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Kidnapped mother of Nigerian finance minister freed

December 14, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shown in July, has campaigned against corruption and has been the target of several threats.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, shown in July, has campaigned… (Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP / Getty…)

The kidnapped mother of the Nigerian finance minister has been freed, Nigerian officials said Friday, ending the search five days after the elderly retiree was seized outside her home in Delta state.

“The Okonjo family is full of thanks to the Almighty for this happy development,” Paul Nwabuikwu, an adviser to Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said in a Friday statement.

Few details were available about how Kamene Okonjo was returned. Nigerian police could not be reached by phone and did not immediately respond to an email from The Times seeking comment. A police spokesman told Nigerian radio that Okonjo was in good health.

While kidnappings are a frequent menace in the region, the seizure gained international attention because of its target. Okonjo-Iweala is a respected economist who was recently a candidate to lead the World Bank.

The finance minister has campaigned against corruption and recently halted payments to fuel importers to try to better confirm their claims for gasoline subsidies -- a popular program she once tried to stop.

Recent threats against the finance minister spurred questions of whether the kidnappers had a political bent or were simply seeking a financial ransom, a frequent driver of such crimes in Delta. Before her return, police reportedly had arrested 63 people in massive raids searching for Okonjo.

Delta Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan told the BBC that the kidnappers likely freed Okonjo because of the intense pressure.

"The army and police have been on their trail and a lot of raids have been done," he said. "I think because of the heat they dropped her off on the highway."

The crime drew renewed attention to the ongoing scourge of kidnapping in the southern Nigerian state, where police have been suspected of abetting the crime. Bloomberg reported that two police officers had been detained for alleged negligence in the Sunday abduction.

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