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