GBENGA ADENIJI and OLALEYE ALUKO capture the euphoric ambience trailing the release of the 82 Chibok schoolgirls nine days after and the pains of parents who are awaiting the return of their girls
His laughter boomed like a clanging cymbal. It was also infectious. That was how Yahi Dwata sounded on the phone when he spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH on Thursday.
He was elated that his niece, Comfort, who was among the girls abducted in Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014, was one of the 82 released last Saturday.
Like the Dwatas, the Yamas, Peters, Ishayas and Ayubas among others, are still submerged in the ecstasy of the release. Their girls’ names occupy numbers 59, 51, 61, 36 and 82 respectively on the list released by the Federal Government on the freed schoolgirls.
But it is a different situation for some parents whose girls were neither among the 21 freed in October, last year nor among the 82 released last Saturday.
The Boko Haram sect agreed to release the second set of girls after a stretched negotiation with the Federal Government. The Swiss Government and the International Committee of the Red Cross took part in the talks alongside a lawyer, Zanna Mustapha and a federal lawmaker, Senator Shehu Sanni.
The agony in Chibok started on April 14, 2014 after the insurgents invaded the community and abducted 276 final year pupils in the school. Fifty seven of the girls later escaped few months after. Thereafter, four of the girls were subsequently out of their abductors’ camp at different times until 21 were released after successful negotiations between the sect and the Federal Government.
The recent release of the 82 schoolgirls has emboldened other parents, whose girls are yet to be freed, to hope for their freedom.
The parents, who are yet to see their girls, however, expressed hope that their daughters would be home someday as they poured out their grief to SUNDAY PUNCH in separate telephone interviews.
One of them, Mr. Yakubu Kabu, father of Dorcas Yakubu, said he was anxious about his daughter’s whereabouts, disclosing that her return would end the buying of drugs to suppress his wife’s high blood pressure.
He said, “My daughter is not among the 82 girls recently released. If I see her someday, I will be joyous and give thanks to God. I will be happy because all the money we are spending on her mother’s high blood pressure will stop.
“Since I heard about the release of the 82 girls, I was happy and we want the Federal Government to put in more efforts to ensure the release of the remaining ones.”
Also, Yana Galang, father of Riskat Galang, who spoke in an emotion-laden voice also said he was optimistic that his daughter would be home soon.
“I am very glad with the development. I cannot even sleep well. We do not know who has been released. But we are very happy that many of them were freed. I pray that my daughter is among the released girls,” he said.
Another parent, Enoch Mark, who has two girls – Monica Enoch and Sarah Samuel, who are yet to be released – said, “We are happy about the release of the 82 girls. Even if my daughters are not among them, I still have to appreciate God for the freedom. I believe that the Federal Government would ensure the release of more girls.”
Meanwhile, Mr Yama Pogu, the parent of one of the freed 82 Chibok schoolgirls, Margaret Pogu, said he had yet to see his daughter face-to-face.
Pogu, who said he believed the girls were yet to see their parents due to the medical treatment they are undergoing in Abuja, said the only place he had seen the freed girls were in photographs, shown to him on a handset.
He said, “As of now, I have only seen the photographs of the freed girls on the mobile of a friend. There is one of my brothers who is also waiting and he also has not got any call from the government.’’
One of the mothers of the girls who have yet been released and who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity told SUNDAY PUNCH that she was hopeful her girl would return.
“I prefer to remain silent until I see my daughter. She was not among the 21 girls released in October last year and not part of the 82 recently freed. I know she would like to return home,’’ she said.
Speaking on the matter, the spokesperson for the Kibaku Area Development Association, (Chibok community), Dr. Manasseh Allen, urged parents whose girls were yet to be released to be optimistic.
He said, “Honestly for me, I will plead with them to stand strong in prayers and keep hope alive. If 21 of the abducted girls could be freed and others waited before 82 more were released, I urge them to be hopeful that their daughters would be home soon.’’
Allen, who noted the emotional trauma the parents would have been through while waiting to see their daughters for over three years, expressed confidence that government would ensure the release of the remaining girls.
“I also want to appreciate the Federal Government and all the agencies and individuals who participated in the successful negotiations leading to the release of the girls,’’ he added.
I’m full of joy, my four cousins are back –Brother of freed girls
Please introduce yourself.
I am Timothy Yama, an elder brother to four of the 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls – Margret Yama, Rhoda Peter, Hauwa Ishaya and Saratu Ayuba – and cousin to one of the released 21 girls, Asabe Goni.
