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High Chief (Dr) O.B Lulu-Briggs,OON,DCF,DSSRS, at 90 and the Engravement of a Mission of Humanism and Idealism

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By: Godknows Boladei Igali

If not for man’s ineluctable duel with mortality, the Old GRA, Port-Harcourt residence of Opu Alabo (High Chief) Olu Benson Lulu-Brigg simply known as “OB” by peers or “Opuda” (patriarch) by family and younger associates would have been the epicenter of diverse religious, cultural, political, social and familial happenings, during this period. Born on May 22,1930 in the coastal commercial town of Abonnema in Kalabari Kingdom (Ijaw) in Rivers State, his life paths were varied, crisscrossing and globally outreaching, so the plans for his 90th posthumous birthday celebration on this day, were equally elaborate and beyond national boundaries. Expectedly so, as he was one of the main political titans of Nigeria’s Second Republic, a leading businessman from the time of the country’s Third Republic and an unmatched philanthropist since the present Fourth Republic. 

It was in 1864 that an English painter, Sir Edwin Landseer, (1802-1873) entitled one of his works “Man Proposes, God Disposes”. That cliché which is often used to describe hapless situations typified the earlier preparations for the celebrations of High Chief OB’s epical age of 90; a time to revel his Humanitarianism, Compassion and Philanthropy as well as his deep Spiritualism and total Idealistic outlook to life.  But in the closing days of December 2018, High Chief OB, less than twenty-hours apart from his cherished friend and political ally, former Nigerian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari passed on to meet his creator. Clearly God had disposed, yet still,  May 22, 2020 on his 90th posthumous birthday, his large family, kinsmen, friends, beneficiaries from his philanthropic ventures and his intimate network around the world, under strict protocols of COVID-19, have contrived no less commemorative setting to celebrate his peculiar life and times.

Lulu-Briggs

AN ACE PHILANTHROPIST AND HUMANIST

Due to the passion which High Chief OB had for upliftment of humanity, a fitting tribute to his life would find good start in recalling what mattered most to him – philanthropy. Without doubt he was one of the most outstanding philanthropists and humanists in Nigeria. His life passion and drive were the upliftment of man and the factors that would enable the greatest number of people to smile the largest number of times. For High Chief OB, giving out to others, sharing and placing the needs of others above self were the raison-d’être for his earthly sojourn and the wealth that God entrusted to him. He derived pleasure and contentment in bringing succor to the unreached and apparent rejected of society.

His philanthropy became more visible from the early 2000s when he turned major attention to Healthcare including building the N50 million Healthcare Centre at the University of Port Harcourt, to fill a huge gap at the time. In addition to building other smaller health facilities, he had also sponsored health missions to cater for numerous kinds of common but pestering and distressing medical needs of many in the society. These included eyecare and optical surgeries, various cancers and ulcers, fibroids, hernia, etc. One count place those touched by his medical missions at about 200,000 persons. 

His education outreach programmes retell his own tortuous story of determination and courage against great odds of life to acquire education. From hometown Abonnema, to Kaduna, to Jos, to Lagos, he had endeavored to acquire knowledge through personal efforts. It was during his working career that opportunities came to further his education in the United Kingdom, sponsored by his employers. He therefore understood, in graphic terms what impact his work could do in ensuring that no qualified human brain was wasted. So, under OB Lulu-Briggs Foundation, which his banker wife, Dr Mrs Seinye O.B. Lulu-Biggs founded in 2001 to structure and institutionalise his giving, he touched all segments of society, starting from building and rebuilding educational facilities at all levels. From the Primary Schools in his own Abonnema to Secondary Schools around Kalabari Kingdom and other communities in Rivers State. Most outstanding are his interventions at the tertiary level, especially at the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, where he became the individual single largest donor and the federally owned, University of Port Harcourt. His impact was also felt at the Niger Delta University in nearby Bayelsa State where he donated N150 million for the construction of students hostels in 2008.

Beyond physical infrastructure development, his greater legacy would be in the thousands of individuals who enjoyed his scholarships at various levels of studies. These are in addition to academic endowments he made. These include a professorial chair in Petroleum Geosciences at the University of Port Harcourt, and a Scholarship endowment fund at the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Petroleum Engineering which is open to indigent but gifted students worldwide. He also funded researchers at Rochester Research Institute in New York and the Virginia Keily Benefaction of the University College Hospital, London, to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, an ailment he suffered from.

