• Minister’s mum flown to Abuja
•Abductors declare war, target top shots
•Fear grips Christmas travellers
From PAUL OSUYI, Asaba
The Police yesterday sensationally explained how mother of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, was rescued from kidnappers’ den, in Asaba, Delta State. The 82-year-old Prof. (Mrs.) Kamene Okonjo, who was kidnapped in her husband’s palace in Ogwashi Uku, in Aniocha South Local Government Area, Delta State on Sunday regained freedom yesterday, after fierce search by security operatives made up of soldiers, policemen, civil defence corps and the Department of State Security.
However, there are conflicting reports over the release of Prof Okonjo. One version said the kidnappers had dumped her at Kwale Junction yesterday, from where the police picked her up, while the police claimed that she was rescued from the abductor’s den in Asaba. Revealing how Prof Okonjo regained freedom, Delta State Commissioner of Police, Ikechukwu Aduba, who spoke in a press conference in Asaba, yesterday, said that one suspect was killed in the rescue operation, while four others were arrested.
According to the police chief, “we felt very sad when Mama was kidnapped and of course, we swung into action and we are happy to announce that Mama has now been released. Right now, she is at home hale and hearty. She reunited with her family early this morning. Mama was brought in this morning with a bike.” Narrating how the rescue operation was carried out, CP Aduba said: “When we kick-started the operation, we knew their target, but we needed to be cautious and handle it professionally, considering the age of Mama.
We knew what could have happened if we had invaded or stormed the place initially. “We were able to identify the number one target, who masterminded the abduction. He is one Nwaeze Nwosa aka Bolaji, known to be a notorious kidnapper. He was arrested some couple of months ago before my arrival in the state. He was arraigned in court and was released on bail. He came to Asaba and continued the nefarious act, but this time around, he has met his waterloo.” According to Aduba, when men of his command, supported by a crack team from the Inspector General of Police special task force on terrorism, Abuja, arrived the hideout in Asaba, the hoodlums attempted to scale the fence.
“They jumped a very high fence. Our men had no option other than to obey the rule of engagement. They opened fire and shot him (Bolaji), but he continued. Eventually we got him and arrested him and he was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), where he gave up the ghost. Four of them were picked, including the deceased. The deceased and another notorious member called Bright have been indicted in connection with the abduction.
“These are bunch of terrorists because of the names they bear. They call one Hard Rock, another one is Tse-Tse fly and the other is Tipper Boy. You can imagine. We thank God we have gotten enough data to go after the other hoodlums.” Aduba said the Volkswagen Golf car with registration number ASB 697 AA, which the hoodlums allegedly used in abducting Okonjo-Iweala’s mum has been recovered. Also recovered, according to him, was a white Toyota Bus with registration number APP 64 XA. The bus marked, missionary with the bold inscription of ‘God’s Delight City Church International’ on both sides.
Before the bust of the gang, Saturday Sun gathered, the kidnappers were moving Prof Okonjo from one part of the state to another, in an attempt to smuggle her out of Delta. Meanwhile, Ogwashi-Uku remains calm yesterday, as residents appeared oblivious of the release of Prof Okonjo. When Saturday Sun visited, people were going about their normal business. The mood of the ancient town did not reflect the supposedly joy expected of people whose kidnapped queen had just regained freedom. “You can see that everywhere is calm, although I heard that they have released the woman.
Soldiers are everywhere; we are going about our lawful duties. No jubilation, but we thank God that she has been released,” a resident told Saturday Sun. The palace of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku and Prof Okonjo’s husband was deserted yesterday, except for the presence of armed security men on the road leading there. It could not be confirmed if the N200 million ransom requested by the kidnappers was paid to secure the freedom of Prof Okonjo, as those in the know kept mute on the issue. Speaking yesterday, Palace spokesman, Chief Lawrence Okolobi, Said: “Mama has been released. She is in the palace now. She came here on a bike this morning, but right now, the children have instructed that no member of the royal family should speak on the matter.”
Saturday Sun learnt, however, that Prof Okonjo has been flown to Abuja, through the Asaba Airport. Reacting to the release, the state Commissioner for Information, Chike Ogeah, described the development as “a thing of great joy. My heart is full of joy and the relief palpable for this runs contrary to all we hold dear as African in general and Midwestern Igbo in particular, where our culture is laced with respect for the elderly and where our traditional institutions are held in the highest esteem. “My prayer is that we shall never see anything like this again and our youth are admonished to retrace their steps from such hideous evil so as to avoid the wrath of God.
We give God all the glory for her safe return.” In a related development, a self-acclaimed human right lawyer, Omo Irabor, was arrested in Warri area of the state for allegedly attempting to bribe SARS operatives to affect the release of one Vincent Akpokona. Akpokona was said to have confessed his involvement in the kidnap of one Jerry Okolowa on December 3.
He was arrested on December 6 at Army Barracks, Effurun with the SIM card of the victim while trying to collect ransom. Irabor was said to have approached the SARS team investigating the matter and promised to offer the team the sum of N700, 000 to secure the release of the suspect, whose gang is still at large.
CP Aduba, who confirmed this, said the SARS team played along with the suspect and “true to his promise went to the team with the said N0.7m in company of the relations of the suspect and he was subsequently placed under arrest.