Tell us about your family in Chibok.
I am 33 years old and the fourth child of the family. My family is a polygamous one. We hail from Chibok, Borno State. My father married four wives though he has divorced one of them.
Margret Yama, who was abducted and now freed among the 82 schoolgirls, is the seventh child and last born of my mother. I have about seven girls related to me one way or the other among the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
One was released among the 21, four among the 82 and two are with the Boko Haram. My two sisters yet to be found are Rifkatu Galang and Dorcas Yakubu.
Asabe Goni, one of the freed 21, is my paternal uncle’s daughter. She lived with my family initially before she relocated to my grandmother’s place in Chibok.
Rhoda Peter, Hauwa Ishaya and Saratu Ayuba who are among the just released 82 girls are my nieces. The four of them are cousins to one another.
How was education like in Chibok before insurgency started?
It was fine. I am a graduate. I graduated from Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri. I have a Higher National Diploma in Agricultural Engineering and Compound Machinery.
What was the ambience like in your house after the April 14, 2014, abduction?
We received it with a great shock. Boko Haram attacked the town that day and some of us hid in bushes. Almost all of us were not aware that some girls had been abducted from the school. We only knew what happened when we came out of our hiding places.
As soon as we came out, we realised that the secondary school and some places had been set ablaze by the insurgents.
The terrorists came around 11.30 pm and left by 4am. When they left, some people were anxious to go and see the extent of damage around the town. It was those people who first noticed that some of our sisters had been abducted from the school. Some people said they knew the insurgents entered the school but they did not know that they went there to abduct the girls.
The school is not far from my house, it is just a kilometer from my family house. Immediately after the abduction, most schools closed in Chibok.
The incident happened while I was preparing for my wedding. It was the incident that made me to leave Chibok in June 2014. The insurgents at the time were still attacking the surrounding villages after the Chibok abduction.
I actually did not want to leave home, but my mother insisted that I should not stay. Her fear was that whenever the insurgents came back, they would look for young men like me to enlist as terrorists.
What did the community do to locate the girls days after their abduction?
The truth is that we did not immediately know which direction they went. They were armed and carefully planned their operation. There is hardly any family in the town that was not affected by the abduction.
Chibok is a community where you have only one dialect. All of us are related to one another in one way or the other. The issue of the abduction affected all the families in Chibok.
Were there ensuing sad developments caused by the abduction in your family and that of others?
My mother, Solomi Yama, died on June 4, 2015, barely a month after my wedding, as a result of the incident. On the day of the abduction, she slumped and fainted the moment the news got to her.
I was the one who rushed her to a hospital. It was from that time she developed serious high blood pressure. I was with her managing that condition. All through 2014, she was managing high blood pressure. Later in 2015, she died from worsened high blood pressure and kidney failure. Prior to the abduction, she worked as a nanny at a nursery and primary school, which is also a mission school.
In January 2015, she left Chibok for Yola for further medical treatment. From Yola, she was referred to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. She was undergoing various medical treatments and the family spent so much on her. My dad is a retired police officer. There was no help from the government and she was in that condition until she died in June 2015. Her two kidneys failed. That is one tragedy of the abduction I cannot forget.
Did you have any premonition that the girls would come back?
Yes, I did. I remember on the night of December 31, 2015, some people and I were in a prayer session and there was a prophecy that the girls would return safe and sound. The prophecy was that as many of them that were alive would all return. None would be lost in the bush.
You said one of the 21 Chibok girls released in October is your cousin. Where is she now?
The schoolgirls are still with the government in Abuja. They have not been given any scholarship as much as I know. Asabe and I have been talking. She called me in April, shortly before the Easter Break. She told me the government wanted to take them home to Chibok to celebrate Easter, but they later decided not to.
I asked her what she and others had been doing in government custody. But she did not give any reasonable answer. I specifically asked her if she was schooling, she said she was not.
She confirmed that she and the 20 others are together in the same place in Abuja. The father is in Yola, Adamawa State. Ever since the abduction, he relocated to Yola with his family. If the 21 girls had started school, maybe it was after April when we last spoke. She is the only one who can call me because I cannot get access to her. She said they are still within Abuja.
Have you seen her at any time?
In October when the government allowed parents to see them, my uncle and his wife came from Yola and the security operatives allowed only the girls’ parents to see them. I was not allowed to see her.
How did you react when you heard the news of their release?