Having lost his own father, Benson Lulu-Briggs, at the young age of 9 years and watched his grandmother  Madam Agbani Lulu-Briggs and his mother, Madam Rachael Kioba Harrison Kio Lawson, though of royal blood, go through the pains of widowhood in a typical African setting, he along with his wife, Seinye, paid great attention to the plight of various vulnerable groups who required social inclusion. They became main benefactors to countless widows, senior citizens and persons considered to be extremely poor. They have had over 500 elderly persons under their direct care for daily subsistence, medical care and other necessities of life.  To aide their work, they set up “Recreational Centres” for the elderly and engaged the services of professional caregivers whose only duty is to ensure the wellbeing of the elderly under their ‘Care for Life’ programme. 

One of the greatest banes of underdevelopment in many parts Nigeria and in most of Sub-Saharan African is the lack of access to credit for people in the informal and micro entrepreneurial sectors. Having passed through this curve himself at some time in life, another novel area that caught the concern of the OB Lulu-Briggs Foundation was the establishment of a microfinance programme to provide grants and basic interestfree credit to viable business ideas. It is structured both to nurture, provide the financial support and eventually mentor beneficiaries to grow. This has seen several thousands of persons, exit from poverty and marginal levels and are now, themselves enhancers of growth.

Since it was impossible to fully accomplish their charity works through their own platforms, High Chief OB and his wife, Seinye, focused on building partnerships with faithbased, community-based and smaller nongovernmental organizations for outreach. Indeed, whoever needed help came to and often left satisfied. Of particular note were the joint efforts with such international NGOs as Rotary International and Lions Club, and others, to undertake to strengthen their intervention programmes.

His philanthropic works touched so many other areas. It will suffice to recall the words of  Albert Pike, the American poet, jurist and mystic who wrote these  words What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” Definitely, in his mind were people like High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs who will come nearly a hundred years later to touch so many lives and leave such amazing imprints in countless hearts, whose hopes of existence have themselves rekindled multitudes.

A LONE IDEALIST AND REALIST IN POLITICS

Many Nigerians, and perhaps skeptics around the world are averse and loathsome toward active involvement in partisan politics. This is despite the common knowledge that our daily existence is largely influenced by the actions  or inactions of politicians. While many politicians across various nations are often associated with capricious activities, it quite often the exceptional case that there are some who are known for their principled and doctrinaire position on issues and are respected by their peers for their doggedness and transparent approach to issues. One of such in the body politics of Nigeria was High Chief OB. The idealism which he was associated with was some form of romanticist naivety which was rare in the murky world of Nigerian politics. 

The politics of Nigeria’s immediate post-independence days had come to a rather sober, bloody and abrupt end. It was not the sacrilegious spilling of blood which occurred that was the problem but  the shock of full-blown military dictatorship which visited the country in a bizarre manner. First, the 1960 Independence and its amendment, 1963 Republican Constitutions which had been keenly negotiated and accepted as covenants for staying together as a federation were annulled with the swagger stick of  the military as they rolled out  decrees after decrees. The promise of return to democracy and civilian rule was therefore received with doubts by many. However, few like High Chief OB, who were optimists threw their hats in the ring and coalesced with like minds to form political parties. 

It will be quite deficient and indeed historically deficient, to recount the story of a politician of the calibre of High mostly Chief OB without giving a panoramic view of the ambience which prevaile its d in the  euphoric entry of the country into the  Second Republic (1979 to January 1, 1983). In 1977, General Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) as part of the programme which had been canvassed by his slain boss, General Murtala Mohammed, released a robust Transition Programme. Earlier, a Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of forty-nine (49) wise men was set up on October 18, 1975 headed by Chief Rotimi-Williams who was the first notable lawyer and first Nigerian to be conferred with the title of  Queen’s counsel. After work, OBJ then constituted another a Constituent Assembly (CA) of elected persons, as expected drawn from the old political class of the First Republic under the Chairmanship of Justice Egbert Udo Udoma. He is arguably the first black person ever to obtained PhD in Law (in 1944) from Oxford University, Former Chief Justice of Uganda and then a Judge of the Nigerian Supreme Court. So, the document midwifed by two persons of such pedigree, with little touching by the military, became the new Constitution for the country published on September 21, 1978. Then, the ban on political activities was also lifted after nearly 14 years of military rule.

