By ALVAN EWUZIE
Strong reasons emerged last night to show that the kidnap of Prof. Kaneme Okonjo, mother of Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala may have been geared towards instilling fear into the minister and distract her from carrying out reforms in the economy and the oil sector in particular. Reports that the kidnappers have made contacts and demanded $1 billion ransom are clear pointers that the abduction may well be connected to a threat received by the minister last month when she was told to slow down on her thorough check on subsidy payments or face dire consequences.
Unconfirmed reports that the abductors have contacted the family and tabled a request of a whopping one billion dollars seem to weave a link between the kidnapping and the subsisting threat.
In his immediate reaction to the incident, a Senior Special Assistant to the Minister, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, said in a statement, “at this point, it is difficult to say whether those behind this action are the same people who have made threats against the coordinating minister in the recent past or other elements with hostile motives. No possibility can be ruled out at this point.”
Okonjo-Iweala’s mother who is the wife of His Majesty, Professor Chukwuka Aninshi Okonjo Agbogidi, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku kingdom in Delta State, and a professor of medicine, was kidnapped on Sunday at about 1:30 pm from the husband’s palace at Ogbe-Ofu quarters in Ogwahi-Uku by eight gunmen who stormed the palace in two Volkswagen Golf cars.
The demand for a $1billion ransom, according to source, was relayed to the family of the woman yesterday, but this could not be confirmed. In the wake of the fuel subsidy scam, the minister is known to have put her feet down on thorough scrutiny of claims by marketers before payments will be made.
At the end of the day, the Federal Government put the money fraudulently paid to marketers in the oil subsidy scam at N232.2 billion. Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, made the disclosure on Monday, December 1 in Abuja at a press conference held on the ways of reinvigorating the country’s ailing capital market. According to the minister, following the submission of the report of the Presidential Committee on the Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments headed by Access Bank boss, Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede, out of the N1trillion claims verified, it was established that N232.2billion was paid to fraudulent oil marketers.
Noting that N29 billion due to the fraudulent marketers was held back by the government, the minister said the government would begin the payment of genuine claims starting from December with a view to averting man-made fuel queues which have been on since the issue of payments to oil marketers cropped up within the petroleum industry.
In the absence of political abductions in this clime, the tendency is that the minister may well be seeing the manifestation of the threats issued her by disgruntled elements whose fraudulent means of feeding fat through dipping hands into the public till is being stopped.
The onus is on security agents to unravel the abductors and bring them to book.