West & Central Africa

Released Chibok girls are back home for Christmas

The Nigerian government has sent the 21 released Chibok girls by the Islamist terror group Boko haram back to
their families to celebrate Christmas for the first time since their abduction in April 2014.Since their release in October in a deal with Boko Haram, the government has kept the girls incommunicado for debriefing and counselling.

One of the girls, Asabe Goni, 22, told Reuters news agency it was a “miracle” that she was home again. “I never knew that I would return (home),” she said simply. “I had given up hope of ever going home… “I was surprised when they announced that my name was on the l
ist,” she said.

Her joy was lessened, however, when she was forced to leave behind her cousin Margaret, with whom she had lived since childhood. Asabe said. “Some of the other girls left behind started crying,” Ms Goni said. “But the Boko Haram men consoled them, telling them that their turn t
o go home would come one day.”

Most of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity. Ms Goni told Reuters that some were whipped for refusing to marry, but otherwise they were well treated and fed, until food supplies recently ran short.

The young woman was interviewed at her family’s home in the northern city of Yola, surrounded by her father, stepmother, five siblings, and several neighbours.

Dancing and singing in her home in Chibok, Goni’s grandmother Ngobiko Mutar could not contain her joy as the family prepared for her arrival.

“I didn’t think I would ever see her again,” Mutar said, while Goni’s young relatives baked a cake to welcome her home.

The girls were expected to return to Abuja in the New Year to continue a “restoration process”, according to government sources.