Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: Our Mother's Ordeal - Family Shares Moving Story of Prof Okonjo's Kidnap, Freedom

When Prof. Kanene Okonjo, queen mother of Ogwashi-Uku and mother of the Coordinating Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was released in the early hours of yesterday by the 10-man gang of kidnappers, she could not recognise her immediate environment.

In her desperation, she cried to the people she saw moving around her in Kwale, Ndokwa West Local Government Area of Delta State: "Where am I? Please, help me out. I am Professor Mrs. Okonjo."

There were allegations that the state government paid N100million ransom for her freedom.

The kidnappers had six days ago at the palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, near Asaba, whisked away the queen mother, including a handbag reportedly owned by her housemaid in an orchestrated jamboree.

Sources however said that the kidnapped incident had brought concerned personalities including various security agents on their toes with a view to ensuring that she was released unhurt.

According to sources, Mrs. Okonjo was sighted in Kwale at about 6.30am by residents who raised the alarm over her strange "dress-sense." The residents were alleged to have upon interrogation discovered she was the queen mother recently kidnapped at Ogwashi-Uku.

LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that her abductors, upon her complaints of being a diabetic patient, subjected her to eating bread and groundnut, the food she was said to have declined on her arrival on the first day in the kidnappers' den, who blindfolded her.

Although sources said she was later well treated as one of the kidnappers spread on the bare floor wrappers for her to lay on, after which she allegedly complained of body pains. It was also learnt that after three hours of her complaints, she demanded for cold water, which her abductors could not lay hands on, and instead presented her one sachet water.

At night fall, the queen mother was alleged to be singing praises as well as talking in soliloquy under fierce looking "guards."

Some of the "guards," source said speak Igbo and this apparently gear up the queen mother's hope as most times she was alleged to have replied them in the same dialect, asking for mercy and her release.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, Prince Onyema Okonjo, her eldest son said: " I am happy my mother has been released, even though she complained of harassment by the kidnappers, who made her to sleep on the bare floor, including demanding to speak with the finance minister, we give God the glory."

On the alleged ransom paid, Prince Okonjo declined comments, saying that "our joy is that our mother has been released, we are not interested in talking about the ransom, ransom or no ransom, we are grateful to those who facilitated the release of our mother especially the security agents."

Ogwashi-Uku, the sleepy community near Asaba has been under siege of ritual activities including other leadership tussle, as two businessmen were reportedly kidnapped two days after the queen mother was abducted.

Commissioner of Police, Delta State Command, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, had told journalists that security business is for everybody, raising the alarm over illegal arms build-up in the state. He added that the situation had increased criminal activities in the recent times. The Uzoma of Ogwashi-Uku, Prince Collins Okolobi, who confirmed the release of the queen mother said: " She cannot see anybody, she is having her rest after the serious trauma and shock she passed through," adding that "the kidnappers committed a sacrilege, they will not go unpunished."

He further said; "The kidnappers we were told touch the queen mother's wrappers and held her hands, a taboo, in the royal tradition," adding that the elders in council would place a curse on them.

Residents of Ogwashi-Uku and its environs, in the early hours yesterday, rolled out drums for celebration as they sing and danced over Mama Okonjo's release. A section of the Christian community in the town led the celebration.

Security agents were not left out of it as they were seen warding off hundreds of persons who were scrambling to catch a glimpse of the freed queen mother. Some family members said queen mother would be flown abroad for medical check up.

Addressing journalists in Asaba yesterday, Aduba said Prof. Okonjo was released unhurt in the early hours of yesterday, recalling that on Sunday, December 9, 2012, the kidnappers abducted her at the palace of her husband in Ogwashi-Uku, near Asaba.

He explained that a combined team of the state police command and a Special Task Force on Terrorism, Abuja swung into action and struck at the kidnappers' hideouts in Asaba, adding that in the course of effecting the arrest of one of the notorious kingpins, Nwaeze Nwosa (alias Bolaji), he attempted to scale the fence, but was shot by the police team.

According to the police boss, "The said Nwaeze Nwosa who later died had previously been arrested and charged to court for the kidnap and murder of one Obilink, a businessman in Asaba, but was later freed, adding that the man-hurt for the freeing members of the gang was on with a view to ensuring that they were brought to book.

Aduba said items recovered from the suspects included an ash colour Golf 3 car marked ASB 697 AA used in ferrying the woman out of the palace and a Toyota bus marked APP 64XA, pointing out that the suspects had made useful statements to the police.

He disclosed that the queen mother rode on a bike to the palace from Kwale after she was released by the kidnappers around the Kwale area.

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