Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Austin Ogwuda & Festus Ahon
ASABA — THE gunmen, who abducted Professor Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, the 82-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reportedly mounted surveillance on the palace for about one week before they kidnapped her, Sunday.
The one-storey building with adjoining apartments for some family members and palace workers is located at an isolated area in Ogbe-Ofu in Ogwashi-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State.
Investigations by Vanguard showed that security in the area inhabited by the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo was porous and the kidnappers took advantage of it.
However, being aged people, the king and his wife, never thought there was anything kidnappers would want to do with them.
However, the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, yesterday, temporarily relocated his office from Asaba to the palace, where the queen mother, a retired professor of sociology,UniversityofNigeria, UNN, Nsukka and an indigene of Obomkpa in Aniocha North Local Government Area was kidnapped, to monitor and coordinate security interventions for her release.
Vanguard found out when our reporters visited the palace yesterday that men of the Nigeria Police Force, Army, Directorate of State Service, DSS, Customs and other security agencies have taken over the premises and laid siege to other parts of Ogwashi-Uku.
Governor Uduaghan, Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, Director of DSS, an Army chief and other top officials of the government held emergency security meeting in the palace to strategize on how to locate the kidnappers.
How they struck
The kidnappers, numbering about 10, were lurking around the palace until the 82-year-old woman and her maid came down to serve soft drinks to workers who were fixing interlocking tiles at the gate.
Eyewitness account said as soon as the woman came down from the main building, towards the gate, the criminals also moved in from the gate to grab and push her into a waiting Golf Volkswagen car.
According to an eyewitness, “the abductors, when they walked into the compound, were heavily armed. They were about 10. They ordered the men whor were fixing the interlocking tiles lie face down. Immediately they saw her (the king’s wife who was coming towards the gate with her maid to serve the workers soft drinks) they bundled her into a waiting vehicle, a Golf car, while another car was parked outside”.
One of them, bracing all odds, went upstairs to collect the woman’s handbag. The eyewitness said another maid, who sighted the kidnapper upstairs hid in the kitchen.
The kidnapper informed his cohorts that there was no one else in the house and they zoomed off.
The police, however, arrested a man who allegedly left the compound few minutes before the incident took place.
The man was said to have informed the house cleaner that he was in the palace to take the queen mother to somewhere in the town.
Okonjo’s son blames security lapse for kidnap of mother
One of the children of the Okonjo family, Mr Onyema Okonjo, blamed security lapses for the kidnap of his mother, Prof. Kanenne Okonjo.
Onyema told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ogwashi-Uku that his mother was kidnapped on Sunday at her residence between 12 noon and 1 p.m. by 10 young men.
“There was no security when the kidnappers stormed the compound and nobody could dare people who are armed with guns. They came in two green Golf cars and it 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,” Onyema, the sixth in the line of seven children of the Okonjos, said.
He wondered why an octogenarian woman, a grand mother and great grand mother should be kidnapped. Onyema said that his father, Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku and Okonjo-Iweala were on their way to Ogwashi-Uku when the incident happened.
The Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was being expected to fly in fromAbujayesterday.
We‘re not sleeping on the matter — Police Commissioner
Speaking to Vanguard on phone, the Police Commissioner, Mr Ikechukwu Aduba said the police were not sleeping on the matter, adding that this was not the time to trade blames.
He, however, promised that any officer indicted would be punished.
Aduba said that in every case of kidnapping, there was always an insider, adding that investigation was on to unravel the situation and free Kanenne 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.
He described the kidnap as a very sad development, saying that it was one of the police’s major problems in the state, but stressed that the police command was equal to the task.
He said he did not believe in talking too much noise, but in action, saying the strategies employed by security agents to track down the kidnappers were not for newspaper publication.
Commissioner Aduba, however, said the command would do its best to secure the release of Prof Kamene Okonjo, adding that the terrain of the state was helping the criminals escape security radar.
The commissioner, nevertheless, said the Command was already mopping up unlawful and illegal arms within and outside the state to ensure crime-free ember months.
He said the police in the state recently burst an inter-state kidnap gang operating between Anambra and Delta states and arrested about 100 criminals, including suspected kidnappers, adding that the gunmen, who kidnapped Prof Kamene Okonjo would be tracked down.
The first impression of any visitor to the Ogbe-Ofu palace is that the one-storey building is in an isolated location. There is practically no neigbour to ask questions about what happened in the palace, except for those working or residing within the palace.
In addition, the fence surrounding the compound is low and easy to scale for intruders, which was exactly what the daredevil kidnappers took advantage of.
Security agents cordon palace
Shortly after Vanguard arrived yesterday morning and took photographs of the palace and the workers, who oblivious of what happened, were fixing interlocking tiles in the compound, the security agents arrived to cordon off the palace.
They prevented visitors from entering the palace soon after and even some community vigilante men that came with a vehicle, were prevented from driving into the compound.