Both the Constitution Drafting Committee and the Constituent Assembly had provided a perfect festering ground for politicians to refuse old alliances and cut new deals so it was easy for them to hit the ground running. At that period, High Chief OB was also winding up his civil service career at the Nigerian Ports Authority where he had served since 1955 rising to become a Principal Labour Officer as well as a key Maritime Labour unions leader in the country. As a matter of fact, between 1968 and 1971, he was Chairman of All Maritime Workers in Eastern Nigeria. His years in trade union activism and labour management had, to his credit led to total industrial peace because of the fair and equitable manner with which he insisted all dealings with workers were handled, regardless of their rank in the organization or whether they were Nigerian or expatriate. This guaranteed that all the existing Nigerian ports were operating without let, thus preparing him for active political engagement.

Lulu-Briggs

His life had been active and highly productive, so with the honorable exit from the civil service, he had to answer a more worthwhile call to service. Fortunately, he was mostly based in  Lagos where all the shadowy political horse-trading was being held and easily.

Like a wildfire, six political parties emerged, and High Chief OB was key from the outset in one of them. Actually, under the leadership of an influential old-breed northern politician, Makama Bida and Ali Munguno, who later became one of High Chief OB’s closest friends, key players of northern extraction began to hold nocturnal meetings around Lagos. The rest of the dramatis personae included, Adamu Ciroma, Olusola Saraki, Kam Salem, Umaru Dikko, Inuwa Wada, Yusuf Maitama Sule, Shehu Shagari, Magaji Muazu, Suleiman Takuma, Tatari Ali, Lawal Kaita, Adamu Atta, Adamu Ribadu, Ado Ibrahim, Adamu Atta, Jolly Tanko Yusuf, Ibrahim Imam, Ibrahim el Yakubu, Shehu Kangiwa as well as Professors Ishaya Audu and Iya Abubakar. Although the list included some younger politicians from the “core north’, these were mostly old foxes particularly bent on reinventing the defunct Northern People Congress (NPC) which ruled Nigeria until the first military coup of January 15, 1966 in a new name.

They succeeded in pulling in the fire-brand leader of the United Middle Belt Congress, Dr Joseph Tarka, who came along with such followers as Aper Aku, who later became Governor of Benue and Michael Audu from Plateau. However, Tarka who was ever bent on not allowing the Middle Belt to be pushed to a second fiddle position, soon left the new political structure  along with some of his followers, especially his  Langtang strongman, Solomon Lar

From the South East came such erstwhile pro NPC politicians as Dr Alex Ekwueme, Martin Elechi, Josiah Okezie, CC Onoh, Nwakanma Okoro, Nwafor Orizu, KO Mbadiwe and the young intellectual stars as Dr Chuba Okadigbo.

Similarly, from the South West, the pro Akintola forces such as Ibadan strongmen, Adisa Akinloye, Lamidu Adelabu, leading legal minds, Richard Akinjide, Remi Fani-Kayode, Femi Okunnu, Toye Coker and Ladeja Adeniji as well as business mogul, Akin Deko, top military brass Gen Adeyinka Adebayo. The South-South was in no way underrepresented. They had Harold Dappa-Biriye, who along with his protégée, Melford Okilo had in the 1950s formed the Niger Delta Congress which later went into alliance with the NPC during the First Republic. They were joined by Dr Anthony Enahoro an erstwhile follower of opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It would be recalled that  at the age of 33 in 1953, he moved the motion for Nigeria’s  independence They were also joined by a leading technocrat, Dr. Clement Isong, who just retired as Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, and business moguls, Daniel Okumagba, Victor Masi, Edwin Clark, a lawyer, and of course, our veritable erstwhile trade unionist, OB Lulu-Briggs.

From all the series of consultations, mergers and acquisitions on September 20, 1978, the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), was formally inaugurated. Since the more prescient northern politicians had their way in fashioning the 1979 Constitution after the  American style Presidency as against the Westminster Parliamentary system of the First Republic, they easily yielded Chairmanship of the new party to the southern part of the country at its First National Convention which held in October 1978. Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye, the colorful, politician emerged as National Chairman. Akinloye, who soon became OB’s immediate boss had an interesting past which included joining late Samuel Akintola, during the height of crisis in the First Republic to oppose Awolowo in the west. At the time in 1963, they resurrected, the first political party in Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), originally formed by Dr Herbert Macaulay in 1921 to use as a platform to form a coalition in coalition with the NPC. That landed Akinloye a seat in cabinet as Minister of Agriculture under First Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

