Once in every generation, and to a particular people, God sends that one person who comes along with refreshing energy, impacts us so affectionately; uplifts our spirits, energizes our bones and inspires us to grander ideals beyond ourselves before bowing out at the given moment, quietly, but with grace just like the saints marching on to glory!
The life and times of High Chief Dr O. B. Lulu Briggs OON, DCF, DSSRS; the Iniikeiroari the fifth of Kalabari Kingdom and Paramount Head of Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema evokes the very essence of divine mandate, the core and call of true humanity, the priceless worth of celestial benevolence and the sheer beauty of purified compassion etched in unfailing love to all and sundry, crested with abiding devotion to God Almighty and furnished with unfettered flow of abundance; not just of earthly wealth and splendour but of enduring values and life itself. He came, he saw and conquered. He had it all.
Opuda, as he is fondly called, meant so many things to so many people. To some, he was the quintessential Kalabari chief, entrepreneur and a national statesman. To others, he was a repository of prodigious resources and a philanthropist par excellence. And yet to others, he was a citizen of the world. But in all, he epitomized hard work, love and enduring service to humanity.
In 1930, God in His benevolence bequeathed to mankind a unique gift in the person of young O. B. Lulu-Briggs. His earthly life started like an epic drama. He was the only surviving son of his parents. Death robbed him of his father, Pa Benson Lulu-Briggs when he was barely 9 years of age. He found succour under the prayerful and steady guidance of his grandmother, Agbani and his mother, the elegant Madam Rachael Kioba Harrison Lawson, a matriarch, whose life of resourcefulness and generosity influenced young Olu Benson immensely.
High Chief’s humble beginning belied his descent from the royal lineage of Opuda Young Briggs Iniikeiroari, Oruwari II, founder and defender of Abonnema. His pedigree manifested in his towering physique, pleasant handsomeness, imposing appearance and a regal gait that never failed to command attention wherever he went.
In pursuit of the Golden Fleece, young Olu started his primary school in Abonnema. Education would later take him to Calabar and Jos. Opuda’s strong determination to succeed in life and his motivation to acquire qualitative education and exposure galvanised him to focus on private learning to get his academic qualifications and later went to the United Kingdom for advanced studies. This strong will to succeed marked him out and elevated him even among his contemporaries.
Opuda commenced his working life as a clerk at the Mandilas and Karabaris. It was his career with the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, from 1955 that demonstrated how great he was going to become. By sheer dint of hard work and with God’s favour on his side, he had a meteoric rise through the ranks to principal Industrial Relations Officer. He served as secretary of NPA’s workers’ Union for seven years and chairman of the Maritime Trade Union Federation, Eastern Port from 1968-1971.
In these positions, he successfully performed the delicate and impressive balancing act of championing the cause of workers while ensuring that they performed to mutually agreed standards of productivity. By the time he voluntarily retired in April 1978, he had risen to the position of Head Industrial Relations, in the Eastern Port of Nigeria. At the time it was practically unheard of for a Nigerian to attain such an exalted position and resign voluntarily. But Lulu was no ordinary person, his ambition was lofty and his stage on earth was broader than what NPA could offer, and so he left to continue on his ambition of selfless service to other men.
“All the world is a stage and we all play different parts and exit. But there are men like Opuda who have many major parts to play and by God’s grace play all successfully”.
The desire to affect the cause of national politics for the better informed Opuda’s purposeful venture into partisan politics at the onset of the second republic. He was one of the founding fathers of the then ruling party, The National Party of Nigeria, NPN and served as national vice- chairman for Rivers State from 1979-1980 and later, the deputy national chairman of the party from 1980-1983. In this capacity, he played the politics of equity and fairness founded on protecting the rights of the minorities in an indivisible Nigeria.
Opuda was blessed with immense business savvy, His success in business predates his political days. Soon after he left public service he set up a chain of businesses. They included Lubrik Nigeria Limited, Ludal Nigeria Limited, Rachael Hotels Limited, Krakrama Investment Limited and Rachael Holdings. When in the early 1990s the federal government of Nigeria deregulated the upstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry, Opuda in his usual determined manner pioneered the indigenous foray into the erstwhile expatriate-dominated hydrocarbon exploration and production sector of the Nigerian economy when he incorporated Moni Pulo Ltd, an oil and gas company in 1992.
