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Nigeria on Edge


New Details on Kamene Okonjo Kidnapping

January 3rd 2013


The Nigeria media is supplying new details on the December 10 kidnapping of the mother of Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The media reports that the Minister’s family paid a ransom of between N10 to N11 million (U.S. $64 to $70 thousand), and that the kidnappers were an organized gang that numbered ten.

The minister has told the press that the kidnappers told her mother she had been kidnapped because of the minister’s policies concerning oil subsidy payments.  If the kidnappers were telling the truth, then the crime had a political dimension as well as a mercenary one.

According to the minister, the kidnappers complained about the government’s disbursement of fuel subsidy payments and about certain aspects of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).  Both were outcomes of President Goodluck Jonathan’s effort to eliminate the popular petroleum subsidy in January 2012. 

In the aftermath of demonstrations against the elimination, Jonathan restored about half of the subsidy. He established SURE-P to make use for the public good the money the government saved from the elimination of half of the petroleum subsidy. The government also tightened its regulation of the payments it makes to oil traders for the remaining fuel subsidy. Apparently, the kidnappers were complaining about both. According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, regulation of payment of the fuel subsidy falls under her ministerial responsibility, but not SURE-P, which has a separate administration.

According to the minister, the kidnappers held her mother under shocking conditions: “She was taken away and kept for five days without food or water. For an eighty-three-year old woman, it is a miracle. So when I said God has performed a miracle you know what I am talking about.”

Some of the Nigerian media is highly critical of the government’s failure to bring kidnapping under control: the Vanguard in an editorial on December 16 commented, “it was an open secret that the police were tossed aside by the [Army and Directorate of State Service] in the search for Okonjo-Iweala’s mother and… it affected the investigations.”

The army, rather than the police appears to have taken the lead in searching for the kidnap victim. It arrested sixty-three suspects, all have since been released. At present, the Nigerian press reports the arrest of eight of ten new suspects.

John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies writes for the Council on Foreign Relations

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