Tears of joy as Chibok girls reunite with their parents

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.

Nigeria - Heimkehr der Chibok Mädchen (picture-alliance/dpa/AP/O. Gbemiga)

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.

Nigeria - Heimkehr der Chibok Mädchen (Reuters/A. Sotunde)Families celebrate being reunited with their daughters

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.

Nigeria Abuja - Rebecca Ntakai kurz nach der Ankunft in Abuja (DW/A. Kriesch)Rebecca Ntakai waits for her daughter in Abuja

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.

Nigeria Präsident Muhammadu Buhari und die freigelassenen Chibok-Mädchen in Abuja (Reuters/Presidential Office/B. Omoboriowo)Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari smiles as he welcomes a group of Chibok girls who were held captive for three years

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.

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Chibok girls reunited with families

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Abducted Chibok schoolgirl escapes Boko Haram

A group of 82 girls, abducted in 2014 by Boko Haram insurgents from their Chibok, Nigeria, school, were returned to the capital, Abuja, on May 7. One more girl escaped and is traveling to Abuja, the Nigerian government announced Thursday. Photo courtesy the Nigerian government/EPA

May 18 (UPI) — A girl abducted in 2014 by the Boko Haram insurgent group has escaped, a Nigerian government official confirmed.

Femi Adesina, spokesman for acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said Wednesday that Osinbajo made the announcement during a Federal Executive Council meeting, adding that the unidentified girl is traveling to the capital, Abuja. She will be reunited with 82 others, of a group of about 276 kidnapped from a Chibok school on April 14, 2014, who were freed 12 days ago, he said.

President Muhammadu Buhari, 74, returned to Nigeria from a medical stay in London to meet the girls on May 5, before returning to London.

Adesina also said Nigerian military forces were capable of defeating Boko Haram, a terrorist group involved in an eight-year campaign for an Islamist caliphate in Nigeria that has cost thousands of lives and displaced millions. Addressing concerns that the depleted Boko Haram is regrouping in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest, Adesina commented, “One thing you can be sure of is that this government has the capacity to confront any security challenge that arises. So, if they are regrouping they will be flushed out again. I believe that we have seen the worst of that insurgency. We are in a mopping-up process and I believe the mop-up would be completed.”

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After Boko Haram Releases Nigerian Girls, an Anguished Wait for Parents

Photo

Some of the recently freed girls from Chibok in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sunday.CreditNigeria State House, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

DAKAR, Senegal — The father of two girls kidnapped by Boko Haram was suspicious when friends told him that dozens of girls had been freed, because he had heard similar rumors countless times during the three years the schoolchildren have been missing.

But by Sunday morning, it became clear to the Rev. Enoch Mark that the news was true. The Nigerian government announced that 82 of the girls who had been taken from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, had been released in exchange for handing over as many as six suspected militants to Boko Haram.

While Mr. Mark was thrilled with hearing some of the girls were safe, his joy was mixed with the awful, gut-wrenching torment of not knowing if his own two daughters were among those released.

“We are hoping God will do something for us,” Mr. Mark said.

By midday Sunday, the released schoolgirls — some of the nearly 300 who were initially captured — had been handed over to intermediaries, taken from a town in the northeast near the border with Cameroon and flown to the capital, Abuja, where they met with Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria.

Continue reading the main story

Only late on Sunday did an unofficial list of names begin to circulate, as well as photos that showed the faces of some of the girls. Some appeared sullen, and one had her arm in a sling, but they did not appear sickly.

The names of Mr. Mark’s daughters did not appear on the unofficial list.

Nigerians were anxious not only about the well-being of the Chibok girls on Sunday, but also the health of the president. Immediately after his meeting with the girls, Mr. Buhari announced he was going to London to visit with doctors.

Mr. Buhari left the country for weeks earlier this year for an undisclosed medical ailment and has missed recent cabinet meetings. Before he left for London, a photo of a gaunt-looking Mr. Buhari speaking to some of the freed girls was posted on his Facebook account.

