In 1961, I sat for the Northern Nigeria Common Entrance Examination for admission into post primary institutions. One of the objective questions asked candidates was to name the town where the people of Kalabari live. The suggested options were: Calabar, Uyo, Eket, Abonnema and Warri.
I had never heard of the word Kalabari but heard about Calabar; so without much thinking, I wrongly picked Calabar as the obvious choice because I had never heard of the name Abonnema which was the right answer.
Sixty years later, I came face to face with Abonnema, the traditional headquarters of Kalabari Kingdom on March 12, 2021.
The occasion was the burial of the most illustrious son of the kingdom, High Chief Olu Benson Lulu Briggs. The high chief is listed by Forbes as the 40th richest African. Today, his oil company, Moni Pulo Incorporated in 1989, operates in four out of the six oil producing states of the Niger Delta region and employs hundreds of Nigerian workers. His flagship well produces 10,000,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Abonnema was founded in 1882 and its territory was discovered by an exhibition of 11 independent chieftaincy houses from the Kalabari City-state.
We arrived Abonnema on the day the body of the High Chief was brought into town from Port-Harcourt in a convoy of traditional boat regatta. The town went agog and the atmosphere looked more like a Brazilian carnival.
The guest list for the burial read like ‘who is who’ in Nigeria. The vehicular movement became impossible as the streets were jammed tight. Guests had to come out of their vehicles and walked long distances to the venue of the funeral service.
The funeral programme began with an interdenominational service. The officiating ministers included the representative of His Holiness, Pope Francis, in Nigeria His Eminence Cardinal John Onaiyekan; His Eminence Most Rev (Dr) Nimi Benson John Fynface JP, Primate/President, Fellowship of Lutheran Congregation Nigeria Inc; Rt Rev Gabriel Pepple, Bishop Emeritus, Niger Delta Diocese, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion); Pastor Belemina Obunge special assistant to the General Overseer of RCCG and supervising pastor for Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, among others.
Other dignitaries present were wife of the president, Hajia Aisha Buhari represented by Mrs Alanyingi Timipre Sylva, wife of the minister of state for petroleum resources who was also present; former President Goodluck Johnathan and his wife, Mrs Patience Jonathan; the governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike; former governor of Cross River state, Mr Donald Duke; former minister of state for Niger Delta, Hon Sam Ode, among many other dignitaries.
High Chief Lulu Briggs was a man known all over the country and families of his late friends across the country were present. The family of Chief Solomon Lar, former governor of Plateau state and national chairman the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was represented by a large delegation led by Ambassador Wuyep.
The invitation did not leave out the political family of the late High Chief as the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) where he once served as deputy national chairman (South) was represented by a large delegation led by Chief Simon Shango who was the former national publicity secretary of the party.
Chief Lulu Briggs in spite of all his achievements did not start life with a single teaspoon of oil. As testified by his son, Dumo at the funeral service, he began his life as a truck pusher in Port Harcourt and moved on to become a farm handler in Bida now Niger state before getting a job with a firm called mandilas.
He later became a clerk with the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA). It was by sheer hardwork and perseverance that he became a celebrated person at the time he died. I first met Chief Briggs at the NPN national convention in Kano. He contested and won the position of national deputy chairman (South) while I contested and won the position of national publicity secretary.
The convention also produced Shettima Ali Munguno as the deputy national chairman (North); Alhaji Suleiman Takuma national secretary; Alhaji Bashir Tofa national financial secretary while the national chairmanship was contested and won by Chief Adisa Akinloye. When we resumed as national officers of the party at No. 21 Keffi Street Ikoyi headquarters of the party. Chief Lulu Briggs became the restraining voice of the national officers. He was a man with imposing but very pleasant personality. He was humble and a good listener. His hand across the Niger saved the party a lot of storms. He followed the example of his South-south compatriots like Harold Dapa Biriye, Chief Melford Okilo, Chief (Brig Gen) Ogbemodia, Chief I.I Morfi and Chief Joseph Wayas, among others. It’s a well-known fact that the people of South south like their compatriots in the Middle Belt (North-central) have paid by their blood and sweat for the unity of this country and unless they continue to do so, we shall one day wake up to find that we have no Nigeria to call our own country.
The young Dumo Lulu Briggs established a foothold in the north long-time ago as he studied law at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and did his national youth service at Katsina Polytechnic in Katsina state.
A lawyer, an accomplished businessman, technocrat, grassroots mobiliser and politician, obviously, his father has left shoes too large to fill but like Michael the son of Don Corleone in the famous book, ‘The Godfather’ by Mario Puzo, Dumo Lulu Briggs has conveniently stepped into his father’s oversized shoes and with the counsel of his father’s friends and God’s guidance, he is a young man to watch in the leadership of this country.
For us his father’s friends, colleagues and associates, all we can do is to give him good counsel and wish him good luck.
Shango now a farmer was the national publicity secretary of defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).