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The escape of two more Chibok girls

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As pathetic as their tales may be, it is still a matter of great relief that two of the school girls captured by Boko Haram terrorists in their school in Chibok, Borno State have walked their way into freedom, eight years later. No doubt their experience has been gruelling; their escape made up for it, and also reminds all Nigerians of the harsh fact that they have not been their brothers’ or, in this case, their sisters’ keepers all along. In particular, their escape from the lion’s den is a serious indictment on the federal and state governments on the abdication of their sacred duty to protect Nigerians at all times. Despite several promises by state actors to rescue abducted Chibok school girls, it has been eight years of inconclusive recovery and search for many of them; and their parents and relatives are still agonising.

It is a shame of a country that school girls are held hostage for eight years, still counting, and the government remains mute on it. This ugly reality is a monumental embarrassment and an inexcusable shame to all the duty bearers in this country that till date, they cannot account for all the abducted girls. The wounds are still fresh and it is impossible to go on as if nothing has happened.

According to the escapees, Mary Dauda, who is now 26 and mother of one; and Hauwa Joseph, now 24, more than 20 of their schoolmates are still in Gazuwa camp in Sambisa Forest. The duo said that after their abduction from the dormitory of the Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), in Chibok, Borno State among 276 on April 14, 2014, they were shared out into camps where they were compulsorily ‘married’ off to the terrorists.

The narration, which had all along an open secret, points to serious violation of the girls as well as of the extant laws of the country, given that a marriage involving a girl under 18 years, under sections (21-23) of Child’s Right Act, 2003, is prohibited in Nigeria. Section (21) states that ‘‘No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.’’ But that is not all; the marriage was forced, which isolates the girls from family and friends and excludes them from participating in their communities; and may have taken a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being.

Mary Dauda said that she tricked some of the insurgents who met them on the way; and walked for many hours through the deadly forest under hardship and poor condition; While Hauwa Joseph voluntarily escaped from the camp of the terrorists during a massive incursion of the troops of the Nigerian army into their camp in Gazuwa on June 12. Their story invalidates the narrative that either the girls are not willing to be rescued or cannot be found.
On the contrary, it brings to the fore duty bearers’failure to rescue the girls and reunite them with their families.

Various accounts on the abducted Chibok girls show that only about 57 of the girls managed to escape in the immediate aftermath of the abduction. Another three were freed by soldiers – one of the girls was found with a baby on May 18, 2016; with two others found in later months during military raids on November 17, 2016 and January 5, 2017. Also, negotiations between the Federal Government and Boko Haram reported to have been brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Switzerland led to the release of a group of 21 of the school girls on October 13, 2016; 82 on May 6, 2017. The escape of Mary Dauda and Hauwa Joseph brings the number of those in freedom to 165. But it could be higher, going by some unverified reports and the haze during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Despite assurances from the government that the search and negotiations for the release of the remaining girls are on-going, most of them are still in captivity. Mary Dauda and Hauwa Joseph have revealed that more than 20 of their colleagues are still in Gazuwa camp in Sambisa Forest. Can government key in to this revelation and rescue more of them?

It is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to let his word be his bond, and go the extra mile to secure the release of the remaining missing Chibok school girls. The president had promised during his election campaign in 2015 that he would work for return of the girls. However, with less than a year to the end of his eight years tenure, many Chibok school girls are still in captivity. They are daughters and sisters to Nigerians!

The president has yet another opportunity to show Nigerians that he is a ‘father’ to all; that he values human lives and can go to any length to save lives. As a leader, the President should personally bear responsibility for the rescue of the girls still in captivity. And as mother of the nation, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari should empathise with mothers of the missing Chibok school girls; and prevail on her husband to rescue them.

Similarly, other Nigerian state actors with conscience should mount pressure and speak up for the rescue of the girls as the non-release of the remaining Chibok school girls remains a moral guilt hanging over all duty-bearers; and should not be treated like ‘‘June 12, 1993 election,’’ where the country attempted to ‘atone’ for its sins after 25 years.

Parents, friends and relatives of the abducted school girls who have been in agony for eight years waiting for the return of their children should keep hope alive as the narratives of Mary Dauda and Hauwa Joseph show not only that many missing school girls are alive, but also that they can have their day in freedom if government acts in concert with the wish of Nigerians.

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