He was among the few Nigerians that were awarded oil prospecting licences at the time. His desire to build a global standard indigenous organisation propelled him to delve into the very volatile and risky business of actual exploration and production. This was at a time most awardees sold off their oil prospecting licences to foreign concerns for immediate gains. The company has since carved out a niche for itself as a world-class company of note, employing and empowering many Nigerian professionals long before the Nigerian content act made it mandatory.
“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian worship; The highest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless”, BILLY GRAHAM.
As a receiver of divine abundance, Opuda elevated philanthropy to the status of an admirable art form, giving credence to the adage that givers never lack. As a true citizen of the world Opuda’s philanthropy had no limits. To formalise the process and to ensure objectivity, Opuda and his beloved wife, Dr. Mrs. Seinye O. B. Lulu-Briggs in 2001 founded the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, a not-for-profit charity dedicated to uplifting lives and reaching the unreached with the milk of human kindness. For nearly 2 decades with Opuda as the Foundation’s Grand Benefactor, had been active in five thematic areas. These are Care For Life, Education and Scholarships, Free Medical Mission, Micro-Credit and Entrepreneurship and Access to Portable Water and Sanitation. The Foundation remains active today in the safe hands of his beloved wife and continues to impact lives across the Niger Delta.
The O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation gives daily care to the aged and infirm in rural communities by providing them with food and medicine for as long as they live. It has a functional recreation centre for the elderly in Abonnema, furnished with modern facilities where previously homebound and ignored senior citizens now interact daily, receive nutritious meals twice daily and medical attention. A second recreational home was also built in Egbema town Abua, Rivers State. For the many homeless and abandoned elderly, the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation provides succour by building decent homes for them.
Through the Free Medical Missions of the foundation, Opuda provided free health care services to over 150,000 persons across 4 states of the Niger Delta. Such medical Services cover free consultation, free drugs, ophthalmic treatment with fee eyeglasses and surgeries of all kinds. In addition to routinely organising lectures on Prostrate Cancer and conducting free PSA tests, the foundation sponsors many people with special health challenges for treatment in hospitals within and outside Nigeria. The most recent is the free Uterine Fibroid and after-care service offered to 100 indigent women in partnership with the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital and the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.
Opuda’s imprint on education was equally massive. Through the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation, he awarded countless scholarships at Primary, secondary and Tertiary levels to indigent and deserving students including overseas post-graduate scholarships. He built and equipped science laboratories to encourage children in the Niger Delta to gain interest and proficiency in the sciences. He endowed academic chairs in Petroleum Geo-sciences in the University of Port Harcourt and in the University of Texas, USA. He also built and equipped a health centre at the University of Port Harcourt, Hostel blocks in the Niger Delta University, Bayelsa state, and sponsored research in Parkinson’s disease in Rochester Research Institute in Lebanon and New York. From 2009 till date, the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Foundation provides annual grants and Laptops to law students of Rivers origin to enable them to attend and participate fully in the Nigerian Law School.
Through the Micro Finance and Empowerment programme of the Foundation, Opuda empowered women and youths in rural communities by setting up Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs). He boosted existing businesses with the provision of financial resources and requisite training and made them competitive. He further granted organised cooperatives access to interest-free revolving loans. Over a thousand lives have been impacted so far.
The lack of ready access to safe drinking water in most rural communities and the attendant prevalence of diseases such as Cholera, Dysentery, Intestinal and other Worm infestations caught the attention of the high chief. By his benevolence communities had clean, safe and quality drinking water. Sanitary conditions in Port Harcourt and Degema prisons were uplifted with the construction of multi-functional boreholes with multiple pumps and two septic tanks.
In recognition of his selfless service to humanity, two international service organisations, Rotary International and Lions Club International at various times honoured him. Opuda and his wife humbly wore their pins as Paul Harris Fellows and major donors of rotary international. In 2003 the federal government of Nigeria decorated him with the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger, OON. He held the key to the city of Houston, Texas, as an honorary citizen. The University of Port Harcourt and Rivers State University in 2006 and 2011 respectively awarded him the Degrees of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa. From the sublime Riverine community of Krakrama in Rivers State to the rocky hills of Ijero Ekiti, he received numerous titles: SE-BRAMABO, OPOMULERO, HIGH CHIE KE EFIK EBURUTU,
EBUBE DIKE, EFUN ALAYE and many more titles. As a peacemaker and promoter of Kalabari culture and tradition, Opuda in 2006 led the Oruwari Briggs House of Abonnema to reconcile and reintegrate with the Abonnema council of chiefs, a feat that brought much-needed peace to Abonnema, The Amayanabo of Kalabari and Kalabari Sekobiri in recognition of this and his numerous contributions to society, in the same year honoured him and his wife at a grand reception ceremony.
