The crisis rocking the family of the late Ijaw businessman and national statesman, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs is far from over.
Some children of the deceased and his widow, Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye O.B. Lulu-Briggs have, for long, been at loggerheads over who controls the controlling interests in his businesses, it was gathered.
Since the late Lulu-Briggs passed away on December 27, 2018 in Accra, Ghana, efforts to organise a befitting burial for the man have been frustrated by some members of the family.
Signs that all was not well first came to light when one of the deceased’s sons filed a lawsuit and secured an injunction to stop the opening and reading of the will of the patriarch of the family.
This was followed a few weeks later by an advertorial by some chiefs from Oruwari Briggs Chiefs of Abonnema, Rivers State, in a newspaper in May this year. The write-up claimed that the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs was missing. The same chiefs had published an announcement of his death on January 1, 2019 in another newspaper.
Matters, however, came to a head on Monday, June 3 when a group of heavily armed policemen led by Adaku Uche-Anya, an assistant commissioner of police, stormed the business premises of Moni Pulo Limited (MPL), a leading indigenous oil company. The team claimed to have been sent from Abuja.
The policemen, who claimed they were at the premises to investigate a petition alleging that the late Chief Lulu-Briggs was murdered, reportedly broke into the offices in an attempt to take away several documents and also forcefully extract statements from staff of the company whom they kept hostage for up to eight hours.
One of MPL’s lawyers, Bright Georgewill said the company neither received a notice prior to the invasion nor did the team of policemen come with a search warrant.
Some family members stated that the police invasion of the MPL office and the alleged petition that the late High Chief Lulu-Briggs, who died aged 88, was killed by his wife during his last trip to Ghana, was not an isolated incident. They said that this was likely part of the plot by a certain son of the deceased to blackmail the widow to concede assets in the businesses, in which she has controlling shares, to him.
The tussle for control of the oil firm predates the death of Chief Lulu Briggs. According to law reports, in 2003, some of the deceased sons had dragged their father before a Lagos High Court, asking the court to kick him out of the company he founded and make them directors of the company.
The suit, FHC/L/CS1156/03 followed a purported Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of Moni Pulo held at a hotel in Port Harcourt in which they, among other things, sought the removal of High Chief O.B. Lulu-Briggs as Chairman and director of the company and his replacement by one of the sons, Senibo. The EGM named Dumo Lulu-Briggs, Managing Director/CEO of the company and also agreed to change the signatories to all the company’s bank account and to remove the deceased as the sole signatory.
The suit was lost, however, and the court affirmed High Chief Lulu-Briggs as the chairman of the company. In his judgment, Justice Mohammed Shuaibu noted that the suit was filed in December 2003, whereas the EGM which would have conferred rights on the plaintiffs, was held in January 2004. Justice Shuaibu ruled that the plaintiffs ‘failed to show an existence of his legal right which needs to be protected’ by the court.
Incidentally, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), whose representative attended the purported EGM, faulted its proceedings and refused to accept the resolutions that resulted therefrom. The CAC, in its letter dated November 10, 2003, noted that “no resolutions were passed’ during the meeting. ’The report indicated that when issues of votes were raised by the company secretary, Solola & Akpana, there was chaos which prevented the passing of any resolution and the meeting had to be adjourned.”
But that was not the end of the matter. In February 27, 2004, a notice of appeal was filed against the judgement. They also asked the court, pending the determination of the lawsuit, to appoint a receiver/manager for the company so that their father (the defendant in the suit) would no longer have access or control over it.
’The appointment of a receiver and manager to control the bank accounts and assets of the plaintiff pending appeal would ensure that both the already earned income and future income of the plaintiff is safeguarded,’ they pleaded.
Chief Lulu-Briggs, in a letter to the Inspector General of the Police at the time, alleged that there had been several threats to his life while the cases run through the judicial process. He therefore sought police protection for himself and his family.
In an interview published in the Saturday Tribune of February 7, 2004, the deceased had alleged that his sons’ aim at instituting the lawsuits against him was “to further the unlawful, illegal, fraudulent, unjust, greedy and ill-motivated attempts and plans to expropriate and seize the company and its prized assets to meet their desire.
It was gathered that the lawsuit was later dropped after the sons received substantial amount of money to separate them from the company.
However, based on what is happening now, the acrimony within the family did not end with those payments and the separation from his companies. Even now, it is far from over.
A senior Kalabari chief has appealed to all the parties to embrace peace and ensure that the man’s legacies are not destroyed by family squabbles.
“It is sad that the legacy of the late statesman and philanthropist High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs is being dragged through the mud by his descendants. I don’t want to be seen as taking sides, but I will appeal to them to embrace peace. I hope that the elders of Ijaw land would step in to resolve the crisis before it assumes a more dangerous dimension,” he said.