Some of the schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram militants from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014, refused to be part of a group of 82 girls freed at the weekend, one of the negotiators involved in the release said on Monday.
After over three years in captivity, 82 of the schoolgirls were released out of the more than 200 students, who were still in the terrorists’ captivity in exchange for some detained Boko Haram’s suspects.
In October last year, 21 of the kidnapped girls were released in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross while 113 of the girls are believed to be still held in captivity by the terrorists.
A legal practitioner and mediator, Zannah Mustapha, said some of the abducted girls refused to join the train to freedom, fuelling fears that they had been radicalised by the jihadists, and might be afraid, ashamed or even too powerful to return to their old lives.
“Some girls refused to return. I have never talked to one of the girls about their reasons,” said 57-year-old Mustapha, who acted as an intermediary in the latest negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, while speaking with Reuters.
“As a mediator, it is not part of my mandate to force them (to return home).”
A Nigerian psychologist, Fatima Akilu, believed that the girls might preferred to identify with their captors instead of embracing freedom.
“They develop Stockholm syndrome, identify with captors and want to remain,” said Akilu, who has run deradicalisation programmes for Boko Haram militants and women abducted by them.
“Some are afraid of what to expect, the unknown. We don’t know how much influence their husbands have in coercing them not to go back,” added Akilu, head of the Neem Foundation, a non-profit group aimed at countering extremism in Nigeria.
Mustapha explained that future talks between the government and the sect would extend beyond the release of the remaining Chibok girls in captivity and focus on negotiating peace in the conflict-hit North-East.
His role as a mediator dates back to 2007, when he founded the Future Prowess Primary School in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
When conflict broke out in 2009, the school remained open and was said to have even enrolled those children born to Boko Haram fighters.
He added, “We are not just talking; we are still actively working towards peace.
“Even though we have got (some of) the girls back, I don’t feel we have made much progress. After the (release of) the 21 girls, how many hundreds have been killed by suicide bombings?”
“While Boko Haram may indeed hold out in releasing all of the hostages to maintain some form of leverage, the reality is that the girls have limited value to the sect outside of public relations capital and are likely placing a strain on resources.”
Why release of 82 girls was suspended by sect
Media reports about the 21 Chibok girls released in October 2016, caused the delay in the release of their 82 colleagues, who were left off the hook on Saturday, The PUNCH has learnt.
A competent source told our correspondent on condition of anonymity on Monday that the arrangement between the Boko Haram sect leaders and the Federal Government negotiators was that the release of the 21 girls on October 13, 2016 should be kept secret.
The source added, “Unfortunately, I guess somebody who was part of the process was excited at the release of the girls and broke the news to an online medium. The government had no choice but to confirm the development against the wish of the sect leaders.
“With that development, which was seen in the Boko Haram camp as a betrayal of trust, they also refused to release the 82 girls the following Saturday as agreed earlier.”
Jonathan okayed exchange of B’Haram commanders for Chibok girls in 2014 –PDP faction
Meanwhile, the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led Peoples Democratic Party has said the move to swap detained commanders of the Boko Haram sect for the Chibok girls was initiated by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2014.
The Deputy National Chairman of the party, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, said during a press briefing in Abuja, on Monday, that it was appropriate for the government to do everything to secure the release of the abducted girls.
He urged the government to put in more efforts to negotiate the release of the remaining girls in the captivity of the insurgents.
Ojougboh was reacting to the statement by the Senator Ahmed Maikarfi-led National Caretaker Committee of the PDP criticising the exchange of the Boko Haram detainees for the girls.
Ojougboh claimed that the Ijaw National leader, Chief Edwin Clark, nominated him into a government team to negotiate the release of the Chibok girls in May 2014 following the intervention on an unnamed World Bank Consultant, who suggested to Clark that the girls could be rescued at the time.
He said the government team at the time comprised the then Director-General of the Department of State Services, Ita Ekpeyong; the then Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh; the former Chief Security Officer to Jonathan, the late Gordon Obua, and himself.
