•How Okonjo-Iweala copes with mum’s abduction
…DPO, others in trouble as Army arrests 63 suspects
From PAUL OSUYI, Asaba
Four days after the kidnapping of 82-year-old Queen Mother of Ogwashi-uku, Prof. (Mrs) Kamene Okonjo, confusion still trailed her whereabouts, but the police are beaming their searchlight on insider connection in the abduction.
The victim is the mother of Coordinating Minister of the Economy/Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Her husband, Obi (Prof) Chukwuka Okonjo of Ogwashi-uku, Delta State, was out of town when she was seized last Sunday.
By press time, the military has 63 suspects in custody. Army spokeperson for 4 Brigade, Roseline Managbe, who confirmed the arrest, said they are being questioned. Reacting to the incident, Peter Sharwood-Smith, Nigeria Country Manager of a security firm, Drum Cussac, said Okonjo’s kidnapping is a risky strategy for the abductors. He said: “If it’s just a kidnap for ransom, then they’re not the smartest boys in the world”. The police believed that 80 per cent of kidnap cases have manifested insiders’ action.
Meanwhile, a source yesterday gave reasons the minister was staying back in Abuja. Contrary to security concern, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala may have been prevailed upon by her father, Obi Okonjo not to allow those behind the kidnap weaken her spirit because, being the first child, she is very close to her mother. The minister may have stepped on toes over the fuel subsidy probe. Obi Okonjo was said to have told the minister that his palace can handle the situation and that she should remain on duty. Hence, the minister attended the National Economic Council (NEC) and Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings held in Abuja early this week.
The source also confirmed that the family may have established contacts with the kidnappers, noting that details of the meeting cannot be unveiled for now, for security reasons. The Obi’s palace from where the gunmen whisked away Mrs. Okonjo last Sunday remained deserted except for security operatives and workers fixing the interlocking tiles. Palace sources yesterday faulted reports that the dare-devil abductors had reduced their ransom from $1 billion to N200 million.
Palace spokesman, Chief Lawrence Okolobi told Daily Sun on phone that “as far as the palace and the chiefs are concerned, we have not been contacted by anybody for ransom and we are not aware of any. I am reading about it from the papers that they are demanding this or that.” Chief Okolobi, described the invasion of the palace by the hoodlums as “a taboo. It is an abomination, those people don’t know the implication of what they have done. Nobody takes away the wife of the king, it does not happen anywhere, not even in Yorubaland.”
Meanwhile, as security agencies continued the search for clues as to the Queen Mother’s whereabouts, the state Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba, told a news conference yesterday that his command is beaming its searchlight on possible insider action. He said the situation has taken a sensitive dimension, hence the deployment of special detectives by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Abubaka to the state to complement the men on ground. According to him, “over 80% of recorded cases of kidnapping have manifested insiders’ action.
Against this backdrop, investigation is being extended to the members of the victim’s family, palace guards that are expected to be in place and of course, the Divisional Police Headquarters, Ogwashi-Uku for any obvious error or lapses.”
He urged monarchs in the state to fortify their local security apparatus, maintaining that the police were only playing “a complementary role. We have warned severally that monarchs should fortify their palaces. Mama Okonjo’s case is a sensitive one, it demands a duty we must do diligently.
Palace guards are very, very essential. Meanwhile, Aduba has raised the alarm about arms build-up in the state, saying that the police would continue to synergise with other security agencies to mop-up weapons and reduce criminality in the oil-rich state.
The police commissioner told reporters that the command has arrested 25 suspected kidnappers, armed robbers and pipeline vandals that have been terrorizing the state, saying that the syndicates were smashed alongside their herbalists. Aduba listed one Ugo, Adaeze, Okoro, Ndubuisi, Raphael, Birhirag, Akpokona, Itah, Tunika Mordi (aka Boro) and Mokwenye (first names withheld by us), as members of the gang terrorizing Illah/Ebu, Ekete in Ovwian, Asaba, the state capital, Ogwashi-Uku, where the Queen Mother was abducted, and its environs among terrorists recently arrested across the state.
He narrated how men of Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) foiled an attempt to blow off Otologu Gas Plant in Ughelli South Local Government Area by the hoodlums. “The SARS operatives on a tip-off, intercepted the commercial bus with which the hoodlums were conveying two dynamites, and thereafter arrested one Orere and Anoke”.
According to him, one locally-made revolver, 17 rounds of live ammunition, one cut-to-size locally-made double-barrel gun, one Barretta pistol ammunition (9mm), one assault rifle ammunition, one RAV 4 jeep marked . UF 27 KJA, victim’s sim-card already inserted into another handset, two cut-to-size single barrel gun, victim’s laptop and one double-barrel gun were recovered from the suspects.