Two weeks ago, 82 of the girls abducted by the terror group Boko Haram, were set free. This weekend they were finally reunited with their parents. DW’s Adrian Kriesch was there to witness the event.
Tired and exhausted, the parents of the 82 freed girls, wait patiently to see their daughters. They spent hours on the bus and drove over night, as they made their way from Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria to the capital Abuja.
Rebecca Ntakai, however, remains in a good mood. While some of the other parents are struggling to stay awake, Rebecca wears a constant grin and makes jokes. “I’m just thankful and I can’t wait to have my daughter Hauwa back in my arms,” she says.
Then at long last, something seems to be happening. The parents line up in a long queue. One by one, their names are called and they now board new busses that will bring them to a hospital run by Nigeria’s secret service. That’s where their daughters are receiving medical care.
The pursuit after the abduction
Hauwa’s father, Ntakai Keki, has also made the long journey from Chibok. He’ll never forget the day his daughter was abducted. “When I heard that she was abducted, my younger brother and I got onto a motorbike and tried to pursue them,” said Ntakai. They found several bits of clothing along the way. The girls had apparently dropped them in the hope that someone would find them. In the end, however, Ntakai and the other relatives lost their trail. “The government and the soldiers didn’t help us, even though we passed several military bases along the way.”
The previous government under Goodluck Jonathan, was heavily criticized for its slow reaction. Jonathan himself only met the parents of the girls three months after the abduction. At the time, he promised them that they would see their daughters within three weeks. But after that nothing happened. There was no new information, no progress reports.
Every day, Ntakai recalls, his eleven other children would ask him about Hauwa: How is she doing? Is she getting enough food? Where is she sleeping, on a mattress or on the floor? “I tried to keep them calm and tell them that everything was okay and that one day, she would return,” said Ntakai.
Tears, joy and prayers
After a short drive, the parents arrive at the heavily guarded secret service compound. Inside the compound, however, the atmosphere is festive. Food and drinks are served in colorful tents. Music blares out the loudspeakers. The bus doors open and 82 overwhelmed girls finally meet their parents. It’s been three years and two months. Tears, laughter and prayers fill the air.
Rebecca grabs her daughter and lifts her onto her back. That’s how she carried her years ago, when Hauwa was still a child. Hauwa herself can barely stop her tears. Her father embraces her and even he starts to cry.
No questions about the past
In her colorful traditional dress, Hauwa looks as if she is well. But up to now, nobody knows what she experienced in the past three years. In order to protect them, journalists have been told not to speak to the girls. Hauwa’s father also doesn’t want to ask any sensitive questions. Not here, not now.
The government gives little insight into how it is helping the girls recover and has been heavily criticized for that. What is known, is that the girls will remain in Abuja and will receive medical and psychological care from the government. They will also go back to school.
In October 2016, 23 girls were already freed from Boko Haram. Some of the parents told DW, they had only been able to see their daughters once since their release. The government, however, announced that some of the girls would soon be allowed to visit Chibok.
“The government voiced a number of security concerns,” explained Jibo Ibrahim, an analyst with the Abuja based Center for Democracy and Development. “Many of the girls were married to Boko Haram fighters and the security services fear that some of them might have been converted.” Nevertheless, he said, it was unacceptable that they were separated from family and friends for such a long time. “I don’t think it’s justifiable and I don’t think the government has a good enough reason for that,” Ibrahim told DW.
For now Hauwa’s parents don’t even want to think of the fact that she won’t be able to go back to Chibok with them. “I am so glad and thankful to God,” her father explains, handing his phone to Hauwa, so that she can at least speak to her siblings. Her mother Rebecca shows Hauwa some of the newest family photos. The family has grown since Hauwa last saw them. “I am so thankful,” she says and she still can’t stop smiling as she holds her daughter close.