The release of the girls was a victory for Mr. Buhari, who has promised to secure the freedom of all of them.

Photo

The girls were taken to a military base in Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria, before being flown by helicopter to the capital, Abuja. CreditInternational Committee of the Red Cross, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Imagess

The handover began about 7 a.m. Sunday. Talks to free them had been going on for several months. The Nigerians worked with the government of Switzerland and the International Federation of the Red Cross to secure the release.

On Sunday, some parents quickly departed from Chibok by road on a long journey to the capital to see if their daughters were among the freed. Others stayed behind, joyful but anxious about whether their girls had been liberated.

For those in Abuja, the strain of not knowing the status of their loved ones was particularly acute. One mother of a missing girl sat at a rally in the capital, uncertain whether her daughter was across town, safe and in the custody of the government, or still in the bush in the clutches of the Islamic militants.

When she combed the list made available late on Sunday, the mother, Esther Yakubu, did not find name of her daughter, Dorcas, on the list.

The kidnapping by Boko Haram of nearly 300 girls from a school at a small village in a remote corner of Nigeria is among the countless heinous acts by a group that has carried out of a campaign of murder, rape and the torching of whole villages, largely against some of the world’s poorest people. More than two million people have fled their homes to escape the group’s violence.

Yet it was the singular act in Chibok that trained the world’s sights on this war in Nigeria. Images broadcast by Boko Haram not long after the kidnapping of the veiled girls sitting on the ground in captivity resonated with celebrities and everyday people alike and spread across social media, where a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag became popular.

More than 100 girls are still missing. Twenty-one others were released six months ago, and one kidnapped student was rescued after being found wandering in the forest scrounging for food. Officials did not immediately release their identities.

The newfound freedom of so many of the kidnapped girls is a major victory in the war and is a lift for Mr. Buhari, who vowed when he took office in 2015 to destroy Boko Haram.

While hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, many of those have been rescued in recent months by military operations that have liberated entire areas from militant control.

Photo

The girls met with the Nigerian president in Abuja and then waited to be sent home to Chibok.CreditNigeria State House, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The military has penetrated Boko Haram’s large encampments and forest enclaves. Large numbers of the group’s fighters have been killed or jailed in an aggressive campaign that sometimes has ensnared innocent civilians.

On Sunday, it was unclear precisely which or how many Boko Haram suspects had been traded in exchange for the girls’ freedom. Government officials declined to identify the suspects even as some media reported they were high-ranking Boko Haram commanders. Western diplomats said as many as six may have been handed over.

With their forces now scattered throughout the countryside, Boko Haram’s most effective strategy recently has been launching suicide attacks. They have strapped bombs to dozens of young girls and children as young as 7, sending them into crowded markets or camps for people displaced by the war. The group has also attacked military outposts and convoys and still is regarded as a threat to soldiers and civilians in the region.

But with many of their hide-outs gone, fighters can no longer gather in huge groups and instead exist in pockets in Nigeria and in bordering countries. Fighters are suffering from a lack of supplies and food, just like many of the residents, in an area that is experiencing famine-like conditions.

Boko Haram has also suffered infighting that has split the group into factions, one of which has been recognized by the Islamic State.

Another faction, run by Abubakar Shekau, known for his YouTube rants and vicious battlefield activity, was the one holding the 82 girls. Mr. Shekau’s brutality led to a major split in the group last year.

Last week, the Nigerian military said it seriously injured Mr. Shekau, one of many similar claims made by soldiers through the years. Mr. Shekau rushed to release a proof of life video titled “Sermon to the Lying Disbelievers of Nigeria,” that has not been verified as authentic.

Over the weekend as news of the girls’ release circulated, speculation was rampant that the government had paid a steep ransom in exchange for the girls. Government officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Ransom money has fueled the war chests of Al Qaeda offshoots operating elsewhere in West Africa and of the Islamic State. The American and British embassies recently issued a warning that Boko Haram intended to kidnap foreign workers in northeast Nigeria. The move would be a new strategy for a group that for the most part has targeted locals.

Advocates for the kidnapped girls were pushing to make sure the more than 100 still held captive were not forgotten. At a rally, a few dozen people, including several parents of the girls, chanted, “Bring back our girls now and alive!”

UN urges new efforts to defeat Boko Haram and tackle hunger

2017-04-01 11:32

New York – The UN Security Council called for stepped up efforts on Friday to defeat Boko Haram insurgents and Islamic State extremists in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region and tackle the humanitarian crisis that has left millions facing hunger and possible famine.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the UN’s most powerful body strongly condemned attacks by the militant groups and encouraged greater support to strengthen the capabilities of the multinational force trying to rout them.

It said the force needs logistical, mobility and communications assistance and equipment, and better ways to share information.

It expressed “grave concern at the ongoing terrorist attacks” by Boko Haram and Islamic State militants and at “the dire humanitarian situation across the region caused by the activities of Boko Haram.”

The resolution urged the immediate disbursement of the $458m in humanitarian assistance pledged for the Lake Chad region for 2017 at a donors conference in Oslo and called on those who haven’t donated to contribute urgently.

The Security Council visited the Lake Chad region in early March for a firsthand look at the impact of the extremist attacks and the humanitarian crisis.

Britain’s UN ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, said putting a spotlight on Lake Chad Basin isn’t enough.

“We will fail the people of the region if we do not respond to what we saw, if we don’t take tangible actions to bring real relief, real respite to the suffering, the hunger, the instability,” he told the council after the vote.

First and foremost, Rycroft said, the international community and the UN must scale up their response to the looming humanitarian disaster.

“If we act now, famine can be avoided,” he said.

To tackle the crisis, Rycroft said, the root causes must also be addressed including “economic inequalities, countering violent extremism, and empowering women.” And he stressed that humanitarian aid must be accompanied by economic development.

Read more on:    un  |  boko haram  |  nigeria  |  west africa

Nigeria Admits Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau Is Alive After Years of Death Claims

Conor Gaffey,Newsweek

Multiple bomb blasts rock Nigeria’s Maiduguri

At least three people killed and 18 others wounded by explosions at a refugee camp in Maiduguri, officials say.

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Most the people living in the camp have fled their homes due to the spate of attacks by Boko Haram in the country's northeast [Reuters]
Most the people living in the camp have fled their homes due to the spate of attacks by Boko Haram in the country’s northeast [Reuters]

At least three people have been killed and 18 others wounded in multiple suicide blasts at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, security sources told Al Jazeera.

Police said five male suicide bombers detonated explosives at the camp which is located at the Muna Garage area of the city in the early hours of Wednesday.

Those wounded were taken to hospital to receive treatment.

READ MORE: Attack by gunmen in central Nigeria kills at least 17

The blasts triggered fires which burned down tents in the vast Muna camp, Tijjani Lumani, a coordinator at the camp told the AFP news agency.

“There were four explosions inside the camp. The bombers struck at different locations around 4:30 am.” Lumani said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Maiduguri has been frequently targeted by fighters of the Boko Haram armed group.

According to eyewitnesses, the bombers had sneaked into the camps late on Tuesday night alongside those who sell charcoal to refugees, who use it to cook their food.

Most of the people living there are those who have fled their homes due to the spate of attacks by Boko Haram in the country’s northeast.

Wednesday’s blasts were the latest blamed on suicide bombers, who continue to pose a threat to civilians despite military claims of success against Boko Haram.

Four people were killed on Saturday when suicide bombers blew themselves up in a village near the city.

On Tuesday, Nigerian President Mohammadu Buhari met security chiefs in the capital Abuja to review the security situation in the country. The nearly seven years Boko Haram crisis topped the agenda of the review, according to a presidential aide.

Maiduguri, the state capital of Borno state, is the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed the lives of over 20,000 people and forced 2.6 million from their homes since 2009.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

War & Conflict Nigeria Africa

Four dead in NE Nigeria suicide bombing: police

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