According to him, the government team negotiated with some people contacted by Senator Shehu Sani and a top Borno businessman and school owner, whose identity he did not disclose.
He said that after a series of meetings with the negotiating team for the insurgents, they requested that 10 of their members, who were arrested in Bauchi while observing prayers, should be released for the girls.
Ojougboh added, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud today to tell you that I was the one who was nominated to negotiate the release of the Chibok girls.
“And we held a series of meetings, the International Red Cross, the Embassy of Switzerland; we took these representatives of the Boko Haram to the international Red Cross, and to the Ambassador of Switzerland, they gave us time, they studied what information we had and they approved it.
“We took the information to Mr. President and Mr. President said that whatever it would take to release the Chibok girls, any swap that these people demand, he approved it. Jonathan approved it.
“So to say that the swap of Boko Haram girls with prisoners is not necessary, I will tell you that it was PDP government that initiated it.”
He added that a Borno State indigene got wind of the moves to release the girls and sabotaged the efforts while the government team, comprising some female doctors from the DSS and him, were waiting to perfect the deal.
Ojougboh urged Nigerians to discountenance the concerns expressed by the Makarfi faction, who he said should not issue any statement on behalf of the PDP.
FG slams PDP over Chibok girls’ comment
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has berated the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party for its comment on the release of 82 of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
The government added that the PDP lacked the moral right to comment on the issue.
The PDP faction had, on Sunday, criticised the Federal Government for freeing some Boko Haram suspects in exchange for the Chibok girls.
However, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said in a statement on Monday that the PDP, under whose watch the girls were kidnapped, should bury its head in the sand.
Mohammed stated, ‘‘Since the PDP failed – as it did in everything – to rescue even one of the Chibok girls, the party should hold its peace while this administration continues to seek the release of all the abducted girls, using every means at its disposal, in addition to working assiduously to end all Boko Haram hostilities.”
He said prisoner exchange was a common practice across the world including in the United States and Israel.
He added, “In his inaugural address, President Muhammadu Buhari said the administration could not claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls. He also said this government would do all it could to rescue them alive.
‘‘If that includes swapping some Boko Haram elements for the girls, so what? Will the PDP rather have the girls stay in perpetual captivity, just to prove a ludicrous point?
‘‘A lot of factors come into play when a nation has to decide whether or not to engage in prisoner/hostage swap. None, however, trounces the sanctity attached to human life and the consideration for the pains of the loved ones of those involved.”
Released girls to undergo spiritual rehabilitation –Presidency
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, has said the released Chibok schoolgirls will undergo several months of spiritual, psychological and physical rehabilitation before they are reunited with their families.
Adesina said this during a live television programme on Channels Television, ‘Sunrise Daily’.
He also revealed that the 21 schoolgirls that were rescued in October last year had yet to be fully re-integrated with their families.
When asked to explain why the girls had yet to be returned to their parents, he said, “It is because the rehabilitation and re-integration is a process. Since they came back, they have undergone physical rehabilitation, spiritual rehabilitation, psychological reconditioning, meeting with their families and going on holiday with their families.’’
When asked if it was the same programme the rescued 81 girls would undergo, Adesina said it was likely.
He added, “It is most likely but as you progress, you know you may add and subtract but most likely, it is going to be the same process but from some lessons learnt from the 21, there may be improvements with the 82.”
Tinubu hails Buhari, seeks release of remaining girls
In his reaction, a National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has congratulated Buhari and security agencies on the release of the girls.
Tinubu, who said the release showed the President’s commitment to reunite the girls with their families, urged the government to ensure the freedom of the remaining victims from the den of the Boko Haram terrorists.
The former Lagos State governor, in a statement on Monday, also called for proper care for the freed girls so they could keep behind them the sad experience they had gone through.
“The freeing of the girls shows that President Buhari has kept his eye on the true objective; that is to reunite families and communities under the reign of peace and rule of justice so that northern Nigeria, and for that matter, all Nigeria, may begin to rebuild in a way that brings a decent life and a taste of enduring prosperity to all Nigerians.
