West & Central Africa

Catholic leader accuses government of subjecting Chibok girls to unnecessary suffering

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, has accused the Nigerian government of subjecting the 276 Chibok school girls to unnecessary hardship if after three years of untold horror and abuse in captivity the government is only now negotiating with the Islamic terrorist when it should have done this years ago.

“In all these years I was among those who insistently asked them to do everything possible to free the girls. The government replied that it could not negotiate for their release with terrorists, or exchange them with Boko Haram prisoners. But that is exactly what has happened. Why did this not happen before, saving three years of suffering for these girls and their families?” said Cardinal Onaiyekan on Monday.

The head of the Nigerian Catholic Church questioned whether the situation would have been the same if the girls were daughters of government leaders.

The Cardinal said the girls were neglected because they were from the largely Christian region of Borno and their abduction was subject to accusations and counter allegations.

The Rev Canon Nenman Gowon, senior special assistant to the Plateau State government on religious affairs and chairiman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Jos, said that of the 82 recently released girls, 75 were Christians. One had changed her name from Tabitha to Maryamu Lawal to indicate her “forced conversion to Islam by the Jihadists.

“We cannot over emphasize the truth that christians in northern Nigeria have always been under duress,” he added.

“Christians must continue to pray for the release of all abducted people in the north east not just the Chibok girls. We know thousands are held by the Islamists. We encourage parents of those who have not seen their daughters yet not to lose hope. We are in prayers with them,”  declared Nenman.

Archbishop Onaikan urged “everyone to pray for the release” of the remaining 113 Chibok girls still held by Boko Haram.

One of the mediators for the release of the abducted Chibok girls by the Boko Haram terror group, Zannah Mustapha claimed that after the negotiations, some of girls had refused their freedom preferring to remain with the terrorists. “Some girls refused to return … I have never talked to one of the girls about their reasons,” said Mustapha. “As a mediator, it is not part of my mandate to force them (to return home),” he said raising speculations that they have been radicalized by Boko Haram jihadists.

Fatima Akilu, a psychologist who has run deradicalisation programs for Boko Haram militants, said the girls have possibly developed “Stockholm syndrome, identify with captors and want to remain,” adding that “Some are afraid of what to expect, the unknown. We don’t know how much influence their husbands have in coercing them not to go back,” he added.

A security analyst, Ryan Cummings, said, “While Boko Haram may indeed hold out releasing all of the hostages to maintain some form of leverage, the reality is that the girls have limited value to the sect outside of public relations capital and are likely placing a strain on resources.”

A source close to the Presidency said of the negotiations which saw the exchange of the 82 girls for five Boko Haram Jihadis:  “The insurgents wanted ransom and the government had to weigh its implications… At the end of the day, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari opted for swapping instead of payment of ransom to avoid a mistake of the past.”

The source added that, “the government also felt ransom could further lead to the acquisition of more equipment and ammunition by Boko Haram.”

He claiming that “the government was guided by the fact that swapping is in line with international best practices. Many countries including the United States, have undergone some situations like this before. So, we saw swapping as cost-effective since Boko Haram has been largely degraded.”

A statement from Ahmad Makarfi, a leading Nigerian politician, said the government had enabled terrorists to escape justice by the deal.

“All the efforts made by security agencies to bring them to book have come to nothing”. His spokesman described the negotiations as a violation of generally accepted international principles never to negotiate with terrorists.