At the onset of the NPN, OB played a major role in establishing and consolidating it in his home Rivers State and served as Protem Secretary and engine room. However, most of his political peers walked about with chests full of schemes on how to secure elective positions into the emerging Governorship, Senatorial, Representative and State Houses of Assembly positions. Realizing that this was a new terrain for him, he was more focused on building bridges amongst them and securing from them commitments for consensus and stronger party unity. After the lots were shared amongst the core politicians, he secured for himself the less enviable, but in actual sense more powerful positions, first as Vice National Chairman in charge of Rivers State and later National Deputy Chairman of the NPN for all Southern Nigeria and de-facto boss calling the shots of the party’s day-to-day activities from Lagos.

In traditional party politics, elected officials are subject to the party and are expected to implement the manifestoes and laid down policies of the party. During the first Republic, the party leaders and hierarchy were very powerful, influential. That was why the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, both during the First Republic when his party was Action Group (AG) and in the Second Republic when this metamorphosed into the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), he ensured that he combined both positions. This was same pattern that was adopted by Mallam Aminu Kano, whose Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) of the first Republic, transformed into the People Redemption Party (PRP) in the second Republic. For the other center right party, Nigerian People Party (NPP), which was a reenactment of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the position of party leader and candidate were separated. Chief Adeniran Ogunsanya, an erstwhile “Zikist” became National Chairman of NPP. However, a debonair northern Kanuri ethnic frontline Politician, Waziri Ibrahim broke off from the NPP forming his Great Nigeria People Party (GNPP), where he was also Chairman and Presidential candidate. A new party of nonconformists, called Nigerian Advance Party (NAP), formed by Lagos theorist, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite and supported by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and musical icon, Fela Anikulapo also had the founder as the dominant figure.

Those who were old enough to know the politics of the Second Republic and NPN, knew that Chief Akinloye carried out his duties with great colour and upended posture. Indeed, he was  not ready to depreciate his exalted office of National Chairman Party of the leading political organization and ruling party in Nigeria with any elected officer. He was the veritable le Grande patron. His visits to the NPN controlled states which spanned  20 out of 26 states were charged  with fanfare.  So where did OB fall in all these? He was the ultimate chief of all operations. He remained mostly at the headquarters of the party to ensure that things worked well. Attending to intra-party and inter-party issues he helped to liaise with the Presidency and built great personal friendship and confidence with President Shagari. He maintained contact with Ministers and National Assembly members and supervised the party machinery in southern Nigeria. Not the least, he helped to keep contact with Governors almost on daily basis to ensure that programmes and policies of the party were being implemented. 

With the exception of his appointment to serve as Board Chairman of National Animal Feeds Company, and Federal Polytechnic, Idah and Director, River State Transport Corporation, he was left with nothing despite his very influential and to some extent commanding position in the Second Republic. 

In general, he was the idealist, a realist, loyal, dutiful, and dependable life-wire of the party. He was transparent, procedural, and self-effacing. With his many years of experience as a labour leader where he was able to forge consensus between contending interests of industry and welfare of workers,  he was able, even though precariously to balance the innumerable contending interests within the NPN and  relations with other political parties.

For this  unique character trait, he earned the respect of all. Although he ended up, rather meteorically, becoming the second most powerful person in the NPN , his ethics, incorruptible, austere and reserved lifestyle also kept him out of trouble when the military coupists who came on December 31, 1983 to chase them out of power. Investigation upon investigation, enquiry upon enquiry, tribunal upon tribunal nothing and absolutely nothing was found against High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs. The only politician of that level of exposure to go completely unscathed.

RETURN TO CREATIVITY AND ENTERPRISE

Departure from public office, either political or bureaucratic in Nigeria is always viewed with misgivings and distrust. Due to the seeming unabating spate of corruption, all holders of public office are easily lumped into the category of “those who have made it.” No!

High Chief OB had to return to his businesses, including investments in the hospitality and oil services sectors, which he had built up from his retirement  emoluments and benefits from the Nigerian Ports Authority, where he had worked for about 23 years. He began running one of the most appreciated middle level hotels in Port-Harcourt, which he thankfully named after his mother- Rachael Hotel.

