By Udo Ibuot, Awards Editor
HIGH Chief Olu Benson Lulu Briggs, OON, grew up in Abonema, in Akoku Toru local government area, where he was born, and Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Years later he became well known as a man who was always at the side of those in need. Obviously in acknowledgement and appreciation of his role in this regard, Opuda, as he is popularly called, was conferred with the traditional title of Iniikeiroari V of Kalabari kingdom.
Born on May 22, 1930 in Abonema, he lost his father at an early age and had to struggle to remain in school because of inadequate resources to continue with his education. This apparently shaped his humanitarian inclinations when he grew up. He was defined more by his philanthropy than by his other contributions to the nation, though he was also a statesman, business mogul and founder of an oil exploration firm, the Moni Pulo Limited.
Forbes Magazine had in 2012 rated the high chief as one of the ten richest Nigerians with an estimated net worth of $500million in cash and total assets of $1.1billion. The high chief established Moni Pulo Limited, as an oil exploration and production company at a time the military government of General Ibrahim Babangida was encouraging indigenous participation in the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry. The company was awarded its first oil bloc in 1992, with its flagship project, OML 114, producing 10,000 barrels per day. The company has since operated other blocs in Ondo, Abia and Akwa Ibom states.
On his motivation in floating Moni Pulo in 1992, Lulu Briggs stated: “From inception, my focus was to establish and operate a viable business concern, an organisation that would operate according to the highest and best global standards of operation.” He added, however, that the firm benchmarked its operations with multinational oil exploration companies and did not cut corners right from the beginning. The company first struck oil on March 7, 1999, after years of planning and preparation. Thus growing from OML 114, the company acquired more assets such as OPL 234, OPL 239 and is making significant progress in OPL 231.
He built his philosophy around the desire to help those who were absolutely in need because of his belief that the true worth of man was measured not by his wealth but by the way he treated those who were absolutely in need.
It is probable that Lulu Briggs’ humble beginnings influenced his desire to support those in need. His foundation, the O. B. Lulu Briggs Foundation has been used to touch the lives of several needy persons. It started with a Care for Life programme which provides daily attention and care to the aged and sick ones in rural communities of Abonema. The Foundation offers food and medication to these aged ones as long as they lived. It also organises medical outreaches during which more than 4,000 people have been treated.
In 2013, the Foundation built and donated two blocks of sanitary facilities along with potable water outlets to inmates of the Port Harcourt Maximum Prison. The facility, it said, was provided to assist in rehabilitating those who might have violated the rule of law and thus help to provide the corrective objectives of the government. Last year, the foundation also met the needs of 57 law students of Rivers State origin by providing financial support of N120,000 each and brand new HP laptops to them.
On the political front, the high chief served as vice chairman of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, between 1979 and 1983. He also was unrelentingly committed to the developmental issues of the Niger Delta geopolitical zone. Not only was he focused on doing things right in the region, he continued to seek relevance in the way the political authorities in his home state, Rivers, and the Federal Government evolved policies that lead to the development of the geopolitical region. He was even attacked on his way to Abonema to reconcile his chiefs following chieftaincy crisis in the area.
Before his death in a London hospital on Friday, December 28, 2018, he was admitted to a London hospital for an infection, following his travail with Parkinson disease for some time. This condition, however, did not reduce his penchant for philanthropy as he continued to dole out scholarships to students and provide humanitarian services to people in rural communities. Using his foundation, the O. B. Lulu Briggs Foundation, he also ensured that clean water was provided to rural communities in his home state.
His endeavours in philanthropy and deep passion for the development of not only the Niger Delta but equally the Nigerian nation marked him out for recognition. These were some of the factors that moved Vanguard Editors to nominate him for the Vanguard Personality of the Year award in the Lifetime Achievement category.