Asaba — Gunmen, yesterday, raised the stake when they abducted the mother of the Minister of Finance, Prof. Okonjo-Iweala, Professor Kamene Okonjo, in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State.
Okonjo-Iweala's mother, 82, who is the wife of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom, Professor Chukwuka Aninshi Okonjo Agbogidi, was kidnapped yesterday at about 1:30 pm at the husband's palace in Ogbe-Ofu quarters by eight gunmen who stormed the palace in two Audi 80 cars.
It was gathered that the kidnappers had easy access to the palace as the policeman expected to be on duty was absent. The kidnappers, therefore, held all the workers carrying out renovation work at gunpoint. One of the suspects was said to have gone upstairs and picked the bag of the Obi's wife while the woman, who was sitting under a tree after serving the workers some soft drinks, was whisked away.
Delta State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Charles Muka, in his reaction said: "Yes, we (police) have got the information on the kidnap and we have also got information that will lead to the arrest of the hoodlums."
According to a dependable source, the woman who is a medical doctor and a professor was pushed into one of the Audi cars and driven to unknown destination.
The source, who pleaded anonymity, said security agents had been drafted to the palace.
A senior police officer in the state, who pleaded anonymity, however, said massive manhunt had commenced to rescue the Queen of Ogwashi-Uku.
Uduaghan asks security agents to smoke out kidnappers
Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State has urged the police and other security agencies to track the kidnappers and free Okonjo-Iweala's mother within 24 hours.
A source said: "The governor fumed when the kidnap was reported to him and said the boys must be tracked down wherever they are hiding at all cost."
Police on trail of kidnappers
The state Commissioner for Information, Chike Ogeah, who spoke to Vanguard described the kidnap as "very unfortunate." He said he had spoken to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, and it was clear that the police were on top of the situation.
His words: "I had just spoken to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, and he assured that the police would get the kidnappers.
Gbagi, Elumelu react
Former Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, told Vanguard: "It is sad and regrettable that we are playing cosmetic politics with the lives of people in Delta state. The incidence of kidnapping is an embarrassment to any government that is worth its onions.
"That Okonjo-Iweala's mother has been kidnapped is an embarrassing news across the world and I wonder what the government is doing about this situation in the state.
"People are now fleeing from their homes in the state because of the fear of kidnappers. I will ask my brother and governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to pay more attention to the menace of kidnappers in the state and stop treating the matter with kid gloves.
"InDeltaState, there are more soldiers and policemen than any other place and sometimes, you begin to wonder what they are doing with all these brazen crimes."
Ndudi Elumelu, member representing Aniocha/Oshimili federal constituency, said: "It is totally condemnable. It is high time the state government signed into law the maximum punishment for kidnappers."
The Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, was said to have called Delta State Commissioner of Police immediately he was informed of the incident and said there should be massive deployment of intelligence and anti-kidnap personnel backed up by anti-terrorist personnel.
The police boss in his reaction said no stone should be left unturned towards ensuring her release unharmed. The IG then assured that everything would be done to rescue her hale and hearty. He also explained that no time frame would be given for her release as this might jeopardise her safety.
Meanwhile, there was no reaction from either the Presidency or the Minister of Finance at press time.
It is difficult time for the family - Finance Ministry
The Federal Ministry of Finance in a statement yesterday by the Special Adviser to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Paul Nwabuikwu said "at this point, it is difficult to say whether those behind this action are the same people who have made threats against the Coordinating Minister in the recent past or other elements with hostile motives. No possibility can be ruled out at this point.
"This is obviously a very difficult time for the entire Okonjo family. But the family is hopeful of a positive outcome as it fervently prays for the quick and safe return of the matriarch."