Uduaghan, security chiefs relocate to Ogwashi-Uku
An aide to the governor told Vanguard at about 12.45 pm: “Yes, the governor came visiting to the place. He came with the Police Commissioner and other heads of security agencies in the state. They are all here putting heads together, you know what happened, it is embarrassing and we also heard from one of the children that the Minister was likely to come.
“We are not so sure, but the governor and others are monitoring the situation, they are strategizing on how to get the kidnappers, but one thing is ruled out, the boys are not going to get any ransom if that is what they thought”, he added.
Kidnappers yet to contact family
A dependable source who confided in Vanguard, yesterday, said: “The kidnappers want money. As at this (yesterday) morning, they have not made any contact with the family on ransom, but I am sure that they know that security agents are on them.”
How they carried our surveillance
According to him: “The kidnappers worked with some insiders from Ogwashi-Uku, who carried out surveillance activity on the palace with motorcycles, pretending to be motor cycle (Okada) riders and passersby, unknown to the occupants that they were planning to kidnap somebody in the house”.
The mood in the palace, Ogwashi-Uku
Family members and workers who were sighted in the palace, yesterday, wore sad faces, but in Ogwashi-Uku town, it was business as usual, as people went about their normal businesses.
The distance of the isolated residential apartment from other buildings in the town would have contributed in the apathy of some persons, as Vanguard did not see much of sympathizers from the community when it visited.
Speaker condemns kidnap
Reacting to the kidnap, the Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Victor Ochei, condemned the action of the hostage takers.
The House recently passed a bill stipulating death sentence for kidnappers, but it is awaiting the assent of Governor Uduaghan to be passed into law.
Ochei described the development as sad and urged the captors to release the octogenarian wife of Prof Chukwuka Okonjo, the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku kingdom unscathed.
The Speaker, however, said he was aware that the police was on top of the matter, adding that it was the responsibility of government to ensure safety of lives and property of its citizenry.
He said, “Government is not resting on its oars to fight kidnapping and other crimes in the state to a standstill.”
Obi of Obomkpa calls for her immediate release
The traditional ruler of Obomkpa community, Obi Jonathan Nsuebo II, in his reaction to the kidnap of a daughter of the town, Professor Kamene Okonjo, pleaded with the kidnappers release her immediately and without conditions.
In a message on behalf of himself and the people of Obomkpa, the monarch described the kidnap of Prof. Mrs. Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo as shocking and commended Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for giving a marching order to security agencies to ensure the release of the kidnapped queen of Ogwashi Uku.
He said the people of Obomkpa from where the Queen hails were saddened about the development and were studying it closely.
He warned that no harm should come upon the queen, explaining that Obomkpa community stood with the people of Ogwashi Uku in this trying period.
Obi Nsuebo II prayed that this ugly moment passed quickly so that the queen could return safely to join her people in this festive period.
In another development, the president general of Obomkpa Progressive Union, Prince Emeka Dibia said the Obomkpa people at home and in Diaspora were keenly watching the development and appealed to the kidnappers of Prof. Mrs. Okonjo to retrace their steps and free her without further delay.
He recalled that kidnapping is a serious criminal offence and expressed surprise that anyone could think of putting an 82 –year- old woman through the ordeal of losing her freedom.
Delta leaders condemn kidnap
A group, The Peoples Movement, yesterday, condemned the kidnap describing it as barbaric and unreasonable.
The organization in a statement signed by the Director of Communications, Mrs. Ibifuro Tatua said they were disgusted at the “Gestapo like manner in which the kidnappers went about the incident.
It called on the kidnappers to release the minister’s mother immediately and urged the police and other security agents to track the kidnappers.
NDYM issues 2-week ultimatum to kidnappers
In addition, the leadership of the Niger Delta Youth Movement, NDYM, yesterday, issued two weeks ultimatum to those behind her kidnap and asked them to release her unhurt.
NDYM in a statement signed by its national president and national secretary, Messrs Godspower Odenema and Moses Omo-Ikirodah respectively said: “It is with the highest indignation that the National Executive Council and the entire members of the Niger Delta Youth Movement, NDYM, in the nine states of the Niger Delta, condemn the kidnap of the mother of the Federal Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Nigerian Economy, Professor Kamene Okonjo.
“The National Executive Council of NDYM, at the end of a crucial emergency meeting, today, (Monday) in Ughelli, Delta State, directed all NDYM structures in all the communities in Delta state to commence the process of searching all buildings and hide-outs with a view to helping the security agencies to arrest these hoodlums and secure the release of Mama Kamene Okonjo.
“All strange movements and persons of questionable characters must be reported to security agencies. This is very bad and it is the worst way of paying Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala back for the very good works she is doing forNigeria. We therefore give these faceless criminals two weeks to release this great woman,” the group stated.