Kalabari, Akuma Fiete: Gborogborobo fite (hear, o ye Kalabari, the Akuma drum sounds: A great man has died.)
The death of elder statesman and renowned Kalabari industrialist, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu-Briggs has gripped the nation over the last two years partly because of the huge vacuum left by his passage but also because of the infighting in his family that has played itself out in the public ever since.
A read through the 300 pages of the book, ‘Opuda: The Legend lives On’, produced by Mrs Seinye Lulu-Briggs and printed by La Sien Media gives a good insight into why this Niger Delta hero and national statesman (fondly called Opuda by his family and close associates) so captured national imagination during his lifetime and after.
Over its beautifully laid out pages, the book – virtually an anthology of panegyrics – contains stirring snippets of the lives of OB Lulu-Briggs and what he meant to those who crossed his path. The submissions came from the high and the not so high; the far and the near; the individual and the public. It also contains lasting words from the man himself, in the form of a revealing interview conducted by a team of ThisDay editors on the occasion of his 75th birthday in 2005. In it, as was usual with him, Lulu-Briggs left gems of wisdom, including this timeless one: “I see everything that happens in life as having a purpose and our confusion arises from our tendency to look to the event rather than purpose.”
There was a tribute from the children of the Village of Hope Ghana, who said though they never met the man, they all “felt the direct impact of his generosity.” Several beneficiaries of his scholarships and medical and religious outreach programmes across the Niger Delta and beyond spoke in the same vein.
There were tributes from President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerian statesmen and business leaders, as well as from the UN and several major local and international business organisations.
The contents of this uplifting book are divided into five broad chapters, each representing an aspect of the High Chief’s life. These are Opuda (about his person); Kalabari chief (about his role as traditional ruler and peacebuilder); Business magnate (about his many business undertakings), Statesman (about his role in political and democratic development in Nigeria); and Philanthropist – about his much written about generosity.
The Opuda chapter, which contains an alluring informative family tree of the Lulu-Briggs dating back to the formation of Abonnema, includes eulogies from Mrs Lulu-Briggs, his children, associates, the extended family and friends. Like the other parts of this book, the chapter was laced with amazing pictures of Lulu-Briggs in his roles as son, father, husband, grandfather, friend and confidante.
In Kalabari chief, the late Lulu-Brigg’s life as a traditional ruler came to life. He was known as a bridge-builder, peacemaker and progress seeker. This could be gleaned in tributes from the Asantehene of Ashanti Kingdom, from Cameroon’s Fondom; from the Obong of Calabar and many traditional rulers from across Nigeria.
“His sacrosanct respect of the chieftaincy institution and his principled rectitude to support equity, fairness and peaceful co-existence in the Abonnema Council of Chiefs warranted his unanimous adoption as the Regent of Abonnema when the council was distortedly misrepresented in its historical evolution and commentaries,” wrote Chief Alabo T.O Graham-Douglas, among several others.
Business magnate tells the story – through the lens of several commentators – of a man of immense business acumen and foresight. It is a story of the founding of a major indigenous oil business, Moni Pulo and several others in hospitality, banking, housing and others.
The late Lulu-Briggs was a political colossus and the chapter on Statesman more than took care of that. It is enriched by powerful essays from Dr Godknows Igali, Dr Patrick Dele-Cole, High Chief Abiola Ogundokun and Dr OB Lulu-Briggs himself.
Then there is Philanthropist. With his OB Lulu-Briggs Campaign for Christ, the late Lulu-Briggs was a major support of church activities – hence his award as Defender of the Christian Faith. He was also a reputed giver to secular causes and recognition and accolades came in large numbers from both segments of the national life.
This documentation of a slice of the life of the late Regent of Abonnema by his wife is a welcome testimonial to a life well-lived. It also adds to the body of knowledge about the evolution of Nigeria and the men and women that have contributed to its growth.
As the author wrote, it is also a timely reminder that no condition is permanent and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
“These are testaments to his leadership and graceful life…I hope it will encourage you to embrace your day fearlessly and make the most of what comes your way,” Dr Seinye Lulu-Briggs wrote in the foreword. “Love remains the strength and foundation of what Opuda was about.”