Nige­ria’s freed Chi­bok girls, fam­i­lies cel­e­brate

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

CHI­BOK:

A group of 21 Chi­bok school­girls freed by Boko Haram mil­i­tants in Oc­to­ber af­ter two-and-a-half years in cap­tiv­ity in north­east­ern Nige­ria were cel­e­brat­ing a “mir­a­cle” yesterday as the girls prepared to re­turn to their fam­i­lies for Christ­mas.

The girls were re­leased af­ter Switzer­land and the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross bro­kered a deal with the Is­lamist fight­ers and have been held in a se­cret lo­ca­tion in the cap­i­tal Abuja for as­sess­ment and de­brief­ing by the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment. But the freed girls are being taken back to Chi­bok in Borno state to spend Christ­mas and New Year with their fam­i­lies, go­ing home for the first time since being seized from their school, sev­eral of their rel­a­tives told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

The kid­nap­ping of more than 200 school­girls from Chi­bok in April 2014 sparked global ou­trage and prompted global fig­ures, in­clud­ing US First Lady Michelle Obama and a list of celebri­ties, to sup­port a cam­paign #BringBack­OurGirls. One of the girls, As­abe Goni, de­scribed her re­lease as a “mir­a­cle” and, in the first in­ter­view by one of the 21 girls to in­ter­na­tional media, said she was happy to be go­ing home. “I had given up hope of ever go­ing home,” Goni, 22, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion by phone from the city of Yola where the 21 girls stayed overnight be­fore set­ting off to Chi­bok with two other freed girls and state of­fi­cials on Fri­day.

Danc­ing and singing in her home in Chi­bok, Goni’s grand­mother Ngo­b­iko Mu­tar could not con­tain her joy as the fam­ily prepared for her ar­rival. “I didn’t think I would ever see her again,” Mu­tar said, while Goni’s young rel­a­tives baked a cake to wel­come her home. The girls were ex­pected to re­turn to Abuja in the New Year to con­tinue a “restora­tion process”, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment sources.

They will be joined in Chi­bok by two other girls ab­ducted from the school in April 2014 who were res­cued ear­lier this year. This in­cludes Amina Ali, the first of the miss­ing girls to be found, who was lo­cated in a for­est with a baby and a man claim­ing to be her hus­band in May.

Her dis­cov­ery put the dis­ap­pear­ance of the girls back into world head­lines and Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has pledged to en­sure the re­lease of the re­main­ing girls in cap­tiv­ity. Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties are in­volved in ne­go­ti­a­tions aimed at se­cur­ing the re­lease of more of the girls, the pres­i­dent’s spokesman said on Thurs­day on com­ments posted on Twit­ter.

Goni said the Chi­bok girls who were not re­leased wept when the group of 21 was freed, but they were con­soled by Boko Haram mil­i­tants and told that they would go home one day.

Boko Haram has killed more than 15,000 peo­ple, dis­placed over two mil­lion and kid­napped hun­dreds of men, women and chil­dren dur­ing a sev­enyear in­sur­gency aimed at cre­at­ing an Is­lamic state. Nige­ria’s army has driven the mil­i­tants back to their base in Sam­bisa for­est, Boko Haram’s vast north­east­ern wood­land strong­hold, in re­cent months but they still stage sui­cide bomb­ings, of­ten us­ing young girls to carry out the at­tacks. — Reuters

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