Nigerian finance minister's mother kidnapped

ABUJA Sun Dec 9, 2012 4:54pm EST

Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview with Reuters in her office in the capital Abuja August 24, 2012. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview with Reuters in her office in the capital Abuja August 24, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Kidnappers snatched the mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from her home in southeast Nigeria on Sunday, security sources and the minister's senior aide said.

The abductors took the septuagenarian Kamene Okonjo from the family home in Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, the minister's special adviser Paul Nwabuikwu said in a statement. Okonjo is the wife of the traditional ruler of Ogwashi-Uku.

"At this point, it is difficult to say whether those behind this action are the same people who have made threats against the Coordinating Minister (Okonjo-Iweala) in the recent past or other elements with hostile motives," he said.

"No possibility can be ruled out at this point."

A security source said it was not clear whether the motive was political or ransom-seeking. The source in Abuja said three people had already been arrested in connection with the kidnapping. He had no further details.

Nigeria is one of the worst countries in the world for kidnapping, a lucrative criminal enterprise worth millions of dollars a year. Abductions are most rife in the oil states, especially Delta state, where Okonjo-Iweala's family is from, but they are also common throughout the south, including in the commercial capital Lagos.

Kidnapping for political reasons is less common, though it does occur. Gangs operate throughout the Niger Delta, which is home to Africa's largest oil industry. The majority of people abducted are Nigerians but foreign oil and construction workers have also been frequent targets.

Local newspapers carry a story about a new kidnapping almost every day, often of professionals or relatives of politicians, but rarely anyone as high profile as the finance minister's mother.

"This is obviously a very difficult time for the entire Okonjo family. But the family is hopeful of a positive outcome as it fervently prays for the quick and safe return of the matriarch," Nwabuikwu said.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)

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