from Africa in Transition

Nigerian Finance Minister’s Mother Kidnapped

December 10, 2012

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Wars and Conflict

Kamene Okonjo, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s mother, who is a medical doctor and the wife of a traditional ruler, was kidnapped on December 9, 2012. The kidnapping highlights a growing menace in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

Ten heavily armed men kidnapped Professor (Mrs.) Kamene Okonjo, wife of Professor Chukuka Okonjo, the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, from her home.  She is the mother of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.  The victim is eighty-two years old. The Coordinating Minister is unpopular among many Nigerians, so a political motive for the crime cannot be ruled out.  But, I think it is unlikely.

Kidnapping as a purely criminal enterprise has been on the upswing. Delta state, where the Minister’s mother lives, has been especially plagued with it. Victims are often individuals with the means to pay a ransom. When ransom is paid, the victims are released.  Kidnapping of expatriate oil company employees was a widely used tactic by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) during its insurrection that ended in 2009 with an amnesty program that included payoffs for the warlords.

The police are claiming that they are “on top of it” with respect to this high-profile kidnapping. Beyond the hurt and anxiety that this vicious crime is bound to cause the victim’s family, it will also embarrass the Jonathan administration, of which Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is such a prominent member.