- Girls were starved for 40 days, narrowly escaped bomb blasts
- IBB: Hope not lost for others
By Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja and Laleye Dipo in Minna
It was a torrent of emotions during a special thanksgiving service held yesterday at the Department of State Services (DSS) health facility, when the 21 Chibok girls released from captivity reunited with their parents, family and friends for the first time in more than two years since their abduction by Boko Haram from their school dormitory.
One weeping, overjoyed mother even wrapped her daughter around her back, reenacting a period when she backed her daughter as a baby and toddler almost two decades ago.
Representing the federal government was the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who termed the reunion a “day of joy”.
The 21 girls were released on Thursday following negotiations by the DSS in collaboration with the Swiss Government and the Nigerian military, on behalf of the federal government, with the leadership of Boko Haram.
Presidency sources reliably informed THISDAY that the federal government was forced to part with an undisclosed amount of money to secure the release of the 21 girls, while negotiations continue for the release of another 83.
Unfortunately, the fate of 114 other girls remains in the balance, as they are believed to have been either killed, married off, or radicalised and have no desire to return to their families.
THISDAY gathered that the families of the 21 girls left Chibok town in Borno State by road in two buses on Friday and arrived Abuja on Saturday night, and were reunited with the girls at the DSS health facility yesterday.
One of the girls, Gloria Dame, who spoke on behalf of her classmates in an emotionally laden voice, said: “We stayed for one month and 10 days without food. I narrowly escaped a bomb blast in the forest. We never knew there would be a day like this but God has made it possible for us.”
Gloria, who spoke in Hausa, appealed to Nigerians and the international community to continue to pray for the speedy release of her remaining colleagues still in captivity.
Dr. Shiktra Kwali, who delivered the sermon during the interdenominational service, told the girls that as they start a new life in freedom, they should not allow the experience of the past to weigh them down, and urged them to remain steadfast in their service to the Lord, who did not forsake them even in captivity.
Several ministers of God, including the President of the Church of Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), Reverend Joel Bilili, also offered prayers for the girls.
The information minister said the reunification was a day the world had been waiting for, saying: “It is day of joy.”
He promised that the federal government would continue to negotiate to secure the release of the remaining girls and appealed to the public against making careless statements that could truncate the rescue operation.
“There are many reckless analysts and commentators who are not helping the situation. We still have many of our children in captivity. Therefore we have to be careful with the kind of comments that we make.
“We must not make comments that will make the release of these girls difficult or impossible,” he said.
Mohammed, who quoted from the scriptures, saying: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” noted that those who doubted the sincerity and commitment of the present administration to the safe release and reunion of the abducted Chibok girls with their parents were disappointed.
“When the president said that the Boko Haram saga will not be closed until all the girls abducted have been released and reunited with their families safely, those who doubted did not believe us, so we thank God this day has come,” he added.
The minister also appealed to the parents of the girls whose daughters remain in captivity to continue to persevere, saying: “This is the beginning and we are very optimistic that very soon another batch bigger than this will be released. I want to assure you that these negotiations are ongoing even as we speak.”
The Chairman of the Parents of the Abducted Chibok School Girls, Mr. Yakubu Nkeki, re-echoed the minister’s plea by appealing to members of the public to stop spreading rumours, particularly on the social media that could put the lives of the girls still in captivity at risk.
He also debunked reports that 18 of the 21 freed girls were pregnant or that the girls had been radicalised by Boko Haram.
Nkeki thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for summoning the courage and the political will that eventually led to the release of the abducted girls.
The thanksgiving service ended with an identification parade that entailed each of the freed girls identifying her parents who in turn made brief remarks, with many of them thanking the president for ensuring their safe return.
BBOG Identifies Girls
Meanwhile, the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group, which has remained at the vanguard for the release of the abducted Chiboks girls, has confirmed that the 21 girls released on Thursday were part of the 276 abducted by the deadly terrorist group 914 days ago, adding that the minor differences between their names and the federal government’s list were immaterial.
