Chi­bok girls in tear­ful re­union with fam­i­lies ‘We had no food for 1 month but we didn’t die’

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

SOME of the 21 Nige­rian school­girls ab­ducted by the armed group Boko Haram have re­united with their fam­i­lies, fol­low­ing their re­lease after 30 months in cap­tiv­ity.

Cries of joy filled the room as the freed girls, who had been kid­napped along with more than 200 other pupils in the town of Chi­bok in April 2014, met their rel­a­tives in Abuja on Sun­day.

The girls were freed on Thurs­day, but it took days for most of the fam­i­lies to reach the cap­i­tal for the re­union.

At the meet­ing, the par­ents of one of the girls spoke of their ex­cite­ment at see­ing their daugh­ter.

“When we heard they found some of the girls, and that our daugh­ter was among them, we slept as if the day is not go­ing to break,” Muta Abana, a fa­ther of one of the Chi­bok girls, said.

“We wanted the day to break quickly, to see if the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to call us, to come and see that our daugh­ter was among them.”

Hawa Abana, the mother, said that Boko Haram ab­ducted her daugh­ter and hun­dreds of other school­girls, be­cause “they did not want them to suc­ceed in life”.

“By God’s grace she is back,” she said. “She will go back to school. Boko Haram has no power again.”

Eleanor Nwadi­nobi, women and girls man­ager at the Nige­ria Sta­bil­ity and Recog­ni­tion Pro­gramme, said the girls will now un­dergo treat­ment which must be tai­lored to in­di­vid­ual needs, in­clud­ing trauma coun­selling and health and nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments. “It is im­por­tant that they are not at­tended to in iso­la­tion,” she said.

“They will need in­di­vid­ual at­ten­tion as the needs of one girl will dif­fer from the other.”

Also on Sun­day, a pres­i­den­tial spokesman said a splin­ter branch of Boko Haram is now will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate the re­lease of 83 more of the girls.

“The fac­tion said it is ready to ne­go­ti­ate if the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to sit down with them,” Garba Shehu, spokesman for Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, told Reuters news agency.

Boko Haram seized 276 pupils from the Gov­ern­ment Girls Sec­ondary School in Chi­bok in north­east­ern Borno state on April 14, 2014. Fifty-seven man­aged to es­cape in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the ab­duc­tion, but nearly 200 other girls are still miss­ing. The deal for the re­lease of the girls was bro­kered by the Swiss gov­ern­ment and the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the ABUJA — Twenty-one of the over 200 miss­ing Chi­bok school­girls freed after be­ing held by Nige­ria’s Boko Haram Is­lamists for more than two years on Sun­day spoke of their or­deal as they were re­united with their fam­i­lies.

Dur­ing a Chris­tian cer­e­mony held for them in the cap­i­tal Abuja, a school­girl named Glo­ria Dame said they had sur­vived for 40 days with­out food and nar­rowly es­caped death at least once. “I was . . . (in) the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn’t hurt,” Dame told the con­gre­ga­tion.

“We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God,” she said, speak­ing in the lo­cal Hausa lan­guage.

The cer­e­mony was or­gan­ised by Nige­ria’s se­cu­rity ser­vices which ne­go­ti­ated their re­lease. Most of the kid­napped stu­dents were Chris­tian but had been forcibly con­verted to Is­lam dur­ing cap­tiv­ity.

The Chi­bok girls were ab­ducted in April 2014, draw­ing global at­ten­tion to the Boko Haram in­sur­gency en­gulf­ing the area when US First Lady Michelle Obama joined the #BringBack­OurGirls on­line move­ment.

Red Cross. Fol­low­ing their re­lease, they were then taken from the north­east­ern city of Maiduguri and flown to Abuja to meet state of­fi­cials.

On Thurs­day, Lai Mo­hammed, Nige­ria’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, de­nied re­ports that the state had swapped cap­tured Boko Haram fight­ers for the re­lease of the girls. He also said that he was not aware of any ran­som be­ing paid.

Mo­hammed said that a Nige­rian army op­er­a­tion against Boko Haram would con­tinue.

In re­cent days, the Nige­rian army has been car­ry­ing out an of­fen­sive in the Sam­bisa for­est, a strong­hold of Boko Haram.

The armed group con­trolled a swath of land around the size of Bel­gium at the start of 2015, but Nige­ria’s army has re­cap­tured most of the ter­ri­tory.

The group still stages sui­cide bomb­ings in the north­east, as well as in neigh­bour­ing Niger and Cameroon. —

Of the 276 girls ini­tially seized, scores es­caped in the hours after the kid­nap­ping, while another 19-year-old was found with her four-month-old baby ear­lier this year. The cer­e­mony was in­ter­rupted when the girls’ rel­a­tives ar­rived and were re­united with them. Tears flowed as they hugged their chil­dren.

“We can all see the joy and emo­tions of the par­ents,” In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Lai Mo­hamed said.

He said talks with the Is­lamists would con­tinue “un­til all the girls have been re­leased”.

“Very soon, another batch, big­ger than this would be re­leased,” Mo­hammed said.

De­spite win­ning back swathes of ter­ri­tory from the ji­hadists, Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari had faced in­tense crit­i­cism for fail­ing to re­cover the young cap­tives, who be­came the defin­ing sym­bol of Boko Haram’s bru­tal cam­paign to es­tab­lish a fun­da­men­tal­ist Is­lamic state in the coun­try.

The in­sur­gency has claimed more than 20 000 lives and dis­placed 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple from their homes since Boko Haram took up arms against the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment in 2009. — AFP

Mean­while, the Is­lamic State-al­lied fac­tion of Boko Haram has re­port­edly ex­pressed its will­ing­ness to ne­go­ti­ate the re­lease of 83 more Chi­bok girls after free­ing 21 of the more than 200 ab­ductees last week.

Ac­cord­ing to SABC, Pres­i­den­tial Spokesper­son Garba Shehu dis­closed the de­vel­op­ment, adding that the Nige­rian gov­ern­ment was will­ing to bro­ker a deal with the group.

The Is­lamist sect was al­leged to have split into two fac­tions after Abu Musab al-Bar­nawi was named leader of the sect by the Is­lamist State, spark­ing a back­lash from long-time leader Abubakar Shekau.

“The fac­tion said it is ready to ne­go­ti­ate if the gov­ern­ment is will­ing to sit down with them,” Shehu was quoted as say­ing.

The ISIS-al­lied splin­ter group said the rest of the kid­napped Chi­bok girls were with the part of Boko Haram un­der the con­trol of Shekau, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. — AFP

Shouts, kisses and cries of joy as re­leased Nige­rian girls meet their fam­i­lies after more than twoand-a-half years in cap­tiv­ity AFP

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