Controversy as Boko Haram frees 21 Chibok school girls
• Some return with pregnancies, babies
• FG to conduct medical tests on victims
It was freedom at last yesterday for 21 secondary school girls who were abducted from Chibok community in Borno State 30 months ago by Boko Haram.
President Muhammadu Buhari immediately pledged to secure ‘all Nigerians’ just as the release of the girls by the terrorists became a subject of controversy.
However, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Federal Ministry of Information, in their reactions to reports by the international media, said the Nigerian government did not enter a swap deal and gave nothing in exchange for the girls who were kidnapped while writing their Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE) in the Northeast’s Christian community.
Shortly before departing the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja yesterday for security talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Buhari expressed delight over the release of the girls. “To Nigerians all over, it is our responsibility and we will continue to secure them wherever they are,” the President pledged.
There were speculations that some of the girls, who had long been converted to Islam and married off to their captors, could be pregnant, prompting assurances from Information Minister Lai Mohammed that adequate medical checks would be conducted. Photographs of some of the girls either betrayed pregnancy or showed they were already mothers.
The girls, as of last night, were still in the custody of Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS). The BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) group celebrated the 21 girls and called for the release of the remaining 197 still in Boko Haram captivity.
The BBOG, in response to reports of the negotiated release, said the development confirmed its position on the capacity of government to rescue the Chibok girls.
“While awaiting further details, we take this opportunity to salute the work of our security services at the frontlines, the commitment, resilience and tireless efforts of our members of the Multinational Joint Task Force and the civilian JTF,” the group said.
No government official was willing to speak on record over the health status of the girls as Lai Mohammed disclosed that when they arrive in Abuja, they would undergo extensive examinations.
There had been speculations that the terrorist group had asked for a huge sum of money running into hundreds of billions of naira which the government allegedly turned down. Another speculation was that the group asked for a swap of some of its men in detention.
Some weeks ago, the speculations led to stories in the media that the Suleja Catholic Church bomber, Kabiru Sokoto, had been set free. Agency reports monitored said some girls were exchanged for four Boko Haram prisoners in Banki, Borno State.
“The girls were brought to Kumshe, which is 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Banki where a military base is stationed, in ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) vehicles,” according to Agence France Presse (AFP), quoting a source.
“The four Boko Haram militants were brought to Banki from Maiduguri in a military helicopter from where they were driven to Kumshe in ICRC vehicles.”
From Kumshe, the girls were taken by helicopter to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, the agency report said further.
“The 21 girls arrived in Banki about 3:00 am (0200 GMT) where they found a military helicopter waiting. They were immediately ushered into the helicopter and flown to Maiduguri,” AFP quoted another source.
Osinbajo indicated that the government was also ready to consider several other options to rescue the remaining girls.
Later, Lai Mohammed, DG of DSS, Lawal Daura, Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, and Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Ahmed Zainab, among others accompanied Osinbajo and his wife, Dolapo, to the headquarters of the DSS to officially receive the girls.
Briefing State House correspondents last night, Osinbajo said: “There was no exchange of any kind, but government would use the same template to facilitate the release of the remaining abducted girls.”
According to him, the government has already started negotiations.
Mohammed said that the release of the girls was the most glaring manifestation to date of the unwavering commitment of the President to secure their safe release and reunite them with their families.
“It is also a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the administration to put a closure to the sad issue of the kidnap of the girls,” he stressed.
The minister disclosed that ahead of the girls’ arrival in Abuja yesterday, the government had assembled a team of medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, trauma experts and others to properly examine them. “They will also be adequately debriefed,” he noted.
Mohammed said the government had the list of the 21 girls but was contacting their parents as part of the necessary verification and as soon as it was concluded, the names would be released to the public.
He gave an insight into how the girls were released: “Gentlemen, as we have always said, we have been working on the safe release of the girls and following all the leads available. In this instance, the moment we had a credible lead, Mr. President gave the green light to the DSS to pursue it. We can confirm that the DSS pursued the lead in collaboration with a friendly European country and a renowned international humanitarian organisation. The DSS was supported by the military.
“As soon as the necessary confidence was built on both sides, the parties agreed on the date and the location of the release of the 21 girls.
Please note that this is not a swap. It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides.”