Parents eager to see 21 girls freed by Boko Haram
ABUJA, NIGERIA >> A group of Nigerian parents are waiting with excitement to be reunited with 21 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram 2½ years ago and freed in the first negotiated release organized by Nigeria’s government and the Islamic extremist group.
The girls were released Thursday and flown to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. It’s taken days for the parents to arrive from the remote northeastern town of Chibok, from which nearly 300 girls were kidnapped in an April 2014 mass abduction that shocked the world.
Tsambido Hosea Abana, the Chibok community leader in Abuja, said most parents arrived Sunday after driving hours over potholed roads, slowed by military checkpoints and the danger of attacks by the insurgents.
Abana said the girls were getting medical attention and trauma counselling in a hospital. Some are “emaciated” from hunger, he said.
“When we heard that they found some of the girls and our daughter was among them ... we wanted the day to break in a hurry to see if the government was going to call us to come see our daughter,” one father, Muta Abana, told The Associated Press.
Dozens of girls escaped from the militants in the first few hours after the kidnapping. With this week’s release, 197 still remain captive. The government says negotiations are continuing to win their freedom.
Abana, who has been living in Nasarawa state, which neighbors Abuja, was not without anxiety as many of the girls reportedly have been forced to marry Boko Haram fighters.
“Now our children are back, some of them came back with babies. But think about it, are we going to kill the children?” Abana asked, speaking in the Hausa language. “We won’t be able to kill the children because it would be as if we don’t want the girls to come back. God knows why it happened. It’s God’s will.”
There are conflicting reports about how the girls were freed, with two military officers telling the AP they were exchanged for four detained Boko Haram commanders, and a Nigerian who negotiated previous failed attempts saying a large ransom was paid by the Swiss government on behalf of the Nigerian authorities.
The officers and negotiator, who did not take part in the latest talks, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter with the press.
Abana Muta, left, and Hawa Abana, parents of Blessing Abana, one of the freed 21 Chibok schoolgirls, smile during an interview in Nasarawa, Nigeria, on Saturday.