Fidelis Soriwei, Olalekan Adetayo, Eniola Akinkoutu and Samson Folarin
The Federal Government, on Thursday, said some of the schoolgirls released by Boko Haram militants over the weekend would need surgery for various ailments.
The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Jummai Alhassan, who said this at a press conference in Abuja, stated that the girls were undergoing treatment that would take a few weeks to complete.
No fewer than 276 schoolgirls were abducted over three years ago, while 82 were released after negotiations involving the Swiss Government, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Federal Government on one side and the terror sect on the other.
Twenty-one of the girls were released in October 2016, but had yet to be reunited with their parents.
The minister said results of the medical tests so far conducted on the 82 Chibok girls, who were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014, had shown that some of the youngsters needed to be operated upon.
She stated that the medical screening, being carried out on the girls, would be completed between two and three weeks.
“The 82 Chibok girls are currently undergoing medical screening in Abuja. Some of them need surgery; this should be completed in two to three weeks,” she said.
Alhassan stated that before the arrival of the 82 girls, the Federal Government had been taking care of the 21 previously released girls and four babies.
She added that the 21 girls came back in bad shape and spent almost two months under medical care and were handed over to her on December 22, 2016.
The women affairs minister explained that the parents of the 21 girls were reunited with their daughters within one week of their return in October 2016.
“Upon return, all the 21 Chibok girls said they wanted to go back to school, but that they didn’t want to go to school in Chibok,” she said.
According to her, the girls travelled to Chibok for Christmas in December 2016 as soon as they emerged from medical care and spent two weeks there.
She said although they were scheduled to travel to Chibok again for Easter, security situation at that time was not conducive enough, so their parents were invited to Abuja.
Alhassan disclosed that it was the choice of the Chibok girls and their parents to stay under the care of the Federal Government in Abuja.
Parents have access to the fred girls
Alhassan stated that the girls were scared of going back to Chibok.
At the press conference, the minister refuted reports that it had denied the parents of the 82 rescued girls access to their daughters, adding that the girls were not stopped from communicating with their parents.
According to her, those spreading such reports are not the actual parents of the girls but rather representatives of Chibok community, who feel they must have access to the girls.
The minister added, “We had a meeting with the parents of the 21 girls and the girls themselves and they all asked the Federal Government to send them to school and take care of them. Most of them are scared of returning to Chibok because of their experiences.
“But to show you that parents have access to their daughters, some parents just left the facility where the girls were kept three weeks ago after visiting the girls. One of the girls, who is married, is at present in Chibok, visiting the town with her husband and his family”.
On the 82 recently released girls, the minister said their photographs had been sent to families in Chibok for identification.
She stated, “The people complaining that they are not allowed to see the 21 Chibok girls are not their biological parents or guardians.
“Reports that we are preventing parents from seeing them are absolutely not true. The parents visit from time to time.
“We are very careful who we grant access to the girls. We will only grant access to their parents, not community members.”
The minister restated that the government would ensure the release of the no fewer than 113 of the schoolgirls still with the terrorists through negotiations or exchanging the girls with detained Boko Haram members.
She stated, “Negotiations are ongoing to exchange the remaining girls with Boko Haram detainees, we can’t afford to keep them any longer.
“We have no apologies or regrets whatsoever for exchanging Boko Haram detainees for our daughters. We’ll do it again if needed.”
Alhassan added that arrangements were already being made to transport the actual parents of the girls to Abuja once they identified their daughters among the pictures of the girls sent to Chibok through the chairman of the community.
She stated, “The parents and the 82 girls will soon unite in a couple of days, but it will have to be well planned. It is not going to be easy to transport all 82 parents. That is 164 persons. Transportation and security have to be provided because the number is quite large, and you all know how sensitive Borno State is at the moment”.
The minister stated that the 21 girls, who were released in October, 2016, had been re-united with the 82 girls.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), we took the first set of 21 girls to visit the 82 girls at the medical facilities where the 82 girls are being treated to reassure them that all is well,” she said.
