The gunmen, who abducted Professor Mabel Kamene Titi Okonjo, the 82-year-old mother of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, reportedly mounted surveillance on the palace for about one week before they kidnapped her, Sunday.
The one-storey building with adjoining apartments for some family members and palace workers is located at an isolated area in Ogbe-Ofu in Ogwashi-Uku, Aniocha South Local Government Area of Delta State.
Investigations by Vanguard showed that security in the area inhabited by the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku, Obi Chukwuka Okonjo was porous and the kidnappers took advantage of it.
However, being aged people, the king and his wife, never thought there was anything kidnappers would want to do with them.
However, the state governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, yesterday, temporarily relocated his office from Asaba to the palace, where the queen mother, a retired professor of sociology,University of Nigeria, UNN, Nsukka and an indigene of Obomkpa in Aniocha North Local Government Area was kidnapped, to monitor and coordinate security interventions for her release.
Vanguard found out when our reporters visited the palace yesterday that men of the Nigeria Police Force, Army, Directorate of State Service, DSS, Customs and other security agencies have taken over the premises and laid siege to other parts of Ogwashi-Uku.
Governor Uduaghan, Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, Director of DSS, an Army chief and other top officials of the government held emergency security meeting in the palace to strategise on how to locate the kidnappers.
How they struck
The kidnappers, numbering about 10, were lurking around the palace until the 82-year-old woman and her maid came down to serve soft drinks to workers who were fixing interlocking tiles at the gate.
Eyewitness account said as soon as the woman came down from the main building, towards the gate, the criminals also moved in from the gate to grab and push her into a waiting Golf Volkswagen car.
According to an eyewitness, “the abductors, when they walked into the compound, were heavily armed. They were about 10. They ordered the men who were fixing the interlocking tiles lie face down. Immediately they saw her (the king’s wife who was coming towards the gate with her maid to serve the workers soft drinks) they bundled her into a waiting vehicle, a Golf car, while another car was parked outside”.
One of them, bracing all odds, went upstairs to collect the woman’s handbag. The eyewitness said another maid, who sighted the kidnapper upstairs hid in the kitchen.
The kidnapper informed his cohorts that there was no one else in the house and they zoomed off.
The police, however, arrested a man who allegedly left the compound few minutes before the incident took place.
The man was said to have informed the house cleaner that he was in the palace to take the queen mother to somewhere in the town.
Okonjo’s son blames security lapse for kidnap of mother
One of the children of the Okonjo family, Mr Onyema Okonjo, blamed security lapses for the kidnap of his mother, Prof. Kanenne Okonjo.
Onyema told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ogwashi-Uku that his mother was kidnapped on Sunday at her residence between 12 noon and 1 p.m. by 10 young men.
“There was no security when the kidnappers stormed the compound and nobody could dare people who are armed with guns. They came in two green Golf cars and it all happened very quickly.
“I think there were definitely some lapses in terms of security. It is not what it should have been, the people that were supposed to have been here were not here.
“This gave them the opportunity to do what they wanted to do, but at the end of the day; we really have to be prayerful.
“I think it is really a sad reflection of where we are as a society,” Onyema, the sixth in the line of seven children of the Okonjos, said.
He wondered why an octogenarian woman, a grand mother and great grand mother should be kidnapped. Onyema said that his father, Prof. Chukwuka Okonjo, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku and Okonjo-Iweala were on their way to Ogwashi-Uku when the incident happened.
The Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was being expected to fly in from Abuja yesterday.