23 December 2012

Nigeria: Kidnapping of Professor Okonjo - Matters Arising

Photo: ThisDay
Pirates operating on the Nigeria coast.


Professor Kanene Okonjo, mother of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance was released from captivity in the early hours of Friday 14th December, 2012. For the five days she was in the hands of her captors, there was a flury of activities by national security agencies across the nation.

The largest hunt for a kidnap victim was organised and more than 60 people were arrested. As the heat became more intense, the kidnappers released her on their own. Although the police claimed that they rescued her, it is now clear that she was dropped by a motor bike that morning in Kwale, Delta State. Another part of the saga that is still hazy is whether ransom was paid for her release.

There are speculations that the government of Delta State paid N100million Naira to the kidnappers before she was released. What is apparently clear to all and sundry is that she was released safe and sound; the nation and the international community gave a big sigh of relieve. But there are matters arising from this terrible incident which cannot be ignored.

How can such a high profile person, who is supposedly well protected, be so easily kidnapped? Apparently there were serious security lapses around her which made it easy for the kidnappers to take her. Most likely, there was an insider who facilitated the dastardly act.

The security operatives guarding the minister and her family failed in their threat assessment. The critical and vulnerability matrix should have gone up as the minister increased her crusade against corruption in Nigeria.

The oil rich cabal involved in the fuel subsidy scam will not relent in their fight against her. She confessed this herself in her press conference a day after the release of her mother. Her security level should go up and the secret service; SSS, NIA and Military Intelligence should now be involved in her security.

The claims by the police that they secured her release should be looked into, what part did they actually play in her release and what part did other security agencies and intelligence play as well? What was the degree of collaboration and cooperation between them? Was there a rift as was alleged by the press? We are aware that the case has not been concluded. But we need answers fast before another high profile kidnap case happens.

Finally, the issue of ransom which is always dicey should not be disclosed. There are procedures in all kidnap cases, the first and most important is proof of life. If this is established, negotiation follows. A key part is the kidnappers demand for ransom; this is normally accepted to ensure the safety of the victim.

In the final analysis, the most important thing is to ensure that cases of kidnapping are reduced to the minimum. Government should educate people on the need to be more security conscious, especially high profile individuals, and those who are playing vital role in governance.

All the security agencies should be alive to these responsibilities and must cooperate amongst themselves in all aspects.

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