“Moreover, we must not forget the girls still held by Boko Haram and we must not forget the grief of their families. We owe it to them to press forward until all the girls have regained their freedom and family and Boko Haram is so defeated that it may never again be able to do what it did in Chibok.”
But a chieftain of the APC in Ekiti State, Kayode Ojo, has commended Buhari and security agencies for the release of the 82 Chibok girls.
In a statement in Ado Ekiti, on Monday, the governorship hopeful expressed delight with the development, congratulating the parents of the girls and Nigerians at large for the unprecedented achievements.
Ojo called on Nigerians to stop politicising the health of the President.
“In advanced clime, issue like this (health) is not politicised, because it is considered to be a time for sober reflection. The President is the symbol of a nation and whatever happens to him would automatically take a toll on the country,” he stated.
Freed girls undergoing test in National Hospital
Also, the Federal Government has promised to ensure that the recently released Chibok girls recover “their health and well-being.”
A statement by the Director of Press and Public Relations in the Ministry of Health, Boade Akinola, said the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, gave the assurance on Monday, when he visited the girls at the National Hospital in Abuja.
“We are going to take care of you so that you can go out and live productive lives again. We are at your service; it is our job to help you. Please, do not hide anything from us,” Adewole was quoted as saying.
My daughter’s abduction caused my wife’s death
Mr. Pogu Yama, one of the parents of the rescued Chibok schoolgirls, Margaret Yama, has recalled his bitter experience during his daughter’s three-year abduction.
The distressed father, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Monday, said Margaret’s abduction caused the death of his wife in 2015, adding that he was anxiously waiting to see his daughter.
He stated, “Yes, my daughter is among those newly released. I have not yet received any call from Abuja or contacted by the government.
“My son is in Nyanya, Abuja, also to monitor events. He confirmed to me that Margaret is among the girls released. He said he had seen her lookalike on the television.
“I want to see her. My wife is dead. She died in 2015 as a result of worries over Margaret’s abduction. She died on June 4, 2015.”
Also, a leader of the Kibaku Area Development Association, which superintends the Chibok community, Dr. Manasseh Allen, said some parents of the freed Chibok girls had yet to know that their daughters had been released.
He said, “Some of the parents of the freed girls are not even in the know that their daughters have been found. They are not in a place where they can access information.
“I have verified those names, but they are full of spelling errors. This is why we feel the government should work with the Chibok community to clarify all these areas.”
The spokesperson for the BringBackOurGirls campaigners, Sesugh Akume, said, “It is not unusual that the Federal Government would leave the parents of the recovered girls in the dark. During the third anniversary, we had to struggle at the Aso Rock Villa to see the President.
“You and I know that the government had had the names of the 82 girls since Saturday. We are not complaining but things are so upside down, that we sometimes think we are the ones who are not okay.”
Chibok parents hail Buhari, say FG yet to contact relatives
A guardian of one of the missing Chibok girls, Mr. Yahi Dwata, has commended Buhari for the release of 82 schoolgirls.
Dwata said this during a telephone interview with our correspondent on Monday.
He identified two girls, Comfort Bulus and Ramatu Yaga, as his relatives.
He said, “The girl identified as number 59 (Comfort Bulus) is my niece. Her father is late and I am her guardian. The girl, who is number 60 on the list (Ramatu Yaga), is my cousin’s daughter.
“The Federal Government has not yet reached out to us. Not a single government agency has contacted us. I have spoken to members of the family and Chibok community leaders; so, we are trying to see if we can all move down to Abuja.
“It is a welcome development and I must commend the President. We are happy that Buhari has not forgotten the promises he made and we are hoping that the remaining 113 girls will be released. We ask God to continue to give Buhari strength to continue.”
The Chairman of the Chibok Community in Abuja, Hosea Tsambido, lamented that the parents of the girls had not been contacted.[Punch]