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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

FILE - One of the freed Chibok girls celebrates with family members during a church service in Abuja, Nigeria, Oct. 16, 2016. VOA

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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Pollution-Linked Deaths Highest in India: Study

India Leads World in Pollution-Linked Deaths

Pollution India
India has the highest number of pollution-linked deaths. (Representational Image) Pixabay

 India leads the world in pollution-linked deaths, followed by China and Nigeria, according to a report published Wednesday that estimated the global impact of contaminants in the air, water and workplace.

The report by the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution (GAHP) found pollution to be the largest environmental cause of premature death on the planet, causing 15 percent of all deaths — 8.3 million people.

Among the 10 countries with the most pollution deaths in 2017, the latest year for which data were available, were some of the world’s largest and wealthiest nations, along with some poorer ones.

India and China led in the number of pollution deaths, with about 2.3 million and 1.8 million deaths, respectively, followed by Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The United States, with 325 million people, came in at number seven with almost 200,000 deaths.

India Pollution
An Indian woman crosses a road as vehicles move through morning smog on the last day of a two-week experiment to reduce the number of cars to fight pollution in New Delhi, India. VOA

“The report reminds us all that pollution is a global crisis,” said Rachael Kupka, acting executive director of GAHP. “It does not matter where you live. Pollution will find you.”

Poorer nations

Pollution-linked death rates were highest in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, where poor water sanitation and contaminated indoor air are major killers.

Chad, Central African Republic and North Korea saw the highest number of deaths per 100,000 people (287, 251 and 202, respectively), with India entering the per capita list at number 10 with 174 deaths per 100,000 people.

“India has seen increasing industrial and vehicular pollution from urban growth while poor sanitation and contaminated indoor air persist in low-income communities,” the report said.

On the other end of the scale, five nations in the Arabian Peninsula rank among the 10 countries in the world with the lowest death rates from pollution, with Qatar reporting the lowest.

Drawing its data from the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation, which is based in Seattle and was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the report broke risk factors into four categories: air, water, occupational and lead.

China Daily Life
Pedestrians wearing mask against heavy pollution wait to cross a traffic junction in Beijing, Monday, March 16, 2015. The Chinese capital struggles with persistent pollution tied to rapid growth in number of cars and coal burning power plants powering the ever growing city.(Representational Image). VOA

Air pollution represents a combination of household and outdoor contaminants as well as ozone, while water pollution included unsafe water and poor sanitation.

Occupational, lead risks

Occupational risk encompassed deaths from carcinogens, secondhand smoke, particulates, gases and fumes, while lead pollution deaths were those associated with exposure to legacy emissions from leaded gasoline. This refers to the lead that was deposited, and remains, in the soil from car exhaust.

The report also named ambient air pollution as responsible for 40 percent of all pollution-related deaths, led by China, India and Pakistan (1.2 million, 1.2 million and 130,000, respectively).

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The number of global deaths linked to pollution barely exceeded those from tobacco use, which is around 8 million, but greatly eclipsed deaths from alcohol and drugs, high sodium diets, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and war, it said. (VOA)