In all these, one quality, which all of OB’s associates attest to was his unshaken faith in God and continued stoic approach to life. He never forgot his humble beginning as a person who started life with nothing and had to eke out a living in different cities, especially Lagos. As a flashback to his beginnings, it is pertinent to note that  while hassling and doing basic clerical job in a department store in Lagos, with no real address, he made it a daily habit to find time to go to the public library in Yaba, Lagos to study. He knew the value of education for self-improvement. His conduct caught the  eye and attention of the British Librarian who, it is narrated later got interested in this humble, indigent youngster who read and returned his books regularly.  As the story has it, she got information that the Nigerian Ports Authority was recruiting junior hands and had no hesitation in recommending the studious young man. High Chief OB was quick to tell his biographers that at that time, knowing that he had no human figure to turn to for help, he simply depended on God and help came in his way, from the most unexpected source.

The General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) regime decided to deregulate and indigenize aspects of the Oil and Gas industry which had been the life wire of the country’s economy since 1958. Most people, especially from the oil rich Niger Delta, who have been excluded from an industry from their own soil, disbelieved the sincerity of the process and stayed away. Having started his life as a Kalabari boy from the creeks, High Chief OB knew well that human existence is like the tides of the river which rise and fall. For successful fishing expedition, it is important to understand the gravitational forces that influence the tides.  Understanding the tides of life and faith in God, High Chief OB applied for a license and his company, Moni Pulo Limited which he formed in 1992, was awarded one of the first set of licenses. He took a huge risk, selling off key assets and borrowing heavily in global markets to gain value from the oil block. Along the way associates and friends jeered at him and abandoned him.

At the end of the day, his tenacity and patience paid off. Some say it was something like what contemporary Belgian painter Erik Pavernagie so aptly stated that “The wind blows gently love through the thistledown of expectations, hope may inveigle the future for timeless care and tenderness to be anchored in a bay of good luck.” That is good luck in actuality. A few others have also relied on the words of William Shakespeare that, “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures” in other words, OB was wise enough to know when to jump in to find explanation. For High Chief OB, his wife Seinye, and their children who are deeply immersed in the Christian faith, this is attributable only to God’s amazing grace and mercies.

Moni Pulo grew to become one of the best run indigenous oil companies, competing in terms of professionalism and standards with the International Oil Companies (IOCs) in every respect. He was particularly known for his amazing environmental standards and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in relation to host communities and catchment areas in Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers.  This is understandable as High Chief OB’s own community, which lies around Cawthorn Channel area, one the most productive oil fields had suffered untold and immeasurable environmental degradation and neglect from companies operating in the area. However, those close to him adduce that his convivial relationship with communities where Moni Pulo operates was informed more by his sense of justice and equity; one of his guiding ethos of life- his personal motto.

THE GOD WORK AND ULTIMATE SERVICE TO MAN

Having seen the varying extremities of life and at the summit of human material accomplishment, a listed billionaire and corporate leader in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, the only meaningful value to life that remained for High Chief OB was unqualified service to God. He daily regurgitated the firm belief in the amazing grace of God, who always gives man a second chance to serve him.  Having become acquainted with God at an early age through his devout Christian paternal grandmother whose gifts of healing and prophecy drew thousands to her prayer house, Agbani Teke Wari, in Abonnema, and grown up in the Anglican Communion, his renewed missionary zeal and passion were greatly influenced by his evangelical wife, Seinye, who is an ordained Minister of the Gospel. They jointly became amongst the most noticeable participants in all Christian activities around different places in Nigeria, irrespective of denomination. High Chief OB in particular became one of the greatest inspirations within the Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship, Scripture Union, and other Christian endeavours. Through his O.B. Lulu-Briggs Campaign for Christ he was actively involved in winning souls, church planting and spent billions of his fortune building and equipping churches for countless Christian groups. With an impressive chapel within the precincts of his Port Harcourt home, the sound of routine Christian activities became a part of daily living for all who were associated with him. In recognition of his contributions to the Church, the Communion of Pentecostal Bishops of Nigeria bestowed upon him the distinguished title of The Defender of the Christian Faith (D.C.F.) in 2008.

The other preoccupation which he committed his later years to, was his efforts to strengthen the fabric of  his cultural and social environment and work more assertedly towards enthroning enduring peace and harmony in Kalabari Kingdom. 

