Prof. Kamene Okonjo
Chuks Okocha, Yemi Akinsuyi, Dele Ogbodo and Victor Efeizomor
A flurry of activities began Monday for the rescue of Prof. Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was kidnapped on Sunday by a 10-man gang at the palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku in Delta State.
The Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, ordered the police to spare no efforts in ensuring that not only is Okonjo rescued hale and hearty, her abductors must be arrested to face justice.
The state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, also held an emergency meeting with security chiefs and traditional rulers on how to find Okonjo and check the growing wave of kidnappings in the state.
The governor, traditional rulers and elders from the state who condemned the kidnapping, also appealed to the public to assist security agencies with information that could lead to the rescue of the minister’s mother.
However, palpable tension enveloped Ogwashi-Uku Monday as the family waited for the kidnappers to make their demands.
Security has also been beefed up within the vicinity and the palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku where Okonjo was kidnapped on Sunday.
A team of security agents, comprising personnel from the military, police, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and State Security Service (SSS), has been deployed in the area to monitor the situation.
A detachment of soldiers from the 4th Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Benin, led by its Commanding Officer, Brigadier-General Obi Umahi, mounted guards in and around strategic points around the palace.
In Abuja, the IG directed all police formations to intensify the manhunt for the abductors of the octogenarian.
Abubakar, who spoke through the force spokesperson, Frank Mba, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), also ordered security operatives to immediately start a full-scale investigation into the incident.
Although the IG did not state categorically if a special task force would be set up to handle the assignment, he said the operatives must ensure the accomplishment of the twin objectives of rescuing the minister’s mother as well as fishing out her abductors and their accomplices.
He said: “Operatives should ensure that no stone is left unturned in unravelling the mystery behind the abduction of Mrs. Okonjo, mother of Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and bringing the evil perpetrators to book.”
While assuring members of the public of their safety at all times, the IG promised that soon, the abducted woman would not only be reunited safely with members of her family, the perpetrators would be arrested and made to face justice.
Uduaghan, who also visited Ogwashi-Uku to sympathise with the royal family and residents of the community, assured them that his administration would deploy all resources to ensure that the minister’s mother is rescued.
He said all security agencies in the state had been mobilised to track down the perpetrators.
He appealed to community leaders, vigilante groups and the people to remain calm, just as he cautioned them against spreading rumours that would not help the ongoing investigation into the incident.
He said: “Do not be involved in spreading rumours and trading stories that will not help law enforcement agents in their task; only information that will help in her rescue is needed now.
“I have been in touch with officers of various security agencies, and I assure you that Prof. Kamene will be safely returned and the perpetrators of such a despicable crime will be brought to justice.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba, said the police were collaborating with other security agencies to secure the release of the abducted retired professor.
The Odafe of Ogwashi-Uku, Olizele Ogochuwuka Nkwor, in his response to the governor’s comments, thanked Uduaghan for his concern and efforts aimed at rescuing Okonjo.
He promised the governor that the people would assist the law enforcement agencies with information that could lead to the arrest of the hoodlums and the rescue of the minister’s mother.
He said the kidnappers were yet to make contact with the family members neither had they made demands for a ransom.
Similarly, the Chairman, Delta State Traditional Rulers’ Council and Olu of Warri, Ogiame Atuwase II, condemned the kidnapping of Okonjo, describing it as a dastardly and barbaric act.
The monarch, who spoke through the first vice-chairman of the council, the Obi of Owa Kingdom, Dr. Emmanuel Efeizomor II, said: “The kidnap of a queen, the wife of a traditional ruler, a wife of our colleague, and the mother of the Minister of Finance, is a very sad development; more so, it is also very sad and sacrilegious to know that the kidnappers entered the palace of a traditional ruler to kidnap his wife. Anybody with useful information should contact the police.
“It follows that the palace, which is supposed to be a holy and safe ground, is no longer safe. As such, the government should intensify efforts to provide adequate security in and around the palaces of traditional rulers as the custodians of customs and tradition, and to forestall the future occurrence of this dastardly act of invasion.
“Such an invasion does not present our palace in a good light and it is condemnable. We want to appeal to the kidnappers to release the queen without further delay from wherever they may have taken her to because of her age. A woman of over 80 years should not be subjected to such a harrowing experience.”
Other leaders of thought from the state also condemned the kidnapping of Okonjo, describing it as barbaric and unreasonable.
The leaders, in a statement by the Director of Communications of The People’s Movement, Mrs. Ibifuro Tatua, said they were disgusted at the “Gestapo-like manner in which the kidnappers went about the incident.”
The leaders, who urged the kidnappers to release the minister’s mother immediately, urged the police and other security agents to track them down.
In the same vein, the Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Air Force, Senator Akin Odunsi, said the incident showed how low Nigeria had sunk.
“It is most unfortunate; it goes to show the level of decay in the system that anybody for heinous reasons could kidnap an 83-year-old grandmother.
“We have lost it; it is sad. I hope the security agencies would move fast to unravel those behind it,” he said.
His counterpart in the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Senator Domingo Obende, also described the incident as unfortunate.
He urged the Federal Government to ensure that the security agencies do all they could to rescue Okonjo.
Meanwhile, the son of the victim, Mr. Onyema Okonjo, yesterday blamed security lapses for the kidnapping of his mother.
Onyema told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ogwashi-Uku that his mother was kidnapped on Sunday between noon and 1 pm, stating that there were "definitely some lapses in terms of security.
"It is not what it should have been, the people that were suppose 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."