SIX days after a 10-man kidnap gang seized Professor Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at Ogwashi-Ukwu, Delta State, the 82-year-old retired professor of sociology, University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka, was released, Friday morning, by her kidnappers in Benin City, Edo State, after collecting between N10 to N11 million ransom.
A young boy, suspected to have been used by the kidnappers as a “sacrificial lamb” to lead the old woman to safety after the ransom was delivered to them on Saturday, has been arrested by security agents to help in their investigations on the identity of the hostage takers.
Prof Okonjo flown to Abuja
Professor Kamene Okonjo was shepherded to her Ogwashi-Uku home by security agents, who kept the information secret.
Journalists, who mounted siege in the country home of the Okonjos waiting for her to be brought home did not know that she was already inside until about 1.56 pm when they noticed movement in some the compound.
It was only then they found out that she had come back. Unlike December 9 when she was forcefully taken away, she was quietly led, yesterday, from the house, to enter a vehicle for the airport, evidently on her way to Abuja, to reunite with her daughter, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The chartered flight that took her Abuja from Asaba Airport departed at about 2.29 pm. Her son, Onyema, accompanied her. Soldiers, Police and Customs officials prevented photographers from taking pictures throughout.
It was gathered that because of the situation at home, her husband and monarch of Ogwashi-Uku, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo Agbogidi, who travelled 24 hours before the queen mother was abducted, was advised not to return home yet.
As it is, security would be beefed up in the palace and security agents, including soldiers deployed to the palace before the monarch would return to Ogwashi-Uku, a family source confided in Saturday Vanguard.
Jonathan, Okonjo-Iweala thank Uduaghan
Her elated daughter, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, reportedly called Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State to thank him for his immense support towards the release of her mother.
Saturday Vanguard also gathered President Goodluck Jonathan was alerted as soon as Prof Okonjo was released, Friday morning.
A source said President Jonathan was also happy with the news and commended the governor for a job well done.
Negotiation for Professor Okonjo’s release was carried out by her son, Prince Onyema Okonjo, who spoke various times with the kidnappers on phone between Sunday, December 9, when she was snatched and Friday morning.
Security agents monitored part of the negotiation with the kidnappers, but could not trace their exact location until ransom was paid.
Vanguard confirmed if the security agents were put in confidence in the payment of ransom to the kidnappers, but it was obvious that they were not, as the ransom was dropped and coolly collected by the hostage takers.
Finally, between N10 m – N11 million ransom paid
Our source was not emphatic on the amount paid, but he said, “Between N10 million and N15 million was paid as ransom”
We gathered that it was after the kidnappers satisfied themselves that the Okonjos kept to their side of the bargain that they released the family’s matriarch on Friday morning in Benin City.