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Nigerian Police Continue Search for Minister’s Kidnapped Mother

Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaks during an interview with Reuters in her office in Abuja, August 24, 2012.
Nigerian police are searching for the mother of Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala after armed men abducted her Sunday. Analysts say, even if the crime is apolitical, it could have a political fallout.

In addition to being a professor and the mother of one of Nigeria’s most prominent ministers, 82-year-old Kamene Okonjo is royalty, married to a traditional ruler in the oil rich Niger Delta.

Authorities say she was snatched from the palace on Sunday and all state security forces were quickly mobilized to find the Okonjo matriarch.

John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, says the kidnappers were most likely seeking cash.

"I would suspect that it’s part of the pattern of kidnapping that goes on in the Delta essentially for mercenary purposes-that it’s a criminal act," he said.

However, in this case Campbell says the kidnapers could have political designs, given the minister's fame. Early this year, Okonjo-Iweala was blamed when the fuel subsidy was cut, doubling and tripling prices of fuel and food and sparking nationwide protests. Months later, she was called the "daughter of Africa" as a World Bank presidential contender.

Nigeria is often called one of the worst countries for kidnapping in the world, with the business worth millions of dollars yearly.

Campbell says he cannot quantify kidnapping in Nigeria, but says it is a “major problem” that does not appear to be going away. He says, if Okonjo’s kidnappers have no political motive, the fact that she was taken will bolster critics who say President Goodluck Jonathan has failed to stop a breakdown in security nationwide.

"It could be taken by some as a successful effort to embarrass the Jonathan administration by kidnapping the elderly mother of a very prominent figure in his administration," he said.

The Finance Ministry says it has recently received threats, but does not know if they are connected to the kidnapping.