The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Monday accused indicted petroleum products marketers of masterminding the recent kidnap of her mother, Kamene Okonjo.
She however refused to name any of the indicted marketers suspected to have sponsored the dastardly act, saying: “I can’t give all the details, because we don’t want to compromise on-going investigations.”
The octogenarian wife of the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku, Chukuka Okonjo, was abducted from her home in Delta State and forcefully taken captive on Sunday, December 9, by gunmen.
Though the retired Professor of Sociology regained her freedom last Friday, five days after she was seized by her abductors, her daughter, who spoke on the circumstances of her old mother’s ordeal, said she was exposed to both mental and psychological torture throughout the period.
“Apart from the emotional trauma of being violently taken away from her family and kept incommunicado for five days in a strange environment, a woman of 83 years was left without food for five days,” the minister told reporters.
“While she was in their custody, the kidnappers spent much of the time harassing her. They told her that I must get on the radio and television and announce my resignation. When she asked why, they told her it was because I did not pay “Oil subsidy money”.
“They also said I had blocked payment of money to certain components of theSURE-P programme,” Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala added.
The Minister, who recounted the trauma her mother went through in the hands of her captors, told reporters that all the accusations against her were false and unfounded.
“I just want to clarify that in the case of payment for oil subsidy money, we have been paying marketers who have been verified by Aig Imoukhuede Committee that their transactions are clean,” she said. “We have done that and will continue to do that. For marketers whose transactions are proven to be fraudulent, the position of the Jonathan government is also clear: we cannot and we will not pay. We will not back down on this. We will continue to stand firm. I think this is what Nigerians want.”
The minister added that “Nigerians want that only honest people who have been doing transactions are paid and we have been doing that. Those transactions that have not been verified, or where it is showing that the marketers are owing government money, the government position is that we would not be able to pay.”
On the SURE-P programme, the minister said it follows a totally different process that is beyond the control of her office, adding that “with the special committee set up, they do not come via the normal Ministry of Finance. It goes through other processes over which I do not have control,”
Elaborating on her mother’s five-day ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala described her as “a very courageous woman that God was with”.
“Let me tell you that she suffered a great deal. So when I say that God has performed a miracle, you can understand what I mean. She was taken away and kept for five days without food or water and for an 83-year old woman it’s a miracle.
“She came back to us and she is alive and doing well. My father, the Obi of Ogwashi Uku, Professor Okonjo and my mother want to use this medium to express their sincere thanks to Nigerians and gratitude to Almighty God that she came out of this ordeal.
“While she was there, she kept asking what the kidnap was all about, and they told her that her daughter did not pay oil subsidy money and was also blocking payment of certain parts of the SURE-Programme. Those were the two things that were said,” the minister stated.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, who appeared grief-stricken all through her briefing, used the occasion to condole with Nigerians on the death of the Kaduna State Governor,Patrick Yakowa; and the former National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, describing their deaths as a great loss to the country.
She thanked God for the miracle of returning her mother, saying it was the prayer of many Nigerians that came through for them
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala did, however, not comment on whether ransom was paid for her mother’s release or not.