It was another occasion for tears of joy to flow when parents reunited with the 21 freed Chibok schoolgirls.
Yesterday, a thanksgiving service was held at the Directorate of State Services (DSS) facility in Abuja, where the girls have been kept since last Thursday when they returned.
The girls spoke about their ordeal in the hands of the Boko Haram terrorists and how they lost hope of ever returning to their families.
Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Women Affairs Hajiya Jummai Alhassan, Chairman of Chibok Local Government Council, Mr Yaga Yarakawa, Chairman of Abducted Chibok Girls’ Parents Association, Mr Yakubu Nkaki, and a member of the Chibok community in Abuja, Mr Hosea Tsambido, attended the service.
Gloria Dame, who spoke on behalf of the girls after the service, recollected how they went without food for “one month and 10 days’’ in the bush.
Speaking in Hausa, Gloria, who is Number 139 on the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement’s list of abducted girls, said their survival in captivity was an act of God.
“I did not know that a day like this will come that we will be dancing and giving thanks to God among people.
“For one month and 10 days we stayed without food. I narrowly escaped bomb blast in the forest.
“We are praying to God to touch the heart of Boko Haram to repent and we are calling on Nigerians to pray and fast for the release of our remaining ones in captivity,’’ she said.
While the service was going on, the parents of the freed girls arrived at the venue and were reunited with their loved ones after two and a half years with their abductors.
As soon as they arrived, emotions took over as tears of joy rolled down the eyes of parents and girls.
Tears flowed freely as parents took turns to identify their daughters, while one woman simply carried her daughter on her back in happiness.
Mohammed warned against comments which could jeopardise the release of the remaining girls.
He said President Muhammadu Buhari had proved critics wrong by securing the release of the girls.
He said: “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.”
Mohammed, who quoted from the Scriptures (Those who are with us are more than those who are with them), said those who doubted the sincerity and commitment of the administration to the safe release and the reunion of the abducted Chibok girls with their parents were disappointed.
He added: “When the President said 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 appealed to the parents of the girls who are yet to be freed to continue to exercise patience.
He said: “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, Yakubu Nkeki, re-echoed the Minister’s plea by appealing to the people to stop spreading rumours, particularly on the social media, that will put the lives of the girls at risk.
He debunked some reports alleging that 18 of the 21 freed girls are pregnant and denied that the girls were radicalised by Boko Haram.
The Chairman of Chibok Local Government Council, said the release of the girls was “historic’’ and the Chibok community at home and in the Diaspora were happy about the development.
Yarakawa said contrary to views of some Nigerians, the 21 freed girls were the actual Chibok Secondary School girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
“Before their abduction, I was involved in supervising their feeding which was organised by the Borno State Secondary Schools Feeding System. So I know them very well.
“These are the real girls and you can see when their parents came, you see their joy, it manifest naturally.
“This is enough to tell you that it is a reality and anybody who say different things or doubting, may be the person has a different agenda altogether,’’ he said.
Yarakawa appealed to the government to put all necessary machinery in place to ensure the release of the other girls.
Nkeki thanked President Buhari for summoning the courage and the political will that eventually led to the release of the abducted girls.
Dr. Shiktra Kwali, who delivered the sermon at the thanksgiving 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 serving the Lord, who has not forsaken them even in captivity.
Many ministers of God, including the President of the Church of Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), Reverend Joel Bilili, offered prayers for the girls.
The high-point of the occasion was the reunion between the parents and their daughters.
The ceremony ended with an identification parade, as each of the freed girls identified her parents who in turn made brief comments, with many of them praising President. Muhammadu Buhari for ensuring the safe release of the girls.
Some leaders of the BBOG movement who were shut out of the event expressed amazement that “some people” are too desperate to make political gains out of the entire situation.
“Our eyes are on the goal and not the glitz of photo opportunities,” Dr. Emman Shehu, one of the BBOG leaders said.