Abuja, October 19, 2016: Dr. Allen Manasseh describes the moment when one of his cousins first saw him on Sunday at the official reunion ceremony for Chibok families in Abuja.
“When she saw me, she could not say anything. She was just crying,” he recalls. “And she was saying it was just like a dream, as if it was something they had given up on [returning home safely to their loved ones].”
The doctor reunited Sunday with two of his cousins – Gloria Dame and Maryamu Lawan – who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014 from their secondary school in Chibok.
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“They never thought they would make it through,” he says, “but lo and behold they are out and that smell of freedom was something else.”
Suffering, food deprivation
Manasseh’s says he was overwhelmed when he first saw them because they looked like they had suffered.
“It is difficult to describe the feeling,” he says, searching for the words to convey his emotions, adding “they look leaner than [before] they were abducted.”
Manasseh is grateful that none of his cousins came back with any children, and says they told him they were not forced to marry any Boko Haram members.
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But their lean bodies are a testament to the food deprivation they suffered while in captivity – Manasseh’s cousin Gloria said some of the girls had no food to eat for 40 days.
Doubt surrounds effort to find other captives
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government says talks are continuing to bring back another 83 of the nearly 200 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Whether or not a ransom was paid for the 21 released last week remains unclear. The Nigerian government denied a report from the Associated Press that millions of dollars were paid by the Swiss government on behalf of Nigeria. The Nigerian government also says no imprisoned Boko Haram members were exchanged for the girls.
But Emman Shehu, one of the leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls movement that has advocated for the kidnapped girls’ release, doubts the government’s story.
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“We think that something happened. Even when the government said officially nothing happened, it turns out that something did happen,” Shehu says.”That has always been the history of negotiating for hostages in the hands of terrorists.”
Won’t give up
Shehu says the group will watch for the rest of the month to see if other girls are rescued. If not, Bring Back Our Girls will continue to pressure the government.
For now, Chibok families are relishing the memory of what it felt like to hold their daughters for the first time in two years. (VOA)