Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Kidnap of Okonjo-Iweala's Mother - No Ransom Demand Yet, Police Say

Photo: This Day
A gang of armed men has seized 83-year-old Kamene Okonjo, left, mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Abuja — Authorities yesterday said no contact has been made yet with kidnappers of the Finance Minister's mother despite reports claiming that a ransom demand of billions was made.

Security forces yesterday took over the palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State, where 82-year-old Prof. Kamene Okonjo was seized on Sunday afternoon by a gang of 10 armed men.

State Police Commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba told Daily Trust that the command was after the kidnappers but did not give specific details. He said there was no contact with the kidnappers.

Soon after the kidnap on Sunday, the police said a suspect was arrested.

There's "no cover up and we are on course in our investigation," Aduba said yesterday.

Meanwhile, one of the children of the Okonjo family, Mr Onyema Okonjo, blamed security lapses for the kidnap of his mother, who is also the mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Onyema told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ogwashi-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area, that his mother's kidnap "all happened very quickly."

"I think there were definitely some lapses in terms of security. It is not what it should have been, the people that were supposed to have been here were not here.

"This gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do, but at the end of the day; we really have to be prayerful.

"I think it is really a sad reflection of where we are as a society," said Onyema, who is the sixth in the line of seven children of the Okonjos.

He wondered why an octogenarian woman, a grandmother and great grandmother should be kidnapped.

Onyema said that his father Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo and Mrs Okonjo-Iweala were on their way to Ogwashi-Uku when the incident happened.

When contacted, the Commissioner of Police said this was not the time to trade blames. He, however, promised that any officer indicted would be punished.

Aduba said in every case of kidnapping, there was always an insider, adding that investigation was on to unravel the situation and free Kamene unhurt.

"We have been holding meetings with the governor and we have sent out our men to comb every nook and cranny and I am sure we will get her out unhurt," Aduba said.

Early yesterday, a detachment of soldiers from the 4th Brigade of the Nigeria Army, Benin, led by its commanding officer Brigadier Gen. Obi Umahie, arrived at the palace to provide security to the royal family.

Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan who was also at the palace assured that government was on top of the situation.

"I have been in touch with officers of the various law enforcement agencies, and I assure that Prof. Kamene will be safely returned. For the perpetrators of such a despicable crime, they will be brought to justice," Uduaghan said.

At the Ministry of Finance in Abuja yesterday, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was not in the office in the morning but a staff said she came to work later in the day.

Spokesman for the minister Paul Nwabuikwu told Daily Trust there was no update on the kidnapping as at morning and promised to get back if there was any development. But he did not do that by the time of going to press last night.

Earlier, the Police Force headquarters said Inspector General Mohammed Abubakar directed all policemen to find the kidnapped mother of the Finance Minister.

Police spokesman chief superintendent Frank Mba said in a text message: "Sequel to the unfortunate incident involving the kidnap of Mrs Kamene Okonjo, mother of Finance Minister, the IGP has ordered a massive manhunt for the perpetrators of the crime. The IGP has equally ordered a full blown investigation into the incident. He directed police operatives to ensure that no stone is left unturned in efforts at solving the crime, rescuing the victim and reuniting her safely with her family."

Late on Sunday, a statement from Nwabuikwu linked the kidnapping with previous threats against the minister.

"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. But the family is hopeful of a positive outcome as it fervently prays for the quick and safe return of the matriarch," he said.

NAN

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InFocus

Nigeria Operatives in Contact with Okonjo Kidnappers

A gang of armed men has seized 83-year-old Kamene Okonjo, left, mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Contact has been made with the kidnappers of Kamene Okonjo, mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the ransom demand has been lowered to approximately U.S.$1 million. Read more »