I was happy as everyone else in Chibok. I knew it was a prophecy fulfilled because I had heard during prayers that the girls would come back. I didn’t for once lose hope on the girls. I work as a teacher in Abuja but I haven’t yet seen the girls. I still hope to see them. I was simply joyful about the news of their release.
How are your four cousins who have just been released faring?
The parents are happy, but some of them do not have full joy, because not all the girls have been brought back. It is true that photographs of the 82 girls have been sent to Chibok.
When last did you visit Chibok?
Chibok is my hometown. No matter what, I cannot avoid the place. I still went home about two weeks ago. The only thing is that I cannot settle there for now for some reasons.
I was happy to speak with my niece after three years —Uncle of released Chibok girl
Please introduce yourself briefly.
I am Yahi Dwata, a native of Chibok in Borno State.
Was any of your relatives among the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014?
Yes, my niece, Comfort Bulus Dwata, was among the girls kidnapped by the sect in Chibok on April 14, 2014. Also, my cousin’s daughter was also kidnapped in the school including my neighbour’s daughter. Comfort’s father was my elder brother. I am the second child of our parents.
Where was she kidnapped?
She was taking the West African Senior School Certificate Examination at the Government Secondary School, Chibok when she was kidnapped along with other girls. They were camped in a hostel to study and take their papers. The school was on vacation at the time and only the WASSCE candidates were around. The insurgents entered the state and headed for the school as we learnt and abducted the girls. I was in Chibok at the time and gathered that they wore camouflage. We were later told that the insurgents told the pupils that they were there to guard them. Comfort was formerly a pupil at the Government Girls Secondary School, Lassa, Borno State but was transferred by the father to GSS, Chibok, so she could be close to him.
Where are Comfort’s parents?
Her father died six months before the abduction. Only God could say how he would react to the situation if he were alive to witness it. He married three wives and Comfort’s mother was the second wife. She bore two children for him and Comfort is her first child and has a younger sister.
As culture demands, the wife is free to remarry if she so desires. Comfort’s mother has remarried and was concerned about the fate of her daughter but the family was helpless. We could not secure her freedom on our own. She was always with us in Abuja especially when the 21 Chibok girls were released in October last year. We thought Comfort was among them but sadly, she was not. The reality made her and the family so sad.
Last Saturday, the Federal Government announced the release of 82 more of the abducted girls. Was Comfort among them?
Yes (shouted) including my cousin’s daughter. The news was wonderful and the family is yet to get over it. It was one of the #BBOG coordinators in Lagos that called me from Abuja on Saturday that about 82 of the kidnapped schoolgirls had been released. I immediately prayed that my niece would be among them. Later on Sunday night, a soldier, who was aware of the pains the Dwata family went through since the abduction, called me from Maiduguri to tell me that government had published the names of the released girls. He told me that he was with the list and I told him that the name of our girl was Comfort. He told me straightaway that there was more than one Comfort on the list. I later added ‘Bulus’ and ‘Dwata’ as surname while breathing heavily out of fear in case her name was not on the list.
After what seemed a long silence on both ends of the phone, he sounded happy and said, ‘‘Yes, her name is there.’’ I shouted and thanked God. Those who heard my screams might have wondered what was going on. I was so happy that I would be seeing my niece after three years of abduction. I called the mother and told her. Her noise of joy was indescribable. One could imagine how the mother would react knowing she would see her daughter again after three years.
Have you been able to speak with her since her release?
Yes, my younger brother and I spoke with her on Wednesday through one of the representatives of Chibok allowed by the government to see them. He called me and gave the phone to her when he was with them. I was extremely happy to hear her voice. She said, “Daddy, how are you?” I said I was fine. I was surprised she could still exhibit her usual sense of belonging. She inquired about her mother, sister and my daughter and I said everybody was fine. I have missed her and I wish to see her.
How soon would you want the government to release them to their family members?
I am aware that they are undergoing rehabilitation at the moment. They were taken away for three years and not three days or three months. I know that they must have experienced trauma and some level of brainwashing. I support what the government is doing to make them better before reintegrating them back into the society. I believe that they would soon be reunited with their families.
What is your massage to other parents whose girls are still in the custody of the sect?
I want them to know that they shall also smile soon. The Federal Government, I am sure, is doing everything within its powers to secure the release of other girls. I recall that when the first 21 girls were released last year, I was sad when my niece was not among them. Today, we are happy as she is among the 82 freed girls. They should not lose hope. Also, we cannot forget the soldiers who fought insurgency because many of them lost their lives while others lost body parts in the course of fighting insecurity.