Nigeria: President’s kidnapped advocate freed

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The national chairman of an independent campaign team mobilizing support for Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of forthcoming presidential elections has been released just three days after he was kidnapped.

Jhalil Tafawa Balewa, head of the group called “Goodluck Na Kowa” (meaning ‘Goodluck for all’ in Hausa), and who is allegedly the son of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first and only prime minister, was kidnapped on Friday in Abuja.

Three days after Balewa was confined in the forest in Katampe area, on the outskirts of Abuja, the Nigerian police on Sunday moved in on the abductors.

According to reports, an altercation ensued. Police spokesman Moshood Jimoh said there was a shoot-out between the abductors and the police until the kidnappers were overpowered. A number of suspects were wounded and arrested.

Observers believe there is a connection between Balewa’s role as an advocate for President Jonathan and his kidnapping, although kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Nigeria, and people are kidnapped indiscriminately.

According to Abuja police Chief John Haruna, the kidnappers had backing from suspects they refused to name. “These kidnappers are not acting solo… They demanded 100 million naira (661,000 dollars, 518,000 euros) and later reduced it to less than 10 million naira,” he told reporters.

Speaking briefly to reporters, Balewa said he was escaping from his abductors when the police intervened. “It was raining. I saw an opportunity and I took it. Then I saw policemen coming. I ducked. I did not know it was me they were coming to rescue,” he was quoted.

Despite Balewa’s support for President Jonathan to contest the January 2011 poll, President Jonathan still faces deep disagreements within his own Peoples Democratic Party over who should be their candidate.

However, some in the PDP overtly agree that President Goodluck Jonathan has the right to contest next year’s elections. Nonetheless some analysts say the debate on whether he is able to stand in the 2011 elections, due in January, has taken the urgency out of dealing with issues such as tackling corruption, the electricity crisis and electoral reform.

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