The country’s air has been filled with excitement since the news of the release of 21 of the secondary school girls kidnapped by the dreaded Boko Haram sect at Chibok, Borno State, since April 2014. Their release came after they had spent about 900 days in the den of the dreaded sect along with their more than 200 other colleagues.
While many see Thursday’s release of the 21 girls as a sign that the remaining 197 who are yet unaccounted for will return, others see it as a development that portends a bitter-sweet experience for the affected parents because of the heart-rending experiences the returnees will narrate to them and the revelation of the identities of those that are dead as well as the circumstances that culminated in their demise.
Fatima Abba-Kaka, a member of Bring Back Our Girls (#BBOG), the advocacy group at the forefront of the agitation for the release of the girls, said in an interview with our correspondent: “For some of the parents, the arrival of these girls will mean the truth about those that Boko Haram claims have been killed. These ones will probably tell the real story of the girls that lost their lives.”
Mr. Hosea Tsambido, the Chairman, Kibaku Area Development Association (KADA), Abuja, an umbrella body for members of the Chibok community, was allowed audience with the girls when they arrived Abuja. He noted that while the girls were all emaciated, they were well composed and acted in very normal and respectful manner. He also said they were very excited when he introduced himself to them.
Tsambido said: “I met them. They looked so emaciated but composed and not acting rude at all. There was nothing to show that their stay with terrorists for so long had changed them. They were so excited when I introduced myself. They know a lot of my siblings back home and still remembered their names.
“A lot of the parents kept calling me for information as soon as the news broke, to know if their daughters were among the 21. When I eventually got the names and called their parents, I did not actually sense so much excitement from them, because they have been traumatised for so long and it took a while for the news to sink in that their daughters are finally back. The other parents who are not amongst the 21 feel so bad that their daughters are still in captivity.”
The Chairman of the Chibok parents and father of one of the girls still in captivity, Yakubu Nkeki, said they had been contacted by the Minister of Women Affairs and had been asked to come to Abuja with the parents of the 21.
He said: “I just spoke with the Minister of Women Affairs. We have been invited to Abuja. We are boarding a vehicle and will hopefully arrive Saturday. My daughter is not among the 21, but as their leader, I am happy for the lucky parents. I am very happy for them that their daughters are back.
“Most of the parents in Chibok have been rejoicing since the news broke. They have all been trooping to my house in excitement. The release of these 21 has renewed our hope for the release of our other daughters, which is good. We don’t want to think about those whose daughters might have died. The important thing for us is that we have hope and our hope has been renewed by the release of the 21.”
Another parent, Rev. Enoch Mark, whose two daughters are amongst the abducted girls, expressed excitement about the release of the 21. Although none of his daughters was among the 21, Rev. Mark says he sees the move as a sign that more of them will be released.
He said: “My wife and I have been unable to sleep since we heard the news. Even though neither of my daughters is amongst the 21, I am still really excited and hopeful because it means that those still alive will all return home soon. I am so grateful to the government for making this possible.”
Rebecca Isyaku, the girl who escaped by jumping off the vehicle when they were being taken away by Boko Haram more than two years ago, was filled with excitement at the release of 21 of her friends.
She said: “I am very happy today because I hear that 21 of my friends have been released. I used to think the government could not do it, but this has shown that it can. It even seemed like the government itself felt that it could not do it, but this has shown that it can.
“Even though we are yet to see or hear the names of those released, we are still happy that 21 of them are back. We will keep demanding until the others return. This has brought more life to the parents. They had been thinking of their daughters but now they have hope. Their faith has been renewed.”
A member of the Chibok community, who lives in Maiduguri, in a telephone conversation with newsmen, expressed excitement, saying it is what the community has been asking for.
He said: “We lack word to describe our excitement. This is what we have been asking for. Now that our hope has been restored, we are going to organise prayer and fasting to seek God’s face for the return of the others.
“We learnt that they swapped a few leaders of Boko Haram for the girls in Banki. Whether it is true or not does not matter. The government can release as many Boko Haram members as they want so that they will release our daughters and other Nigerians in captivity. This singular act by the government has renewed our confidence in the government.”
Another member of the community and member of the #BBOG, Gyanpany Yanga, said that they were not bothered if a swap for Boko Haram leaders would mean more terrorists out there because they have always seen Boko Haram as still being active with their constant attacks on Chibok and neighbouring communities.
“I am very happy, honestly. I commend the Federal Government for a job well done. But any of their lapses, we will still talk about it. Not that we are fighting; we are telling them the truth. Let them continue the good work because after they have brought back all the girls and it remains one, we will continue to demand.
“We are not bothered if it was a swap or not or what it might mean to our community, because Boko Haram is still disturbing in Chibok. They recaptured about four villages a few days ago. So, whether the girls were returned as a result of an exchange or release, or whether their number will increase or not, the government knows that it has to stand up to work as a responsible government.
“We know the capabilities of our military and how good they are. We recommend them all over the world.”
The leader of strategic team for #BBOG, Aisha Yesufu, on her part stated that the release of the 21 girls would not be complete until the government puts enough effort into their rehabilitation and reintegration into the society.
“I am very excited and joyful for the wonderful development. That says a lot for us. It means a lot. We have continuously demanded from the government because we believe in the capability of our government.
“Today, we have seen it with the rescue, and we know that the remaining 197 out there will also be rescued and we hope that all other that were abducted will be released as well.
“For us as a movement, the rescue of the Chibok girls is the easy part. The main part for us is to ensure that our girls are rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society and made to get that life that is theirs, which the terrorists tried to truncate.
“We are not just a movement that demands, we proffer solutions, and part of what we have done is the verification, authentication and reunification system that we passed over to the government. And from what we are seeing on ground, there has been an improvement with the government in this situation than we saw when Amina Ali was found.
“We must not let the terrorists win with them, because if we just rescue them and allow them to just be, then everything would have been defeated. We need to ensure they are rehabilitated, returned to school and get that education and become the world leaders they are meant to be.”
While the leader of the group, Oby Ezekwesili, was said to have travelled to the US and was not on hand at the Unity Fountain with the rest of the group to celebrate the release of the 21 girls, her excitement on her twitter handle was infectious as she thanked the government, the Red Cross, the military and the Swiss government for their combined efforts in ensuring the girls’ release.
Some of the tweets read: “I can only weep right now. You know that kind of cry that is a mix of multiple emotions. Lord, some of our girls are back. It is 4 am in California and I can no longer sleep. Join me in singing the words of Psalm 126. When the Lord turned again the CAPTIVITY.
“With tears of unspeakable joy at the release of 21 of OUR #ChibokGirls, We cry out and use them as a point of contact for the rest 197. Imagine how it feels for parents of our 21 #ChibokGirls to behold and hug their daughters after 913 days of their captivity. #HopeEndures on.”
Another member of the group, Fatima Abba-Kaka, in her excitement, said that finally, the group has been vindicated. She said that God has vindicated the group from those who said that the girls were never taken.
“I feel incredible. I couldn’t eat today or do anything. This is what we have been expecting from our government. We believe in our government. Even when they thought they couldn’t, we believed they could, and they have done it and need to do more.
“The issue is that if there is negotiation, there has to be an exchange. We gave the government three scenarios—negotiation, military might or a combination of the two. Definitely if you negotiate, you will release their own.
“Right now, let us get all our girls and abducted people back and then the military can strategise and know how to handle Boko Haram. To me, the life of a single Chibok girl is more than anything. So I am okay with the negotiations.