BY Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Austin Ogwuda & Festus Ahon
ASABA— FOUR days after the kidnap of Prof Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, 82 –year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at Ogwashi-Uku in Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State, a contact has been established with her kidnappers who have now 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.
A highly-placed security source confided in Vanguard, yesterday, that negotiation had commenced with the kidnappers because of the fragile health of the retired professor of sociology,UniversityofNigeria, UNN, Nsukka, who hail from Obomkpa in Aniocha North Local Government Area of the state and pressure from higher quarters.
Vanguard learnt that information on negotiation with the kidnappers was being hoarded even among the key security agencies involved in the operation to secure her release.
“I told you that the information is hoarded, so why are you asking me who is doing the negotiation and what amount, I do not know”, the source said in an answer to a question.
Two of the agencies are on one side, while one is on the other side because of allegations of mistrust.
Police confident on Okonjo’s release
DeltaStateCommissioner of Police, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, who spoke to Vanguard in Asaba, yesterday, after a meeting with his Divisional Police Officers, DPOs, sounded confident that freedom will soon come the way of the queen mother of Ogwashi-Uku.
Asked the reason he exuded so much confidence, he said: “You know already in the state, the synergy is there, the police, military and SSS and we are working together to make sure that Mama is rescued unhurt.”
His words: “We do not want to go into sensationalism. As far as we are concerned, we are beaming our light everywhere. We are looking at the whole place because in any palace, there are supposed to be palace guards – that is local security before you talk of that of the police.
“And so, we are looking at the obvious flaws and then, take the necessary action. But everything that has to do with the kidnap saga, investigation is still on. We do not want to jump the gun, but certainly, in the past, we have been able to rescue about 30 people without payment of ransom”, he added.
He mentioned the sister of the Minister of Niger-Delta, Elder Godsday Orubebe, who was kidnapped in Warri; son of the Secretary to the Delta State Government, Comrade Ovuozorie Macaulay and many others.
“I am sure the strategy we are putting in place will yield dividend, but all the same, if you hoard information, it becomes difficult because most times, people are not patient with us. Particularly, there must have to be trust. If there is no trust, how can we move forward?
“If you trust that we will actually rescue, then you do not have to chicken out with information because we know that anything that has to do with kidnapping, there is always an insider factor. It has always been there. Just like armed robbery, it is either they give information to people to come into the house when there is large sum of money, same thing with kidnapping”, he said.
Aduba disclosed that it was a difficult thing, but the police have extended their dragnet within and without.
Investigations by Vanguard also showed that the kidnappers and security agents appeared to be drawn in a battle of wits, as both sides strategically study the operational moves of the other to avoid being caught unawares.
Why two policemen were detained
On the two policemen that were arrested, he said they were supposed be on duty at the time of the incident but they were not there.
He said they have to explain why they were not on duty at that time, adding that the police have nothing to hide and he was in the state to do a thorough job.
According to him, he was with the monarch, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo, three days before the kidnap, at his Ogwashi Uku home, and he did not complain about security.
“His only complain was on the issue of bail and I assured him that it will be sorted out with the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, in charge of the area”, he said.
A source said that the kidnappers decided to postpone contact with the Okonjo family as a result of heavy deployment of policemen, army and other security operatives around the palace and the community immediately after the kidnap
By yesterday, it was, however, observed that the heavy security presence in the last few days around the home of the Okonjos in Ogbe-Ofu quarters has been relaxed, leaving a few policemen in the compound.
No visitors allowed
But the policemen refused visitors access to the compound, saying, “no visitor is wanted here”. Only the workers fixing interlocking stones in the compound were seen working yesterday.
In Ogwashi-Uku town, where there was uneasy calm on Sunday and Monday over the kidnap of the queen mother, people were seen going about their normal businesses, yesterday.
Worry over Okonjo’s health
A reliable source said the biggest worry of the Okonjo family now was the health condition of the victim, which could be quite fragile at her age.
The governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan has reportedly deployed resources and reached out to a lot of persons and groups that could help with information on the kidnappers and their whereabouts, but in all, the security agencies are working round the clock.
Also, yesterday, traditional chiefs that make up the Obi-in-council met behind closed doors at the palace grounds in connection with the kidnap of the Obi’s wife.
The meeting, which began at about 10.00 am lasted about three hours, but the security around the palace remained tight
Undercover security operatives flooded drinking joints, markets and public places in search of useful information.
At Ughelli, where a soldier was killed and a Lebanese engineer, working for Setraco Nigeria Limited, the construction firm handling theEast-West Roaddualization project, Mr. Harry Fadi, was abducted on Tuesday, security has also been beefed up
As at the time of filing this report, men of the Military Joint Task Force, Police, and local vigilante were seen patrolling and mounting road blocks apparently hunting for the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Our correspondent, who visited the council secretariat at about 1.00 pm, yesterday was told that the council chairman, Chief Friday Akpoyibo was in a meeting with security chiefs in the area.
Contacted, the Public Relations Officer of Setraco in Ughelli, Mr Edmund Eke said the suspected kidnappers were yet to establish contact with the company. Expressing sadness at the incident, he appealed to security agents in the area to step up effort at tracking down the suspected hoodlums.
Reacting to the incident, Youth Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the state, Chief Arthur Akpowowo described the incident as unfortunate.
While condemning the killing of the soldier and the kidnap of Mr Fadi, Akpowowo urged the police and other security agents to spread their drag net across all nooks and crannies of the state and beyond with a view to apprehending the suspected abductors.
He said the kidnap of expatriates attached to “Setraco that is working on the East/West road is not good for our image. This is a road we all have been yearning for its completion; we do not want anything that will hinder or slow down the pace of work on the road.”