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Release of Chibok Girls from Boko Haram Terrorist Group Celebrated as Victory for Negotiation in Nigeria

The other abducted Chibok girls are still alive and were not harmed during bombing raids

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FILE - One of the freed Chibok girls celebrates with family members during a church service in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 16, 2016. VOA
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October 29, 2016: Comfort Amos is one of the 21 girls released from the grips of militant group Boko Haram last week in Nigeria, after being held hostage for nearly two and a half years.

When her father, known simply as Amos, saw her after the ordeal, he couldn’t believe his eyes. “Oh my daughter, you are still alive! I wasn’t optimistic about the possibility of seeing you again,” he told VOA Hausa Service, recounting his first words to his daughter.

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Amos said he had lots of questions for Comfort about her treatment, and she assured him that she was not abused or forced to marry any of her abductors. She said the girls had adequate food until recently when there were shortages.

She also said, contrary to some published reports, the other abducted Chibok girls are still alive and were not harmed during bombing raids. Those selected to be released were done so practically at random.

FILE - Family members of the Nigerian Chibok kidnapped girls share a moment as they depart to the Nigerian minister of women affairs in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 18, 2016. VOA
FILE – Family members of the Nigerian Chibok kidnapped girls share a moment as they depart to the Nigerian minister of women affairs in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 18, 2016. VOA

“They were called and asked to form a line, and after a number of them were counted, it was stopped,” Amos said. “Fortunately for her, she was among those released. They were told that the total of girls to be released was 21 and that by the grace of God, the rest would be released later.”

Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok, an area located in the Borno state of northeast Nigeria, garnered global outrage, including a call for action by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. The inability to rescue the girls became a campaign issue, and helped propel President Muhammadu Buhari to victory over former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of Abducted Chibok Girls’ Parents Association, told VOA that he believes the ordeal is finally taking a positive turn after so much frustration. Nkeki’s daughter is still being held captive.

“Even though my daughter was not among those released, I am happy seeing those children,” he said. “As the chairman, even if one girl is released, I will join other parents in celebration for that would mean that God has started answering my prayers for all of them. And so I am optimistic that my daughter will be released if she is alive, as there is no reason why she would not be. The way the government pushes for their release now makes us optimistic.”

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Negotiations with Boko Haram

The government’s negotiations with Boko Haram have been both secretive and controversial. After taking office in 2015, Buhari signaled a willingness to negotiate with the group if a “credible leader” could be identified.

FILE - Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other officials meet with the 21 Chibok girls released by Boko Haram militants at the DSS Hospital in Abuja, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA
FILE – Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other officials meet with the 21 Chibok girls released by Boko Haram militants at the DSS Hospital in Abuja, Oct. 13, 2016. VOA

During last month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York, Buhari expressed frustration over not knowing who, in fact, led the terror group and could be counted on to uphold the other end of a bargain.

Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed said he believes the release of the 21 girls is the first step in a deal to release all of the girls, but he declined to give details of the terms of negotiations.

“Already we are on phase two and we are already in discussion,” Mohammed told Reuters. “But of course these are very delicate negotiations. There are some promises that we made also about the confidentiality of the entire exercise, and we intend to keep them.”

Alex Thurston, a scholar of Islam and politics at Georgetown University’s African Studies Program, has followed the ordeal and believes negotiations with the group are appropriate if done correctly.

“There have been at least two major incidents where ransoms were paid before, so there is a precedent for negotiating with Boko Haram in a very limited way,” he said. “But the Nigerian government has tried in the past to open up a broader kind of dialogue and, for me, I think that those attempts — even though they said all of them ended in failure — I think it would be worth it to keep trying [that approach] to see what might happen.”

Details unknown

It is unknown whether the latest captives’ release was part of a prisoner exchange, ransom payment or some other deal.

Thurston acknowledges the moral ambiguity of negotiating with terror groups and the argument that it could offer an incentive for Boko Haram to make future abductions.

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He also believes, however, that if negotiating with the group could bring an end to the insurgency that has decimated the northeast of the country and displaced over two million people, it is worth exploring.

“I think that at some point, there’s going to need to be some kind of a political settlement to this conflict,” Thurston said. “Maybe the diehards in Boko Haram are so far beyond whatever the Nigerian government might say that it wouldn’t be possible, but I do believe there must be elements and segments of Boko Haram that might be persuaded to lay down arms under some kind of political settlement.” (VOA)

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Over 100 ‘Chibok Girls’ Rescued From Boko Haram Militants Restart Education in Nigeria

The abductions had sparked worldwide outrage and a "Bring Back Our Girls" movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

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Boko Haram
Chibok girls entertain guests during their send-forth dinner at A Class garden in Abuja, Nigeria. The girls will commence a special foundation program at American University of Nigeria Yola .VOA

Nigeria, September 21, 2017 : More than 100 ”Chibok girls” released by Boko Haram militants, have begun a new phase of their lives. They have started taking classes at the American University of Nigeria after months of rest and recovery under the care of the Nigerian government.

The girls had been expected to start at the university in the city of Yola early next month, and the government threw them a send-off party last week at their rehabilitation center in the capital, Abuja; but, the chairman of the Chibok parents’ association, Yakubu Nkeki, said the start date was moved up because the school year had already begun.

Boko Haram
Some of the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen dancing joyfully during the send-forth dinner in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 13, 2017. (VOA)

“I went with them to the school until they were handed over to the school authority,” Nkeki told VOA’s Hausa service on Tuesday. “Since the school has already started, it was decided that it is best for them to go straight to school so they don’t miss too many classes. They were already starting late.”

At the send-off party, the minister for women’s affairs and social development, Hajia Jummai Alhassan, said the girls will start remedial classes at AUN to prepare them for undergraduate studies in any field of their choice, to be paid for by the federal government.

Boko Haram
Some of the gifts packaged to be given to the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen during the send-forth dinner in Abuja (VOA)

AUN was already educating 24 girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the Islamist radical group, notorious for killing thousands of Nigerians, kidnapped more than 250 students from a secondary school in the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.

The abductions sparked worldwide outrage and a “Bring Back Our Girls” movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

The girls who entered the university this week spent 30 to 37 months in Boko Haram captivity before the militants released them in two groups, in October 2016 and May 2017, following negotiations with the Nigerian government.

U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), an early supporter of Bring Back Our Girls, met the girls in Abuja shortly before they left the city and told VOA the former captives generally seemed to be in good shape; but, she said that according to the girls’ caretakers, this followed a long period of medical treatment and psychological therapy.

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In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. (VOA)

“Can you imagine being held captive with terrorists, men who frighten you every single day for three years? When you are released, you are not normal, your psyche is not too good. They had to debrief them and help them,” Wilson told VOA.

Wilson said she was told that some girls are also recovering from bullet wounds, machete wounds and snake bites.

ALSO READ Boko Haram Refugees Raped by Nigerian Troops and Police, says Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Wilson said that contrary to some reports, the girls have seen their families since being released; but, she endorsed the government’s decision to keep the girls together in rehab instead of returning them to their homes.

“Because these girls had been together so long, to separate them would have traumatized them in my estimation. I think the decision to keep them together was the best thing they could have done,” she said.

More than 100 girls from Chibok remain in Boko Haram captivity, three-and-a-half years after they were taken.

At the send-off party, Women’s Affairs Minister Alhassan expressed optimism the rest of the girls will be freed.

“I assure you that by the grace of God, we will have our remaining girls released,” she said. (VOA)