Thirty months in Boko Haram captivity, 21 girls breathed the air of freedom yesterday after they were seized from the Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State. Most of the Chibok girls as they were called, returned pregnant, while others are already mothers. About 276 girls were abducted from their dormitory in the night of April 14, 2014. As they returned yesterday, 19 parents of the girls have died from the trauma of their wards’ incarcerations.
The Presidency confirmed the girls’ release after being briefed by the Department of State Services (DSS), saying their names would be released soon. President Muhammadu Buhari was briefed before his departure for Germany yesterday.
The girls’ release was a product of negotiation involving the Federal Government, Swiss authorities, the International Red Cross Society and Boko Haram representatives. In fact, the girls were addressed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at Aso Villa, Abuja, yesterday.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu confirmed the negotiation.
The latest success came after the international intervention of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, he said.
“The release of the girls, in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government,” a statement issued by Garba said, adding that the talks will continue. Although sources claimed the girls were swapped for four Boko Haram insurgents, whose identities wet unknown, but the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, denied such deal.
However, the insurgents had earlier demanded the release of members held by the government, as a condition for freeing the girls.
How they were released
Sources said the exchange took place Wednesday night when Nigerian military officials, alongside personnel of United Nations, Red Cross and National Emergency Management Agency, conveyed four Boko Haram militants by chopper to Banki, a border town in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State.
There, 21 released girls were picked up. The girls were brought into Maiduguri Air Force base at about 8.30a.m.
The sources said most of the girls had babies.
Many residents of Maiduguri were woken by the sounds of aircraft hovering in the air yesterday morning.
“We welcome reports from the presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, of the negotiated release of 21 of our abducted #ChibokGirls,” today read a statement by the group.
“This wonderful development confirms what we have always known about the capacity of our government to rescue our #ChibokGirls.
“While awaiting further details, we take this opportunity to salute the work of our security services at the front lines — the commitment, resilience and tireless efforts of our members of the Multi-national Joint Task Force and the civilian JTF. We also thank the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Swiss government and all negotiators involved in securing the release.
Also, a leader of the BBOG and former Education Minister, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, said, “she can only cry and weep”.
Ezekwesili, –vilified by the government and security agencies for continuously leading protests to the presidential villa –could not hide her joy.
“I can only weep, right now. You know that kind of cry that is a mix of multiple emotions. Lord. Some of OUR Girls ARE BACK!!! B. A. C. K.!!,” she tweeted.
“As WE @BBOG_Nigeria wait for FG and #ChibokParents identification of OUR 21 #ChibokGirls, THANK YOU, LORD. THANK YOU, @MBuhari .Thank you.”
Ezekwesili added that even though it was 4am in the part of the United States that she was, she could no longer sleep.
“It is 4am in California and I can no longer sleep. Join me in singing the words of Psalm126… “When the Lord turned again the CAPTIVITY…”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government yesterday assembled a team of medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, trauma experts among others to properly examine the 21 girls.
In denying the swap deal, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who confirmed the release at a press conference in Abuja yesterday, revealed that the DSS in collaboration with a friendly European country, renowned international humanitarian organization and supported by the military pursued the leads directed by President Buhari.
While insisting that there was no swap deal for the released girls, the minister maintained that it was as a result of the confidence building that has existed overtime and interventions from friendly countries and organisations.
He noted that the assemblage of the experts is to ascertain the state of the health of the released girls disconnected after speeding over 900 days in captivity, stressing: “The first thing we are going to do is to see what is the state of their health and mind before anything else. The parents will also identify them before they will be finally released to them.”
“We can confirm that 21 of the girls were released, safely, to us by 5.30 on Thursday morning and they were flown to Kaduna from the location of their release.”
“This is the most glaring manifestation to date of the unwavering commitment of Mr. President to secure the safe release of the girls and reunite them with their families. It is also a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the administration to put a closure to the sad issue of the kidnap of the girls.
“The released girls will land in Abuja. However, ahead of their arrival, we have assembled a team of medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, trauma experts, etc to properly examine them, especially because they have been in captivity for so long.”
No swap deal
Refuting the impression that there was a swap deal, the Information Minister said: “I repeat, this is not a swap deal but a release effected because over time, we succeeded in confidence building. It was possible because we use friendly countries and organisations in this process. It is not also true that they were released in exchange for any freed four Boko Haram members. This particular release is very significant because it is the first step in what we believe will lead to the eventual release of the remaining school girls.”
On the continuation of military operation despite the release, he said: “When you are fighting insurgency, it is a combination of carrot and stick. The release of these girls does not mean the end to military operations but it could also mean a new phase in the conduct of the war against terrorism.
“On the impression that the whole thing about Chibok girls is a farce, I want to say that you can only wake up a man who is sleeping not the one pretending to be sleeping.
“There is nothing we can do or say to convince those who have made up their minds that the whole thing is a sham. However, the parents of these girls are the major stakeholders and the ones that matter not the opinion of anybody,” he said.
19 parents die
Meanwhile, about 19 parents of the girls will never see their daughters again.
Last year, a village near Chibok was under siege from Boko Haram. Seven fathers of the kidnapped girls were among 51 bodies taken to Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari, said a health worker who declined to be named for fear of reprisals .
Community leader, Pogu Bitrus, also said at least, four more parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses.
“One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him,” said Bitrus.
In May 2016, Ayama Pogu, a retired Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) said his wife died as a result of the emotional trauma she suffered following the abduction of their daughter, Margaret. Pogu said although he was optimistic about reuniting with his daughter, some of the abducted girls might never be rescued. “Even if the children were to return, I am of the view that not all of them will come back in one piece,” Pogu said.
Just last month, a member of Kibaku Area Development Association (KADA), Chibok, Borno State, Dr. Allen Manasseh, said yesterday in Abuja that four of the 19 parents were killed by the terrorists in subsequent attacks that occurred after the abduction of the girls.
He said the remaining 15, including Mrs. Paul Lalai, whose twin daughters were among the abducted girls, died of trauma. “Yes, 19 of the parents have died since the abduction of the girls,” he said.
Names of the freed Chibok girls