When Professor Kamene Okonjo, mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was kidnapped from her palace on December 9, 2012, there was public outrage. What has an 82-year-old woman done to deserve abduction, a professor and queen for that matter? Her husband, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo Agbogidi, a retired professor of economics, is the traditional ruler of the Ogwashi-Uku kingdom in Delta State. Who are the people behind the dastardly act? These were some of the questions which agitated most minds at the time. The family of the abducted queen and the Delta State government went to work to secure her release. Five days later, she was dropped off on the main road near the palace. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan told the BBC then in an interview that Queen Okonjo’s abductors probably decided to let her go because they were under pressure. “The army and police have been on their trail and a lot of raids have been done. I think because of the heat they dropped her off on the highway,” he told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.
Uduaghan said he was not aware if any ransom was paid to the kidnappers before the woman’s release was secured, as it wasn’t government policy to pay ransom. As it later emerged, the Okonjo family had engaged in negotiations with the kidnappers who were in touch with them on the phone and who had warned they must pay a huge sum to get the queen back. In the end, the sum of N13 million was paid to the kidnappers. Those who knew of what transpired were alarmed, though that wasn’t the first time ransom would be paid to secure the release of a kidnapped person. The state had failed them; can anyone blame the Okonjo clan or any family for that matter for resorting to self-help, for paying ransom? Failure to pay often results in the death of the abducted. Who wants his granny or dad or loved one dead in the hands of kidnappers!
I recall the case of my friend Eddie Odivwri’s father, Pa Odvwri, in the same Delta State. The Odivwri family was in touch with the kidnappers. The kidnappers demanded for N20,000 recharge cards, they were obliged. They were still discussing the condition for the release when it emerged that the abductors had snuffed life out of the nonagenarian and dropped his body close to his residence.
The case of the National Vice-Chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the South-east, Dr. Chudy Nwike, is also pathetic. He was killed even after the payment of ransom to the kidnappers. It was the turn of 87-year-old former Minister of Petroleum, Alhaji Shettima Mongono. He was kidnapped early this month after the Friday Jumat service in his area in Maiduguri, Borno State. He was denied access to his drugs and food supplements. He was only released after five days. Borno State Governor Ibrahim Shettima said no ransom was paid to the kidnappers to secure Monguno’s release. But if you believe him you can believe I’m the president of this country.
The latest case, which is not likely to be the last, is the kidnap of wife and daughter of Supreme Court Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour near Benin, Edo State capital, on Friday, May 10. Rhodes-Vivour’s family along with their driver was intercepted as they were about to enter Benin. They were heading for the city to make arrangements for the wedding of the same kidnapped daughter then billed for a week later. Their abductors are yet to release them as I was putting this piece together on Thursday.
Kidnapping is now a common phenomenon across the country. Expatriate oil workers in the Niger Delta used to be the targets of kidnappers. Now, it would seem no one is spared, oil worker or not, as long as you look affluent and you ride in a car perceived to be big by Nigerian standard. And no particular area is now immune, not even the South-west, or Lagos. Those who kidnapped my friend, Kehinde Bamigbetan, Chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area, the other day at Ejigbo, a suburb of Lagos, did not know he is the LCDA chairman. The young boys who seized him claimed to be unemployed and that they were out to get their reparation from “treasury looters” who, according to them, made it difficult for them to get jobs. To be sure he is not “one of them” as he had told his abductors, they sent emissaries to his council secretariat in Ejigbo and found out that the people adore him and were gloomy and dejected over his abduction. Then his kidnappers began to treat him well until he was released, presumably after the payment of a ransom.
There seems to be no let up in kidnapping in the land. But why this recourse to kidnapping? How did we find ourselves here? Many reasons can be adduced for kidnapping, ranging from criminality, the search for personal gains, particularly monetary, to circumstantial factor, the rising unemployment, and political motive. Those who seized Bamigbetan said they were involved in the nefarious act because there was no job. Some Boko Haram members resort to kidnapping, according to intelligence sources, because they need money to oil their bombing activities. Those who kidnapped Monguno reportedly apologised to him, but they reportedly said they abducted him because they needed money.
So what is the way out? It’s not an easy one. But we can begin to address it by addressing its root cause. Government must find a way of addressing the growing unemployment in the land either by directly creating jobs or by fast-tracking the creation of the enabling environment for the foreign investors and the private sector to create jobs. The work being done in the area of generating and distributing more megawatts of electricity can help grow jobs. If power is stable more small-scale industries will spring up to mop up some unemployed Nigerians. The criminal elements can then be taken care of by the security and intelligence services doing their jobs. The kidnappers should be identified and eliminated. It’s a sign of a failed system if kidnappers prowl the land freely unchecked. But when we pay ransom for the release of our kidnapped ones, we are indirectly helping to legitimise the trade for them. This is a potential time bomb that will sooner than later blow up on our collective faces.
Lest I Forget Governor Okorocha’s ‘Committee of Don’t Forget’
Ihad a good laugh when I read in the newspapers the other day that Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha has set up a 10-man panel, which he called Committee of Don’t Forget, to reach out to relevant persons that worked for his victory in the election. Inaugurating the committee at the Government House, Owerri, last week, Okorocha said there was need to recognize those who gave their support in the struggle for the emergence of his regime and compensate them adequately. The Chairman of the committee is the Deputy Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly Donatus Ozoemena. Forget the unpolished and rudimentary name of the committee, I wonder if the same man who set it up has not rendered the panel nugatory even before it sets out on its assignment. How? Governor Okorocha himself has proceeded on a premise of forgetfulness, in the absence of a better word, by rubbishing those who worked assiduously for his emergence as governor. Chief Martin Agbaso aka Ochudo who put his own gubernatorial ambition on hold in order for Okorocha to run for the office is one of such people. Ochudo worked with all that God blessed him with to support a friend to become governor, of course with some understanding between them that he too would assume the office later. He gave Okorocha his younger brother, Jude, to work with him as deputy governor. They were both elected into office. How did Okorocha pay Agbaso back? He brought up a phantom allegation of bribery and fraud against Jude Agbaso, his deputy governor, in a move to tarnish the image of the Agbaso clan and put an end to the Agbaso patriarch’s governorship bid. Of course, a pliable Imo State House of Assembly removed Jude Agbaso from office on the basis of the phony allegations. But the matter has not fully ended yet, as many are watching how events unfold in the build-up to the next election in the state.
Former Governor Daniel Heads for Labour Party... But what is the motive?
I t’s no longer news that former Ogun State Governor Gbenga Daniel is heading for the Labour Party. His associates and supporters in the state have all joined LP. What is news, however, is why Otunba Daniel has decided to abandon the Peoples Party of Nigeria he hurriedly put together in the build-up to the 2011 election to provide a platform for his protégé, Gboyega Isiaka, to contest the governorship election. This was after the former governor fell out with some Peoples Democratic Party leaders in the state. Many familiar with events in the build-up to the last governorship election in the state would tell you the PDP was the architect of its own failure in that election. If the party had been united, perhaps the governorship would have been theirs for keeps.
But why is Otunba Daniel jumping ship again? I understand the former governor wants to join with other opposition leaders in the South-west like Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko and former Oyo State governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, and his Accord Party to provide a credible opposition to the Action Congress of Nigeria in the zone and also lead the vanguard for President Jonathan’s re-election. Both seem very tough, but those close to the former governor say they are not insurmountable. But we’ll wait and see how Daniel would navigate through these paths.