Palace worker admits to aiding kidnappers of Okonjo-Iweala’s mother

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As the police continue to unravel the kidnapping of Professor Kanene Okonjo, the mother of the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, which took place last December, a former servant at the palace of the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku where the kidnapping took place has confessed to being the inside man on the job.

The suspect, Chiejine Onochie, admitted that he gave the kidnappers the necessary information to carry out the job. However, he said that he was not given anything out of the N13million paid as ransom for the release of the septuagenarian, and thus, could not be held liable.

He said, “I’m 32 years old and I worked in the palace from 2007 to 2012 after which I left because the pay was too little. A friend of mine approached me and told me that I could make a lot of money if I gave kidnappers information on how to get into the palace.

“However, after the operation, I did not get a dime. It was later that I learnt that they had collected N13m as ransom. I felt cheated and I left everything to God. I cannot be held for the crime because when police started arresting people, I went to report at the station voluntarily, I was not dragged to the station.”

One of the suspects who was paraded two days ago by the police, 22-year old Jideofor Ogbue, alias Marvellous, who claimed to be the gang leader, said Prof Okonjo was not forced out of the palace, but she followed them willingly after they claimed to have been sent by President Goodluck Jonathan.

He said, “It was my friend, Ifeanyi, that informed me about the operation. On the day of the kidnap, we had no difficulty because Onochie had told us that the security around the palace was lax. Although 12 of us were involved in the operation, only eight actually went to the palace.

“We went with three AK47 rifles and a pump-action rifle. When the woman (Okonjo) saw us, she asked who we were and we told her that President Goodluck Jonathan sent us from Abuja to arrest her because her daughter (Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) had embezzled public funds.

“We took her to Kwale and her family paid us N13m as ransom. They packaged the money in polythene bags and dropped it around an expressway in Benin. My share was N2m.”

Chukwuma Okoh, a suspect who claimed to be a graduate of Accounting and Finance from Ambrose Alli University, said he joined the gang because of unemployment. He said he was not given any money after the operation.

He said, “I’m 31 years old and I graduated in 2007. Since then, it has been hard to get a decent job. It was Onochie that brought the idea of kidnapping Okonjo-Iweala’s mother.

“However, as God is my witness, I did not receive a dime from the gang after the operation.”

The other suspects paraded by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Umar Manko, include Michael Ojeabulu, Endurance Oke, Ibrahim Abubakar, Buhari Hamadora and Hassan Oseni.

Manko said the suspects were arrested in different states comprising Edo, Enugu, Delta and Anambra, noting that kidnapping was not on the rise in Lagos as claimed in some quarters.

He said, “Marvelous was arrested in Port Harcourt after he had perfected plans to kidnap the Commissioner of Commerce in Anambra State.

“As you can see, these kidnappers do not operate in Lagos State, they just come and go. You therefore cannot say kidnapping is on the rise in Lagos.”

Meanwhile, the same gang of kidnappers also confessed to killing a 72-year-old woman, Regina Obi, after collecting a ransom of N2m from her family.

The suspects claimed that Obi was killed because one of their gang members was killed during a gun duel with the police some days earlier.

Onochie said, “After the first operation in which I was not paid, they approached me again for another operation and told me that they would pay me this time around. They said they needed information about the family of Obi, who owns a big hotel in Delta State.

“I traced the residence of their mother and told them how they could kidnap her. She sells land so I told the gang to tell her that they had a good deal and when she follows them to conclude transactions, they should kidnap her.”

Marvelous said he was not around on the day Obi was killed. He however said it was another gang member, Peter that pulled the trigger.

“We demanded N2m from the family and they paid immediately. However, because Peter’s brother had been killed during a police raid some days ago, he took the anger out on the old lady and killed her. I did not kill anybody; I’m a kidnapper, not a murderer,” he said.

The Herald NG is a leading newspaper in Nigeria at the forefront of the digital revolution.

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