By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Austin Ogwuda and Festus Ahon
ASABA—As security operatives intensified search for Professor Kamene Okonjo, the mother of Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was abducted last Sunday from her home, the Nigerian army said yesterday that 63 people have so far been arrested over the kidnap.
According to Army spokeswoman, Roseline Managbe who spoke with Reuters.”Yesterday the Four Brigade raided Ogwashi-Ukwu in search of Mama, and 63 people were arrested in the raids.
“Those arrested are being questioned,” she added.
Residents of the area, where Okonjo-Iweala’s mother was abducted, now reportedly live in fear of the near daily abductions.
“It could be my turn tomorrow,” said Tony Agwu, who lives near Okonjo’s house.
“It’s a terrible situation down here. The security situation in the Delta is disturbing,” he added, voicing the widely held view that security forces are often complicit.
“Around this time during Christmas I start to get worried,” said Shopia Oko-Akoko, a civil servant and mother of two in Bayelsa State, adding that she often looks over her shoulder entering her car.
“Many times I’ve seen cars following me. Once someone followed me on foot and I ran off in terror as he approached.”
Okonjo’s kidnapping is a risky strategy for the abductors
“If it’s just a kidnap for ransom, then they’re not the smartest boys in the world,” said Peter Sharwood-Smith,Nigeriacountry manager of security firm Drum Cussac.
“Everybody else learned that you don’t pick the most high profile. It’s not worth it. This might not end well for them.
“Kidnapping is worse than during the militancy period, but it’s mostly rich Nigerians who pay up and you never hear about it,” Sharwood-Smith said.
Political motives have been suggested for the abduction. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s drive to reform a corrupt economy ruffled powerful vested interests, especially fuel importers.
“Whatever the motive, the main cause is joblessness,” said Felix Osaduwe, a student in Delta state. “Get them jobs in a bank or a firm, there’s no way they’ll turn to kidnapping.”
Two policemen who were supposed to be on duty guarding the palace but were not on duty at the time of the kidnap are also in detention. It was gathered that a contact has already been established with the kidnappers who reportedly reduced the ransom being demanded as a pre-condition for her release from $1 billion to N200 million.
According to sources, the reduction in the ransom followed the negotiation between Onyema, one of the sons of the abducted woman and the kidnappers.
Meanwhile, Police inDeltaStateare investigating the involvement of three suspected kidnappers who were arrested on their way to Ogwashi-Uku on Sunday, December 9 morning, the same day Professor Kamene Okonjo, the 82-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was abducted by a 10-man kidnap gang in broad daylight.
Aduba confirms arrest of suspects
DeltaStateCommissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, who confirmed the arrest of the three suspected kidnappers, however, said the police have not established their involvement and otherwise with the gang that seized the queen mother.
His words, “It (kidnap of Professor Okonjo) was really a setback because that same day, we were able to round up three young men that were heading to Ogwashi-Uku for a kidnap.
“One of them was armed. Nobody knows their identification, they were unidentified, three of them and they are still with us. There is going to be a press conference and you will see them. So that is the thing, honestly, it took every person by surprise.” he added.
SSG meets with service providers
Secretary to the Delta State Government, Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay, yesterday, in Asaba met behind closed doors with communication service providers.
The details were not made public, but it was believed that the discussions centered on how they could help in providing timely information on the call log of kidnappers and communication made by kidnappers to relations of their victims and other related matters.
Police parade 26 kidnappers
Commissioner Aduba, who addressed reporters in Asaba, yesterday, paraded about 26-suspected kidnappers that were arrested in the last few months by the police and assured that the police were doing everything possible to ensure a crime-free yuletide.
Adopt personal security measures
On why the palace was porous security wise, he said: “I don’t want to join issues with anybody. I visited the monarch on Thursday, (December 6), there was no complaint of such that bothers on security. In a palace, there are supposed to be palace chiefs, there are supposed to be palace guards. The Emir of Bauchi, can you enter his palace? I am asking. The Sultan of Sokoto, can you enter his palace”?
kidnappings: US officials meet Kuku
…as cries out over cloned e-mail
Concerned by the rising wave of high profile kidnappings in the Niger Delta Region, officials of theUnited states of America’s Department of State met the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Hon. Kingsley Kuku, inAbuja, yesterday, to discuss ways to stem the tide.
Mr. Neal Kringle who led a three-man delegation of the meeting said his office was prepared to collaborate with the Kuku team to ensure a peaceful Niger Delta, which he considered a pre-condition for the desired rapid development of the region.