Mother of anti-corruption minister is released

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Kidnappers who held the mother of Nigeria’s finance minister for five days told their captive that her daughter must resign because she was blocking fuel subsidy payments, the minister has said.

Kamene Okonjo, the 83-year-old mother of the former World Bank director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was abducted in south-eastern Delta state on December 9 and freed following a large-scale military search.

Authorities did not say if the motive was political or for financial gain or whether they had captured the kidnappers.

Okonjo-Iweala has tried to root out corruption from a multi-billion dollar fuel subsidy scheme – creating many rich and powerful enemies in the process.

“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,” Okonjo-Iweala told reporters in Abuja yesterday.

“When she asked why, they told her it was because I did not pay oil subsidy money,” she added.

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, and is almost always done for ransom. Neither the authorities nor Okonjo-Iweala have said if a ransom was paid for her mother’s release.

President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to remove the fuel subsidies in January but was forced to partially reinstate them after more than a week of strikes brought the country to a standstill.

Several reports have since shown the subsidy scheme to be rife with corruption.