In a statement jointly signed by the coordinators of the group, Aisha Yesufu and Oby Ezekwesili, the group said by working with the Kibaku Area Development Association – representatives of the Chibok community in Abuja – it had successfully matched the names of girls rescued with their positions on its list.
They identified them as: Mary Usman – 159, Jummai John – 78, Blessing Abana – 90, Luggwa Sanda – 27, Comfort Habila – 24, Maryam Basheer – 195, Comfort Amos – 10, Glory Mainta – 22, Saratu Emmanuel – 76, Deborah Ja’afaru – 123, Rahab Ibrahim – 96 and Helin Musa – 175.
Others included Maryamu Lawan – 35, Rebecca Ibrahim – 52, Asabe Goni – 100, Deborah Andrawus – 190, Agnes Gapani – 191, Saratu Markus – 164, Glory Dama – 139, Pindah Nuhu – 133 and Rebecca Mallum – 86.
The group added: “Kindly note the following full name: Mary Daniel Bukar Usman, appears as Mary Daniel on our list, but Mary Usman on this (federal government’s) list; Lugwa Sanda on ours but as Luggwa on this list; Maryama Bashir on this list is also called Mairama Bashir; Saratu Mutah Emmanuel is Saratu Emmanuel on this list.
“Deborah Jafaru on ours, but appears as Deborah Ja’afaru on this list; Helinna Musa on ours, but as Helin Musa on this list; Rebecca Ibrahim appears twice on ours (52 and 188) they are namesakes – Rebecca Ibrahim Yakubu (52), Rebecca Ibrahim Pogu (188).
“Mary Dama appears twice on ours (68 and 139), an error. One of them is Glory, not Mary. Glory Dama Aimu, her full name and Pindar Nuhu on ours but as Pindah Nuhu on this list.”
The group, which reiterated its delight over the return of the 21 girls, congratulated the federal government and Buhari for providing the leadership that led to the successful rescue, while applauding the resilience of the men at the frontlines, and heads of the military and security establishment for their sacrifices that provided the environment for the release of the girls.
“Our movement is very supportive of an immediate commencement of the programme for the physical, mental, emotional and social recovery process of our girls and stand ready to support the federal and Borno State Government in every relevant respect,” the group added.
“Nine hundred and fourteen days since the abduction, our hope is renewed that our government will fulfill the pledge it made to rescue all our ChibokGirls as well as every other abducted citizen of our country.
“We have therefore decided to step down the release of the Chronicles of False Narratives II. We will continue with our one month monitoring of the federal government’s renewed rescue activities,” it said.
The group added that it would continue to make demands for the rescue of the remaining 197 Chibok girls with greater expectations of their quick return, saying its members trust that the federal government would continue to work to keep their safety, security and well-being a high priority.
The group thanked the international community, especially the Swiss government and others involved in securing the release of the 21 girls and urged them to continue to support the Nigerian government’s effort to rescue all other abducted Nigerians, so their parents, the Chibok community, the nation, and the world could finally put an end to the nightmare.
The group also remembered Elvis Iyorngurum, a passionate advocate of the Chibok girls, who passed away on October 14, 2015, adding: “One year on, his resilient and unwavering call for the rescue of our girls continues to inspire.”
IBB: Hope Not Lost for Others
Also, expressing relief over the return of the 21 girls, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, said yesterday that the girls’ release after more than two years in captivity had signalled hope that the remaining girls would be released alive.
Babangida made the observation in Minna while commending Buhari for recovering the girls and reuniting them with their parents.
“It is a thing of joy for the girls to have been reunited with their families after being taken away in such a painful and abrupt manner for over two and a half years,” he said, adding that their release signalled hope for those still in captivity.
He also lauded the efforts of the president and the resilience showed on the release of the abducted Chibok girls despite the general lethargy and disappointment exhibited by Boko Haram.
He urged the federal government, the security agencies and other partners to hasten negotiations to secure the remaining girls and rehabilitate them from the psychological trauma they might have encountered since their abduction.
The former military president also reaffirmed his belief in the professional capability of the Nigerian Armed Forces and other security agencies in ensuring that an end is brought to the activities of the Boko Haram sect.