Osinbajo heads rehabilitation committee
Alhassan added that once the 82 girls completed their medical treatment, they would undergo the rehabilitation and integration processes which the 21 initially rescued girls were undergoing.
She disclosed that the committee on the rehabilitation and reintegration of the Chibok girls would be headed by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
The minister also disclosed that one of the 21 girls had asked for permission to visit her family and had been allowed to go and expected back in two weeks.
Girls have bullet fragments in their bodies
Alhassan added that some of the girls still had bullet or blast fragments in their bodies.
The minister was quoted as saying this during an interview with CNN when the news agency visited the hostel where the 21 girls, who were rescued in October last year, live.
The report read in part, “But behind their smiles and brightly coloured clothes lurk memories of their dark past. One of them was absent to remove shrapnel still embedded in her body, Alhassan said.
“CNN was told that some of them had shrapnel wounds from their time with Boko Haram and some still have shrapnel in their bodies that need to be removed. But no further details were given about how many of them are being treated for this.”
“Three of the rescued girls told CNN that they were happy with their living conditions.”
One of the girls, Rebecca Mallum, said they all took part in a structured programme that started with breakfast, vocational training and classes that included Chemistry and English but there’s also time to pray and unwind with games.
She said, “I really enjoy tailoring and catering. I want to be a doctor in the future because I want to help people.”
Another girl, Helen Musa, said she began her day with a prayer along with others. After breakfast, she says she cleans her room, goes to class and plays handball during her downtime.
She said, “I want to be a doctor. I want to help so many people who are not feeling fine. I like Biology, Chemistry.”
Agnes Gabani, 19, said she was happy at the facility and enjoyed her classes.
“I like to do Agriculture, Biology, English, games. I want to be a doctor in future. Many people are dying and I want to help them to survive,” she said.
The minister said there were also remedial classes to help them catch up on the years of education they missed.
Girls had nightmares –Psychologist
Among those looking after the girls at the facility is a ‘psycho-social’ team that consists of a psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker. There’s also a doctor on site and two live-in matrons, one of whom is from Chibok.
The psychologist, who was not named for security reasons, told CNN that the young women had made “tremendous improvement.”
“I remember vividly when they were first released; they had symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), nightmares and insomnia. The girls are doing very well.
“We see each of them twice a week but we are called upon in acute cases to address particular issues regardless of the timetable,” he added.
24 Chibok girls to return to school in September
Meanwhile, the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said 24 of the girls would return to school in September.
Those going back to school include the 21 girls freed last October and three others who escaped or were rescued.
“Government is preparing the girls to go back to school in September this year because they have lost so much academically,” he added.
Kolade backs FG’s negotiation, faults Jonathan
Also, a former Chairman of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, Dr. Christopher Kolade, expressed support for the approach of the Federal Government in securing the release of the schoolgirls.
While faulting the delay in the acknowledgement of the abduction of the girls by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the elder statesman urged government to be proactive in security measures.
He spoke on Wednesday at a safety and security summit organised by a church in the Anthony area of Lagos, where he was invited as a guest speaker.
While fielding questions from journalists, the former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, said no price was too much to pay for the release of the victims.
He said, “The first thing is that getting those girls out of captivity is a priority. Now, the people who have to do it will consider several options. And whatever option you are considering, the most difficult subject is that some girls are in captivity. If you can free them without compromising the values of society, it’s a good thing.
“Negotiating with people that have captured them is not what is palatable to us; but it was the only way of getting those girls out of the place, so I support it. Because if you had used any other means, there would have been a collateral damage and you must know that even one life that is lost during a rescue, is one too many.’’
Kolade said security was the duty of everyone, adding that Nigerians must learn to stand and speak against evil wherever they found themselves.
The convener of the summit, Pastor Niyi Adekunle, said his church, The Helper’s House, took the initiative for the event to improve security in the area and get residents to work together.
The Area H Commander, ACP Dankwara Mohammed, urged the residents to alert the police to any suspicious movements in their neighbourhood, adding that any cop that demanded money should be reported for sanction.
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