On May 7, the Federal Government secured the release of 82 Chibok schoolgirls who have been in captivity for three years. The 82 girls were released through a swap deal negotiated by the combined efforts of Nigerian security agencies, the government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross. A total of 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their dormitory at Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State on the night of April 14, 2014. Out of the lot, 57 were said to have escaped same night and 24 returned after two years In spite of these releases, there are still 113 schoolgirls in the den of the terrorists more than three years after the unfortunate incident.
While we applaud the efforts of our gallant troops and the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJT) in sustaining the war against terrorism on the frontlines, we must appreciate the wisdom and courage of our government, the Swiss government and other international partners in pursuing the difficult option of dialogue and negotiation which resulted in the release of the 82 girls. Like the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement said during the third year anniversary of the abduction, three years is too long a time for these girls to be left in the hands of their abductors and no effort should be spared in their rescue.
With this release, President Muhammadu Buhari has not only demonstrated the capacity of his administration to honour the pledge it made to the parents of these girls that their daughters will be rescued but has rekindled the faith of the average Nigerian citizens that all hopes were not lost on the matter. The Federal Government has no choice but to work towards bringing back the remaining 113 Chibok girls and reintegrating them into the society.
This government must work assiduously to erase the feelings of abandonment among the Chibok Community that the lives of their daughters were worthless because they happen to be the children of the poor. However, the government must also learn to be prompt and transparent in communicating the rehabilitation,and resettlement programme for the already rescued Chibok girls to demonstrate the adequacy and effectiveness of the exercise. We acknowledge with dismay, the complaints of the parents whose daughters have been rescued and placed under protective custody by the Department of State Services (DSS).
For over three years, these parents have been battling with the emotional stress arising from the forceful and shocking abduction of their daughters and it would amount to further and avoidable frustration if they cannot have access to their daughters, several weeks and months after they have been released by their captors.
It is disheartening to know that the 24 girls who were rescued last October have not returned to their parents but have remained in the custody of the secret police up till now. Already, Nigerians are beginning to express fears and doubts about the real intentions of the government in keeping these rescued girls away from their parents, siblings, relatives, friends and even the media.
If the government is committed to the rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement of these victims of abduction, then it must go beyond rescuing them and confining them to a “detention facility” where they have no interaction with the outside world or the normal society they were used to before their abducted from school.
If their emotional and psychological wounds must heal fast, the rescued girls must not be subjected to another round of “imprisonment” in the custody of our security agencies. Admittedly, a lot of these girls have become radicalised having lived with the terrorists for over three years and require some therapies to re-tune their minds to the normal human frequency.
But we equally believe that their de-radicalisation and re-integration cannot be fully achieved by keeping them away from their families. These girls have been away from home for such a long time that keeping them behind the high walls of the DSS might only make them more home sick.
They need to be set free to go back home and be re-united with their families. They need to share their harrowing experiences with their families and loved ones. They need to tell their stories to a world that had waited for them for so long.
By keeping them in confinement for too long, the government might inadvertently be putting a wedge between these girls and the larger society which could engender a sense of discrimination and stigmatisation on the long run. We therefore urge the Federal Government to be more transparent in its handling of the rescue and rehabilitation of all the Chibok girls to ensure that its efforts are not unnecessarily smeared by suspicion and its outcomes ruined by conspiracy theories.