(“It is becoming evident that our father may have died in Nigeria and that he may have been brought in dead to Accra”…DLB)
The editor of the Rivers Ijaw Voice, Sotonye Ijuye-Dagogo caught up with the ever-busy businessman and politician, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs on August 4, 2019 and it was a rare opportunity to ask him to throw light on many issues surrounding the ongoing feud in the Lulu-Briggs family.
It was a session of very frank interaction and the Rivers State 2019 governorship candidate of Accord party, who has not had time to rest after the elections, came across as a very worried man. He is worried that his father has stayed too long in the mortuary because his father’s wife has refused to hand over his mortal remains to his family and chiefs.
He spoke on the controversies around his father’s death in Accra, Ghana, the ongoing police investigation, the contentious autopsy and wished that the family came together, settle matters and give their father a befitting burial without any further delay.
BELOW ARE EXCERPTS:
Q: Your father died at the ripe old age of 88, so why can’t you let him rest in peace? Why the suspicion against your stepmother, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs?
DLB: It is everybody’s desire and prayer that my father should rest in peace. My father lived a fulfilled life; he was a very devoted Christian. He was a philanthropist per excellence. He cared for people that he did not know and would never have known. A lot of people he did things for, he didn’t care to know them. He was a strong community person who contributed in all community related activities. He made tremendous sacrifices.
He was a very well-known politician of his time, a successful businessman and a family man, father to all his children and to many more that he did not know and so it is our wish that we are able to come together as a family, his children, wife, everybody and give him a very befitting burial.
But again, as members of the family, we would want to know how exactly our father died, given the circumstances of his death. That our father lived up to 88 years is no reason that we should not be allowed to know how, where and when he died.
If as the Chief of the Lulu-Briggs family and the chief mourner, I was given his medical death certificate or it was even shown to me when I so requested of our stepmother, it would have been a lot easier for me to understand what happened. But when we consider that at his age, ailing and gone through several medical conditions, he was held up inside an aircraft that was aground for more than five hours with doors firmly shut; when we consider that he had done tracheostomy operation with tubes inserted in his throat; when we consider that even in the comfort of his home he needed suction at regular intervals, we wonder why anybody would keep him inside an aircraft on ground at the Port Harcourt International Airport for those number of hours.
If the aircraft, as they claimed, had no landing permit to land in Accra, although we had since discovered that the chartered plane had a landing permit, why did the aircraft proceed to carry passengers all of whom proceeded to board the aircraft without going through immigrations, when it was not a domestic but an international flight, only to stay on ground, with door shut for more than five hours? There was no Doctor in the aircraft only a personal nurse.
Moreover, the older children, including me, did not even know that they were embarking on such a trip, even though we were together the previous day and our father was so weak that he couldn’t stay through an hour thanksgiving function in Abonnema.
I am very concerned as a son that my father who was ailing, whom I saw a day before and who was not looking strong at all, was to be taken early the next day into an aircraft on holidays to Accra. Why would this happen and people are expecting us not to ask questions?
We, the older children of our father asked questions and we didn’t get answers, we were not given the medical death certificate, we asked for the mortuary receipts and were given none. At this point we became agitated and reported the matter to the police.
The information we got was that on arrival in Accra, they discovered that he was completely motionless. This bothered us because we felt that the wife and others in the aircraft, knowing the condition of our father, ought to be observing him on a minute by minute basis and not to discover in Accra that he was motionless.
The matter, by the laws of the Republic of Ghana, qualifies for police investigation and the police have instituted same in Accra. The Police authorities in Ghana needed to know why there was no report of such death to the police, why there was no record with the Airport Authorities and the Ghana Immigration Services.
These are the things that have raised serious suspicions and we are asking for answers and when we can’t get any, we worry. If things happen in manners that raise suspicions, it is only proper that we report the matter to the appropriate authority and that is all that we have done.
Fortunately, where we are now, the police are doing their investigation and there is nothing that says that whilst the investigation continues, we cannot give our father a befitting burial.
But his widow, our stepmother, Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs, has brought two court cases in Ghana that the mortal remains of our father should not be handed over to us, the family, but should be given to her, claiming that she is the next of kin. By Kalabari native laws and custom, the body belongs to the family and the older sons of our father are saying to his widow, can we have his mortal remains so that we can call everybody together and give him a befitting burial? Instead of doing the right thing, she goes to court asking to be given custody of the mortal remains of her husband.
Customarily, the body should be handed over to me as the chief of the immediate family and the chief mourner. It should be noted that am not the oldest son. I have an older brother, who is 14 years older than me, who admits that as the chief, customarily, I am the chief mourner and the chairman of the burial committee.
It is instructive that the natural ruler of Kalabari, the Amayanabo, King T.J.T. Princewill has taken a position to this effect and relayed same in writing to us and to our father’s wife. Our father was a paramount head of the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema and therefore native law and custom should be applicable.
So, you wonder why our stepmother, the widow of our father, would take an action in Accra, asking the court not to release the mortal remains to the people who customarily should have the body of the deceased. She is rather asking that the body be released to her as the person who deposited the body at the mortuary in Accra and so has the receipts.
These actions are brought against the older children, who are not only children but sons of our father. My father’s first three children are boys; one is 69 years old, the other 55 years old and the third 48 years old. These are adult men and their stepmother is saying that the body of their father should not be released to them. In essence, she is holding the body of our father hostage and denying us the opportunity of giving him a befitting burial as quickly as we want.
Q: But your stepmom says that you are the one delaying the burial of your father?
DLB: But I didn’t bring an action in Ghana, am not the person who sued. This is a situation where a person tells a tale and believes the tale absolutely, even when he/she know same to be false. What she is saying is completely untrue because she is the person who took an action in court against the release of the body to the family for burial. I, Dumo Lulu-Briggs didn’t initiate a court suit in Ghana. I am not the one who sued. Rather it is Mrs. Seinye Lulu-Briggs that has refused to release medical death certificate and mortuary receipts to the people that should have them.
Granted that she took my father’s body to the mortuary in Ghana because she claims that he died in Accra and there were no persons around who normally should have taken the body to the mortuary and as the only adult family member present, she took his body to the morgue. Even in that situation, my younger brother, Dateim, 25years, that was in Accra with them, customarily ought to have been the person to take the body to the mortuary.
The proper thing that she is expected to do thereafter, was to hand over the body and the papers to the family as required.
As it stands, the family can’t even convene a meeting to plan my father’s burial when they do not have custody of the body.
Q: But Chief Abiola Ogundokun speaking in defense of your stepmother said that the family had twice set dates for burial but you, Chief Dumo Lulu-Briggs cancelled those dates.
DLB: There was no time the family decided such. She decided on her own to take a date for burial and sent out invitations to everybody and people asked how can she do that as the wife, without reference to us?
The Chiefs of Oruwari Briggs House intervened and told her that she didn’t have the right to do that because there are people in the family who ought to come together in a meeting to decide on the date for burial.
As a matter of fact, by our Kalabari-Ijaw native law and custom, at the passing of her husband, she takes a back seat and allows the family to plan the funeral and I, as the chief mourner, would be informing her and taking her counsel in the arrangements because she is not to be seen in public until the burial day.
But in the case of our stepmother, she has even organized, alone and by herself, a funeral service for our late dad in Accra, done a posthumous birthday for him, she is seen everywhere, even to the extent of going to the mortuary to identify his corpse for autopsy, all of which she ought not to do customarily.
At the time she unilaterally fixed the burial date, we were still asking questions about his cause of death, his medical death certificate and mortuary receipts. Nobody had seen any papers apart from her.