lifetime.
On the evening of December 27, 2018 High Chief Dr. O.B. Lulu-Briggs, OON, DCF, DSSRS, Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari Kingdom, Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House, Founder, Chairman/Chief Executive Moni Pulo Limited, a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, cousin, uncle, evangelist, Kalabari chief, statesman, business magnate, civil servant, trade unionist, philanthropist, peace maker, angel investor and so much more to so many, peacefully returned to his maker soon after arriving in Accra, Ghana.
High Chief Lulu-Briggs did not want us to mourn his passing but to remember him as a God-fearing loving person who did his best to use his talents and all the blessings that God lavished on him to serve and to contribute to building a better more equitable, more inclusive Nigeria and a better world.
He was our world. He is our legend. His legacy lives on.
Dr. (Mrs). Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs