Boko Haram: Chibok girls’ release, second anniversary gift to Nigerians –Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday described the Saturday’s release of 82 Chibok girls by the Boko Haram sect as his administration’s pleasant second anniversary gift to Nigerians.
Buhari said this while formally receiving the rescued girls behind closed doors at his official residence inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, had, earlier in the day, received the girls at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on behalf of the President.
The girls were thereafter taken to DSS Medical Centre for medical attention before being driven in two luxury buses to meet with the President some minutes after 7pm.
State House correspondents, who had been waiting eagerly for them since 2pm, were not allowed into the venue of the reception with the only exception being the Nigerian Television Authority crew.
A copy of the prepared text the President read at the reception was later made available to journalists.
The President promised that the Presidency would personally supervise the performance of those entrusted with the girls’ welfare and commitments made by the Federal Government on their health, education, security and general well-being.
He said, “This is a pleasant second anniversary gift to the people of Nigeria. I cannot express, in a few words, how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom.
“On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you, your parents, your relatives, friends and Government of Borno State on regaining your freedom.
“The Federal Government will like to commend the security agencies, the Red Cross, local authorities, local and foreign NGOs and all those who contributed in one way or another to secure the release of our Chibok girls.”
Some top government officials including ministers and service chiefs joined Buhari to receive the girls.
At the end of the session, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Me. Femi Adesina, said the President promised that all that was expected to be done to rehabilitate the girls into the society would be done.
Unnamed negotiator, Switzerland, Red Cross secured girls’ release
The Senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Shehu Sani, said an unnamed negotiator, the Swiss Government and the International Committee of the Red Cross led the negotiation for the release of the abducted schoolgirls.
Sani, who had been part of previous negotiations between the Federal Government and Boko Haram, however, declined to speak on the role he played in the release of the girls, who were abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014.
The Senator, also refused to speak on the telephone to one of our correspondents but referred him to his posts on his Facebook wall.
In his Facebook posts, Sani stated, “The negotiations were led by a recent winner of an international humanitarian award, aided by the Swiss (Government) in the mediation process; monitored by the ICRC and made possible by the DSS (Department of State Services).
“It involved some levels of travels to Bern (Switzerland) and Sudan.”
Speaking earlier to The Guardian of UK, the Senator said the negotiations were led by the former lawyer for Mohammed Yusuf, the late founder of Boko Haram.
Sani told The Guardian he introduced the lawyer-turned-negotiator to the Federal Government and came up with a road map for the talks.
He explained that two of the 82 girls were physically injured – one had a wrist injury and the other on crutches.
How freed girls were brought to Army base –ICRC
The spokesperson for the ICRC, Aleksandra Matijevic, told The PUNCH on Sunday that the ICRC’s role was to transport the schoolgirls from a forest, held by the Boko Haram terrorists, to the Army base in Banki town.
She said, “Our role in the release was to ensure the transport of the girls from the armed position to the other side. We transported the girls to the government side and to the military. This took us two days because of bad weather.
“The medical examination of the girls would be the next step after handing them over to the government, but the ICRC is not involved in that.
“You should also note that the negotiation for the girls was a political process, and we, at ICRC, are apolitical. Hence, the transportation was our only role.”
The Deputy Regional Director, ICRC Africa, Patrick Youssef, in a series of tweets, said, “Acting as a neutral intermediary, we ,at the ICRC, transported 82 Chibok girls to the government of Nigeria. Since Friday, we facilitated the safe return of the girls in Nigeria.”
The freed girls arrived in Abuja on Sunday afternoon from Maiduguri aboard a Nigerian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter.
A military source said, “The 82 schoolgirls were brought by a road convoy from a remote area to a military base in Banki, near the Nigerian Cameroonian border. But more than 100 of the girls are still in the hands of the terrorists.”
A parent of two of the Chibok girls, Enoch Mark, said, “This is good news. I have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.”
But Mark was still unsure if his daughters were among the freed girls.
UNICEF conducts check-ups on freed girls
Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund stated that it had been supporting immediate efforts to identify the girls and conduct check-ups.
The organisation, in a statement by its Acting Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, obtained by The PUNCH on Sunday, promised to “help reunite the girls with their families and make sure they can continue their education in a safe environment.”
Ironside said, “They will face a long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram.
“Already, staff at a UNICEF supported health clinic, have been supporting immediate efforts to identify the girls and conduct check-ups before their onward transport.”
Freed girls undergo medical tests in DSS centre
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on his Twitter handle, @FemAdesina. stated that the girls were received at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Sunday by the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“82 Chibok girls now in Abuja. Received on behalf of the President at the airport by Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari. Congrats Nigeria,” Adesina wrote.
The PUNCH learnt that shortly after Kyari received them, the girls were moved to the Medical Centre of the Department of State Service, where they were attended to by medical experts.
The Presidency had, on Saturday, said security agencies took back the 82 freed Chibok girls in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities.
Italy asks FG to rehabilitate schoolgirls
The Italian Government asked Nigeria to ensure that the freed Chibok girls were well taken care of and rehabilitated.
The speaker of the lower house of the Italian Parliament, (equivalent of Nigeria’s House of Representatives) Laura Boldrini, said this on Sunday while on tour of the Eko Energy Estate being developed by oil and gas logistics firm, Intels Nigeria Limited, at the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos.
While applauding the release, Boldrini, who is also the President of the Chamber of Deputies and presides over joint sessions of the Italian Parliament when the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate vote together, urged the government to take care of the girls because of the trauma they had been subjected to during their captivity.
She said, “I hope these girls will be taken care of because they have passed through a terrible experience and now they need to be recovered with care. ‘‘I am sure they will be taken into special rehabilitation programme and I hope these girls can have a decent life in future.
“Terrorism is a challenge throughout the entire world and this is why we all have to join hands and support those countries in the first line of the battle against terrorism.’’
Saraki, Dogara hail FG, Senate President says work not over
Senate President Bukola Saraki, on Sunday, commended the efforts by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, security agencies and the ICRC on the release of 82 girls.
He, however, said work on the Chibok girls was not over yet.
In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki said the prayers and well-wishes of Nigerians and the global community had led to the return of “more of our daughters.”
He said, “It is a testament to the tenacity and commitment of the Federal Government, led by Mr. President, that they are back with us and will soon be reunited with their families.
“Last year, we managed to secure the release of 20 girls. Today, (it is) 82. By this feat, those that are still out there should be assured that Nigeria will not forget them, and this government will continue to do everything within its power to bring them back home.
“Moving forward, the security forces must be commended. However, the work is not yet done, too many families are still anxious today. Too many of our daughters have not returned.”
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, described the release of the girls as delightful and heartening.
Dogara, in a statement on Sunday by his media aide, Mr Turaki Hassan, commended the efforts of Buhari, the security agencies and others involved in the negotiation process.
He added, “President Buhari has further proved that he is a man of his words, as he could have used the initial inaction by the previous administration as an excuse not to take action, but he didn’t.
“It is my ardent hope that they get the required medical attention, and that the other girls and all others, who remained in captivity, are released soon.”
BBOG, ACF, APC, Shettima applaud FG, military
On their parts, the Bring Back Our Girls, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the All Progressives Congress and the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, applauded the Federal Government and security agencies on the release of the girls.
In a statement by Aisha Yesufu and Oby Ezekwesili, on Sunday, in Abuja, the group stated.
“We commend Mr. President, the Federal Government and all the other partners for this heart-warming development.
“We are also glad that the statement from the Presidency makes a strong commitment to rescuing the remaining 113 of our Chibok girls that are still captives of terrorists.”
The BBOG added that it was hopeful that the Federal Government would ensure the release of the remaining 113 Chibok girls.
“We are eagerly looking forward to the official release of the names of the 82 girls in order to enable us to verify them against the #ChibokGirls list, generated by the Presidential Fact-Finding Committee on the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls (General Ibrahim Sabo Committee) report of June 20, 2014.
‘‘We once again thank everyone all over the world, who has persisted in the rescue of the girls.”
Also, the ACF’s National Publicity Secretary, Muhammadu Ibrahim, said the efforts of the government, particularly the Nigerian military, in successfully securing the release of the girls, were quite “commendable.”
The statement stated, “The period of negotiations for their release has been painstaking and traumatic not only to the government but the parents and Nigerians. However, the patience and prayers of Nigerians have yielded some positive results.
“ACF therefore urges the government not to relent until all the girls in captivity are secured and reunited with their families.”
The forum called on the government to ensure that the freed girls undergo proper medical, psychological treatments and de-radicalisation process.
The APC specifically commended Buhari for his tenacity and dedication in ensuring the safe return of the girls, who were abducted in 2014.
This was contained in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, in Abuja, on Sunday.
According to the party, the release of the 82 girls is further proof that the country has a President who is walking the talk.
The statement added, “The party congratulates and celebrates the girls who have bravely survived the very harrowing experiences these past three years and their parents and families, who have endured the nervy and traumatic wait for their children.
“We assure them of government’s resolve to give comprehensive medical attention to the released schoolgirls and ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration into normal society.
“For parents and families whose children remain in captivity, we urge them to take solace in the fact that government is doing everything possible to ensure the safe return of the remaining schoolgirls.”
Shettima, in a statement on Sunday, said with the release of the latest number of girls from the shackles of Boko Haram, Buhari had shown he was sincerely committed to the agenda of the APC to ensure that all the abducted girls were freed.
He said, “This cheering news came at a time many critics thought the President wasn’t at work. If there is one thing Nigerians must learn from this joyful development, all Nigerians must believe that in whatever circumstance, President Buhari has this country at heart and he works round the clock to address critical national problems such as we have seen in the successful freedom of our daughters and also in the sustained fight against the insurgents.”
PDP faction condemns exchange of terrorists for girls’ release
But a faction of the Peoples Democratic Party condemned the release of some Boko Haram terrorists in exchange for the freedom of Chibok girls.
It nevertheless said the release of the girls was a welcome development, adding that their capture and detention in the last three years had brought extreme pain and suffering not only to their families but to the people of Nigeria and men and women of goodwill all over the world.
The former ruling party said this in a statement by the spokesperson for its National Caretaker Committee, Dayo Adeyeye, in Abuja on Sunday.
Adeyeye, a former Minister of State for Works, argued that the released terror suspects had escaped justice.
He said, “What is however of great concern is the price paid to secure the release of the girls. According to reports, the girls were released in exchange for the release of suspected Boko Haram terrorists. If that is the case, we say it’s a heavy price to pay and an unusual one at that.
“While we welcome the release of the girls, we do not think that exchanging innocent girls for hardened criminals like the terrorists is the right approach for the following reasons:
“The suspected terrorists, by the release, have escaped justice. And all the effort made by security agencies to bring them to book has come to nothing.
“The release of the terrorists is a setback for the war on insurgency. Their release is tantamount to releasing them to resume their war against society.”Punch