By Victor Efeizemor
The 83-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was kidnapped Sunday afternoon by unknown gunmen from the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area, Delta State, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo, who is also her husband.
The 83-year-old Kamene Okonjo, who is also the queen mother of Ogwashi-Uku and a retired Professor of Sociology, was abducted at about 1.47 pm by a gang of armed men who seized her at the gate of the palace at Ogbe-ofu, Ogwashi-Uku, and took her away, when her husband was out of town.
Confirming the kidnapping, the Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, condemned the incident, saying it is most unfortunate that a woman as old as Professor Kamene Okonjo, could be traumatised.
He said he had directed the Delta State Police Command and the Special Task Force to rescue the minister’s mother immediately, as her kidnapping was a major embarrassment to the state.
He said no demand had been made by the kidnappers for ransom, but that Delta State Government was focused on recovering the minister’s mother alive and unharmed as quickly as possible.
Also, speaking to THISDAY on her mother’s abduction, the minister, who arrived the country last night from the United States of America, said she was informed of the incident the minute she switched on her phone at the airport.
She said she was distraught when she got the news, but had to remain calm for her father’s sake.
The minister said the sketchy information made available to her showed that the police orderlies who normally guard the palace were not present at the time her mother was abducted.
She confirmed that her father was in Nasarawa State Sunday or a meeting and one of her priorities last night was to reach him to inform him of his wife’s abduction.
In a statement by the minister's spokesman, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, he said: "It is difficult to say whether those behind this action are the same people who have made threats against the Co-ordinating Minister in the recent past or other elements with hostile motives. No possibility can be ruled out."
He said this was a very difficult time for the entire Okonjo family, "but the family is hopeful of a positive outcome as it fervently prays for the quick and safe return of the matriach."
However, the police in Delta State were said to have arrested a man who allegedly left the compound a few minutes before the incident took place.
The man was said to have informed the housemaid that he was in the palace to take the minister’s mother somewhere in town.
It was gathered that the kidnappers numbering about 10 were lurking around the palace until the woman and her maid had come down to serve soft drinks to some construction workers who were fixing interlocking tiles at the gate.
Eyewitnesses said as soon as the woman came down from the main building towards the gate, the criminals moved quickly, grabbed and pushed her into a waiting Golf Volkswagen car.
“The abductors when they walked into the compound were heavily armed. They were about 10 in number.
“They bundled up the men fixing the interlocking tiles and asked them to lie face down. Immediately they saw her, they bundled her into a waiting Golf Volkswagen while another car was parked outside,” they said.
One of the assailants, said eyewitnesses, braced the odds and went upstairs to collect the woman’s handbag. Another eyewitness said another maid, who sighted the kidnapper upstairs, hid herself in the kitchen.
When contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Charles Muka, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP), confirmed the kidnapping, saying: “Yes, we (police) have got the information on the kidnap and we have also got information that will lead to the arrest of the hoodlums.”