LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — The news this month that two Nigerian schoolgirls had made it to freedom, more than seven years after they were kidnapped by Boko Haram extremist rebels, has kindled new hope among parents whose daughters are still missing.
Of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from their school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria in April 2014, many of the girls have regained their freedom — 57 escaped in the hours following their abduction, 21 were released after negotiations brokered by the Red Cross and the Swiss Government in October 2016 and another 82 were freed in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects in May 2017. However, more than 100 are still missing. The reappearance of two of those kidnapped girls shows that much has changed.
Ruth Nglari Apagu turned herself over to the Nigerian military in Borno with her husband — who was one of the Islamic extremist kidnappers — and their two children.
Hassan Adamu also presented herself to security forces in Borno, and she also returned with two children she had given birth to during her years of captivity.
Borno state Governor Babagana Zulum welcomed the young women in two separate events and posed for pictures before they were reunited with their parents.
Yana Galang, 65, said she is delighted to hear of the return of two of the Chibok girls. Galang has not seen her daughter Rifkatu since she was abducted from the school at the age of 18.
“We are very happy,” said Galang, saying she is hopeful her own daughter will soon be back.
Galang said she draws strength from the hope that her daughter and the others still held by Boko Haram will return home.
“People are so excited because some have already given up” that the community will see the girls again, Hassan Chibok, a community leader, told The Associated Press of the return of the two girls. “A lot of them (the parents in Chibok) had lost hope … but with this present development, we have hope that those that are still alive will definitely come back home.”
Sadly, some of the parents have not lived to see the return of the daughters. At least 10 of the parents have died since the kidnap, including several where stress and anxiety caused by the kidnappings was a factor, said Chibok, an elder in their community who was one of the strongest voices championing for the girls’ release in the months following their kidnap.
The girls’ return was, however, received with mixed feelings by some, including Saleh Bala, a retired senior officer of the Nigerian army, who said the girls are victims of the Stockholm syndrome, an emotional response in which some hostage victims develop positive feelings for their captors.
The young women will need counseling and work to integrate them back to their communities, said Bala.
“How they are handled and treated will be important to attracting those others (kidnapped students) who are alive with similar forced partners,” he said.
Another factor that may have contributed to the return of the girls could be disarray within Boko Haram caused by the reported death of its leader, Abubakar Shekau, and attempts by a group of rival extremists, the Islamic State West Africa Province, to integrate his fighters to their ranks,” said Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst with the SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based geopolitical intelligence firm.
But the current mood in Chibok is excitement, residents say.
Lawal Zana’s daughter is among those still held by Boko Haram. The secretary of the association of the affected parents, Zana told AP that because they had “stayed for long without good news” the return of the two girls has encouraged them to keep the faith.
“Our own is to pray now to see that the remaining of our girls come out,” said Zana.
“We are expecting them!” he said repeatedly during a phone interview.