Thursday, 13 December 2012

News Report: Nigeria Arrests 63 In Hunt For Minister's Kidnapped Mother

Professor Kamene Okonjo

 Credit: Reuters
Nigeria's army said on Thursday that soldiers had arrested 63 people in raids as they searched for the finance minister's 82-year-old mother, kidnapped from her home on Sunday. It was still not known whether the abduction of Kamene Okonjo, mother of former World Bank director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in Delta state, was political or for financial gain.

"Yesterday the Four Brigade raided Ogwashi-Ukwu in search of Mama," army spokeswoman Roseline Managbe told Reuters. "Those arrested are being questioned," she added.

Africa's top oil producer has one of the world's most prolific kidnapping industries, yet Sunday's abduction shocked even residents of Delta state, thought to be Nigeria's worst.

Managbe said two Lebanese men working for Nigerian construction company Setraco had been abducted on Tuesday in Delta state by gunmen who killed a soldier protecting them. Residents of the Niger Delta oil region, where

Okonjo-Iweala's mother was abducted, live in fear of the near daily abductions that make millions of dollars in ransoms for gangs.

"It could be my turn tomorrow," said Tony Agwu, who lives near Okonjo's house.

"It's a terrible situation down here. The security agents in the Delta are compromised," he added, voicing the widely held view that security forces are often complicit.

The police said on Wednesday that two policemen have been arrested on suspicion of helping kidnappers.

Christmas Hostages:
Nigerians say December is the most dangerous month for kidnapping, when criminals need money to buy Christmas presents. The delta is no exception.

"Around this time, I start to get worried," said Shopia Oko-Akoko, a civil servant and mother of two in Bayelsa state, adding that she often looks over her shoulder entering her car.

"Many times I've seen cars following me. Once someone followed me on foot and I ran off in terror as he approached."

Okonjo's kidnapping is a risky strategy for the abductors. "If it's just a kidnap for ransom, then they're not the smartest boys in the world," said Peter Sharwood-Smith, Nigeria country manager of security firm Drum Cussac.

"Everybody else learned that you don't pick the most high profile. It's not worth it. This might not end well for them."

Nigerian forces have little tolerance for kidnappers, whom they often shoot on sight when they catch them as they did in November to 13 people suspected of abducting a Turkish man.

Cases of kidnapping in the Niger Delta exploded in around 2006, during the years of militancy by armed groups often targeting expatriate oil workers. An amnesty in 2009 officially ended militant activity, yet associated crimes, like oil theft from pipelines and abduction, have, if anything, worsened.

"Kidnapping is worse than during the militancy period, but it's mostly rich Nigerians who pay up and you never hear about it," Sharwood-Smith said.

Political motives have been suggested for the abduction. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's drive to reform a corrupt economy ruffled powerful vested interests, especially fuel importers.

A security source in Delta state said Okonjo was involved in local politics and seizing her may have been a scare tactic.

Either way, recruiting kidnappers is easy in a region where oil wealth sits along side mass unemployment.

"Whatever the motive, the main cause is joblessness," said Felix Osaduwe, a student in Delta state. "Get them jobs in a bank or a firm, there's no way they'll turn to kidnapping."

Videonews: Images Of N/Korea Rocket Launch

Report: Mo Ibrahim African Youth Report 2012

Africa is the only continent with a significantly growing youth population. In less than three generations, 41% of the world’s youth will be African. By 2035, Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s.

How do we ensure that Africa benefits from this imminent demographic dividend? How do we ensure that African youth will compete at the global level not only due to sheer numbers? What is the future that we are creating for our most precious resource?

Speech: UN Sec. Gen. Deplores N/Korea Rocket Launch

Ban Ki-Moon. UN Sec. Gen.

(Being speech by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Photo Exhibition in New York on 12 December, 2012)

We are nearing the end of another eventful year together.  In fact, even last night was quite eventful, as you know.  We will have time to discuss serious issues at my year-end press conference, which will be next Wednesday.  We will also have time to laugh and dance that same night at the annual UNCA gala.

But let me just say that I welcome the fact that the Security Council is discussing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  You will have seen my statement.  I really deplore today’s rocket launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  It was all the more regrettable because it defied the unified and strong call from the international community.  It is a clear violation of Security Council resolution 1874 (2009), in which the Council demanded that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not conduct any launch using ballistic missile technology.

I have been urging the leadership in Pyongyang not to carry out such a launch and instead to build confidence with its neighbours while taking steps to improve the lives of its people.  I am also concerned about the negative consequences that this provocative act may have on peace and stability in the region.  I urge the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to refrain from further provocative actions.  I am in close touch with key countries on this matter, and I will continue to monitor developments closely.

Let me come back to today’s event here.  I have to say this exhibition is becoming a tradition, and I enjoy it.  My schedule is so packed and events move so fast that it is easy to lose sight of where I’ve been and what has happened.  Seeing these images makes me stop and take another, closer look.  The photographs are beautiful, moving, fascinating.  I congratulate the winners.  Most of all, I thank all the photographers, and every single one of you, for covering the United Nations.

We will have some new stories to cover next year.  The return to the Secretariat building  my own office is moving over this coming weekend.  I wish you all well when your move takes place in the coming weeks.  And, of course, there will be the daily excitement and challenge that make the United Nations such an extraordinary place to work and, I hope, for you to cover.

Thank you again for welcoming me here.  My best wishes to you and your families for the holiday season.