From PAUL OSUYI, Asaba
For the first time since last Sunday’s kidnap of the 82-year-old Prof. Kamene Okonjo, mother of Coordinating Minister of Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the council of chiefs yesterday held a marathon meeting at the palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State. A crack team of detectives arrived in Asaba last night en route Ogwashi-Uku to assist policemen on ground.
Although the agenda of the talks which lasted over seven hours was not made public, a palace source informed that the titled chiefs deliberated “extensively on the manner Mama was whisked away by her abductors.” The kidnapped Sociology professor is the Queen of Obi (Prof.) Chukwuka Okonjo. The source said that the chiefs frowned seriously at the invasion of the palace by the hoodlums, describing it as a desecration of the traditional institution, noting that the wrath of the gods would be visited on the daredevil kidnappers at the appropriate time.
The meeting was said to have been presided over by the Iyase of the kingdom, Chief Collins Afuwa, who avoided talking to the Press at the end of the meeting. He told journalists who sought his views on the travails of the kingdom, that: “We will call you when we need you.” It was gathered that the conferment of a traditional title, the Odoziani of Ogwashi-Uku which was earlier scheduled to hold yesterday was postponed as a result of the Queen Mother’s abduction.
Meanwhile, people were yesterday still working at the palace located in the serene part of the town fixing the interlocking tiles which they had started before the octogenarian professor of sociology was seized by the gunmen numbering 10 last Sunday. She was said to have come down from the one-storey palace building with adjoining bungalow to serve the workers soft drinks when the hoodlums who had been lurking around swooped on her and bundled her into their waiting Volkswagen Golf car.
The kidnap received widespread condemnation but residents of Ogwashi-Uku seemed to have moved on just three days after the incident as socio-economic activities were in full swing when Daily Sun visited. “The frank reality here is that we have moved on. People must go about their daily activities even if there is fear as a result of the presence of security operatives. What we are doing is to restrict our movements particularly at nights,” a resident who simply identified as Emeka stated.
Residents said that kidnapping was not in the polytechnic town, adding, however, that Prof. Okonjo’s abduction was high profile. “My friend was kidnapped in this Ogwashi-Uku and he paid N1 million ransom before he breathed the air of freedom. The kidnappers live among us in this community because of the way they execute their evil plans. They accosted my friend at the entrance gate to his house after lurking around for some time.
When they swooped on him, his wife ran inside and they took him away in his small jeep. The ransom he paid was N1 million and the money was raised from friends who donated bits and pieces to complete the total,” a resident volunteered. But expressing sympathy with the royal family, a resident who identified himself as Prince Godwin Chukwuemeka Elue said that the abduction of “Mama is not fair, such a thing was supposed not to happen because of her age, she is too old for that kind of experience.”
Sources said that the age-long chieftaincy tussle over the rulership of the ancient Ogwashi-Uku dated back to 1882 when the sitting monarch passed on after 12 years on the throne. Ascension to the throne, according to community sources, was by primogeniture but due to the fact that the late king’s heir apparent was a minor, it paved the way for regent to be on the throne temporarily. His uncle, the father’s immediate younger brother took over as regent and when the heir came of age in 1890, he demanded for his heritage. As at then, he was said to have married and blessed with a daughter. However, he died, paving the way for his uncle to remain on the throne.
Community sources alleged that his uncle took advantage of the demise of the heir to state that the lineage of the former had automatically been obliterated. The crisis lingered on till 2007 when a court gave judgment in favour of the Okonjos which led to the coronation of Obi Chukwuka Okonjo as the direct descendant of the daughter of the heir who died before he could ascend the throne. “Even though, the court gave that verdict, judgment, the community is still polarized. There are some that are loyal to the Obi while others are just indifferent about the unfolding drama.
All this, I believe is playing out now, that is why you don’t see people coming around to the palace,” a resident noted. Meanwhile, the state Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba has insisted that police were working round the clock to rescue the octogenarian queen. He reiterated that his men were on red alert and urged the people to remain calm and cooperate with security agencies. Meanwhile, the state police command yesterday got reinforcement from the Force Headquarters in Abuja as manhunt for the Queen Mother’s abductors intensifies.
She is spending the fourth day with the hoodlums. The situation has kept the police and other security agencies on their toes since last Sunday. Police Commissioner Aduba, who confirmed the arrival of the detectives, said the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubakar, deployed the team to complement what officers of the state command were already doing to rescue the woman.
Aduba, however, did not give further details on the deployment of the special detectives but expressed confidence that with the reinforcement, the hoodlums would soon be smoked-out of their hide-out. “The IGP is concerned and worried about what is happening and he has sent the special squad from Abuja to assist us. We have special squad across the federation but the person involved is of global significance and the IGP wants to get the results as fast as possible, that is all,” he told Daily Sun on phone.