Other awards bestowed on him were the Defender of Christian Faith (DCF) by communion of Pentecostal Bishops, Golden Jubilee Petroleum award, Opobo International Boat Race Man-of-the year Award. He is a recipient of Thisday Newspaper Lifetime Achievement Award and The Silverbird Extraordinary Achievement Award 2016. On 15th March 2018 in the same year of his passing, the African independent television honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement in Philanthropy.
In an unprecedented show of respect for his lineage and with a deep understanding of the importance of knowing and honouring one’s forebears, Opuda in 2005 organised a week-long centennial celebration in honour of the achievements of his great grandfather, Young Briggs Iniikeiroari, Oruwari II. Between 20th and 26th December 2005, Opuda brought together an unprecedented number of the sons and daughters of Briggs, both within Nigeria and in the diaspora to participate in the series of events that drew an assemblage of guests to Abonnema. The rich culture and tradition of the people was on display as well as a re-telling of the story of the history of the people so that they do not forget the ties that bind them so closely together.
The Holy Bible instructs us to honour our parents so that our days will be long. In their lifetimes Opuda respected his parents as much as he could and when in his later years the opportunity came to honour their memories, he demonstrated what dutiful children should do as memorials to their parents. Between the 19th and 25th of March 2007, he celebrated the 30th memorial of his mother, Madam Rachael Kioba Harrison Lawson. The magnitude and colour of the events made Buguma the host city a tourist destination of some sort.
April 2008 was yet another date with history as it afforded Opuda the opportunity to fulfil a life-long yearning to ensure the homecoming of his father, Pa Benson Lulu-Briggs, who passed on and was buried in faraway soil in Emekuku. In view of Papa’s royal lineage, nothing short of a royal burial in his home soil would suffice. The ceremony was as grandiose as it was meaningful; passing on the message to those present that it was never too late to honour one’s parents within one’s abilities.
A lover of devotional hymns, he devoted a large proportion of his resources to the service of the church. At the time most churches were struggling with using traditional music to minister to troubled souls, Opuda acquired Pipe organs hitherto found only in the like of West Minster Abbey, England and distributed them to various churches. Apart from providing regular financial assistance to churches, he assisted in the building of church projects all over Nigeria, like the Bishops Court at Ijero Ekiti, the building and equipping of our saviour’s Hospital, Port Harcourt and a modern school, the Anglican Girls Secondary School in Sama, Rivers State.
Opuda in his later life committed himself to evangelism using the platform of the O. B. Lulu-Briggs Campaign for Christ to spread the Word to Chiefs and Royal fathers of Rivers state.
Opuda’s commitment, love and care for his family was profound. In his wife and confidant Dr. (Mrs.) Seinye O. B. Lulu-Briggs, he had the proverbial helpmeet, his missing rib. She helped to give expression and actualisation to his great vision of transforming lives and society. To Seinye, her husband was a unique and totally one-of-a-kind unrepeatable human being. Her favourite verse that describes him is found in the book of the Songs of Solomon, Chapter 2:3-4 “Like an Apple tree among the trees of the woods. So is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight, And his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house and his banner over me was love”.
On the 27th of December 2018 the great man, High Chief Dr O. B. Lulu-Briggs passed on to glory at the golden age of 88, shortly after arriving Accra Ghana for his annual vacation with his wife.
The curtain was drawn on his long full illustrious life. There is no continent in the world he did not visit. Troubled with extreme arthritis that kept him wheelchair-bound in his later years, he remained very active, hosting and attending social and traditional functions, evangelizing and travelling around the world regularly. There was never a dull moment with him. He remained Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Moni Pulo Limited, the oil production company he founded.
Since his passing there has been an overflowing outpouring of condolences from all walks of life. Each sector of society has turned up to pay respect to a man whose benevolence knew no bounds. Both the high and low have nothing but endearing words for the remarkable life that he lived.
In truth, the choicest of words are not enough to describe his legendary frame. Tributes are too weak and no eulogy can sufficiently capture what High Chief Dr. O. B. Lulu-Briggs was to mankind. He was a man who has done great things and has left indelible marks on the sands of time.
According to High Chief O. B. Lulu-Briggs (2015) “You cannot always control the cards that life deals you and you must stand up and play your best possible hand.”
As Opuda sojourns to glory, we who are left with precious memories from our interactions with him are minded to shine our own lights as brightly as he did to make our worlds a beautiful place for all.