Kidnappers free Nigeria minister's mother: officials

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 14, 2012 7:57 AM

ABUJA (Reuters) - Kidnappers freed the 82-year-old mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Friday, five days after she was taken from her home in the southeastern state of Delta, security officials said.

"She has been released this morning .... She was brought to her husband's palace unhurt on a bike," Delta state Police Commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba said of Kamene Okonjo, who was kidnapped on Sunday in oil-producing Delta state.

He declined to give further details. It was not clear if the abduction of Okonjo was political or for financial gain. Her daughter has served twice as finance minister and was also a director at the World Bank.

A spokeswoman for the Nigerian army in Delta state, Captain Roseline Managbe, said security forces found her "wandering around Kwale road and (she) was picked by a motorcyclist and brought unhurt to her husband's palace at Ogwashi-ukwu."

Okonjo, a professor, is the wife of a traditional ruler in Delta state.

Nigeria's army said on Thursday that soldiers had arrested 63 people during the search for Okonjo.

Kidnapping is rife in Africa's top oil producer, making millions of dollars a year for criminal gangs. It is common across the south, especially in the Niger Delta where Okonjo was abducted.

Gunmen kidnapped two Lebanese men working for Nigerian construction company Setraco on Tuesday in Delta state, also killing a soldier protecting them. Managbe said there was no further news about them yet.

Kidnappings tend to surge in December, when the criminals need money for year-end festivities.

Political motives were possibly behind Okonjo's abduction, according to a security source in the Delta. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's drive to reform a corrupt economy ruffled powerful vested interests, especially fuel importers, and her mother was involved in local politics.

Nigerian authorities never discuss whether or not ransoms are paid.

The police said on Wednesday that two policemen have been arrested on suspicion of helping kidnappers.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jason Webb)