He had spent the greater part of his active life in Lagos, and it was a testimony to his commitment and abiding love for his people and their collective heritage that he volunteered to play very critical and important roles in his native Kalabari Affairs. In particular, he played an important role in bringing the internecine intercommunal disputes especially between Bakana and Tombia communities to an end. Also, he solved several longstanding chieftaincy disputes in his Kalabari Kingdom. His efforts strengthened the revered stool of the Kalabari Monarchy, presently occupied by His Majesty, Professor TJT Princewill. The opportunity also created itself for him to bring restoration to his own royal lineage in Abonnema. In 1881, his epical ancestor, Young Briggs Iniikeiroari (Briggs III), lead the expedition from Elem Kalabari to found what is today known as Abonnema, but their lineage had become estranged from the affairs of the town. With this reintegration and reconciliation, the Abonnema Council of Chiefs became fortified. This also paved the way for his formal presentation to the Abonnema Council of Chief as Chief Iniikeiroari V and ultimately, he became Paramount Head of the Oruwari Briggs War Canoe House of Abonnema, a position he held until his passing.

Finally, during this period, he also to lent himself as an encircling figure in the internal politics of Rivers State and galvanized a political rebirth amongst key players from the South South and the South East. He led many others from these two parts of Nigeria to play effective roles in the politics of the Third Republic that was to come after General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) regime. Ultimately, he led many to pitch tent with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of two tailor made political bodies created by the military government. He joined the contest for the Presidency of Nigeria under the SDP in 1993, but his ambition, along with those of others was truncated by the military. The ticket was won by the flamboyant Chief Moshood Abiola, his friend and former NPN colleague.  In the wake of the annulment of Chief Abiola’s election victory, High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs became one of the promoters of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the pro-democracy group that fought for the return of democracy to Nigeria. In the fourth republic, High Chief OB Lulu-Briggs also played key roles in the formation of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) alongside progressive politicians such as Bola Ige, Abraham Adesanya and Emeka Eziefe.

AN AFTERWORD

It is commonly said that life is a journey of dualities. This will seem to provide an apt summation of the lifetime of High Chief OB as he rose from the very basics of human existence, by the hand of God, to the highest pinnacle  of accomplishment. He got to the top level in his chosen career as trade unionist and then climbed the high horse of political power. At that time, his closest friends were the political echelon in the most populous black nation in the world. He dined with Kings and Princes, and later in life his own ancestral royalty to which his immediate forebears were alienated was fully restored to him within the Kalabari microcosmos. He was powerful, yet graciously compassionate in all his dealings. 

The life and times of High Chief OB can best be described as the inexorable spinning of the wheel. God’s benevolence to him was astonishing and he proved himself to be a good husbandman of it. The people of the Niger Delta to which he was one of its leaders had been excluded from what they rightly owned – the oil industry from 1958 when it started. In the inexplicable hand of the redemptive justice of God, High Chief OB who started in penury, was part of a small group of pioneering indigenous businessmen to be awarded oil blocks to develop. Suddenly he found himself being toasted and celebrated as one of the richest black people in the world, including by Forbes Magazine.

This opened a new chapter in his life, a chapter of giving back to humanity, the wealth which the hand of God bequeathed to him. High Chief OB allowed himself to become amongst the most noticed and appreciated philanthropists in all fields, in a rich country where majority are considered as extremely poor. Of significant  importance was the new championing role he assigned to his beloved wife, Seinye and himself in the promotion of the Christian gospel. 

The interesting contrast lies in the fact that he started life from the lowest ebb of the tide and closed life’s journey at the crest with all manner of accolades from countless groups, organizations and nations. An obviously indebted nation awarded him the high honor of Officer of the Order of the Nigeria (OON) in 2003. His home State followed suit by awarding him the Key to Port Harcourt in 2012 and bestowing him the Distinguished Service Star of Rivers State during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in 2017.

But with all these, especially in bringing great succor and comfort to all manner of persons and preaching the gospel, it is admirable that he did not allow Parkinson’s Disease, which he battled with courage and deep understanding, keep him from living an active and full life until the hand of the clock stopped ticking on December 27, 2018, in Accra, Ghana, just two years before he turned 90 years.


As the world marks his posthumous 90th birthday today, clearly the echoes of celebration will certainly be heralded not just in the streets of Abonnema and Port-Harcourt but around the world and most importantly even by the hosts of heaven. Happy Birthday Opuda!

*Igali, an award-winning author, is a Career Diplomat and Administrator

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