Some of the schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram militants from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014, refused to be part of a group of 82 girls freed at the weekend, one of the negotiators involved in the release said on Monday.
After over three years in captivity, 82 of the schoolgirls were released out of the more than 200 students, who were still in the terrorists’ captivity in exchange for some detained Boko Haram’s suspects.
In October last year, 21 of the kidnapped girls were released in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross while 113 of the girls are believed to be still held in captivity by the terrorists.
A legal practitioner and mediator, Zannah Mustapha, said some of the abducted girls refused to join the train to freedom, fuelling fears that they had been radicalised by the jihadists, and might be afraid, ashamed or even too powerful to return to their old lives.
“Some girls refused to return. I have never talked to one of the girls about their reasons,” said 57-year-old Mustapha, who acted as an intermediary in the latest negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, while speaking with Reuters.
“As a mediator, it is not part of my mandate to force them (to return home).”
A Nigerian psychologist, Fatima Akilu, believed that the girls might preferred to identify with their captors instead of embracing freedom.
“They develop Stockholm syndrome, identify with captors and want to remain,” said Akilu, who has run deradicalisation programmes for Boko Haram militants and women abducted by them.
“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,” added Akilu, head of the Neem Foundation, a non-profit group aimed at countering extremism in Nigeria.
Mustapha explained that future talks between the government and the sect would extend beyond the release of the remaining Chibok girls in captivity and focus on negotiating peace in the conflict-hit North-East.
His role as a mediator dates back to 2007, when he founded the Future Prowess Primary School in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
When conflict broke out in 2009, the school remained open and was said to have even enrolled those children born to Boko Haram fighters.
He added, “We are not just talking; we are still actively working towards peace.
“Even though we have got (some of) the girls back, I don’t feel we have made much progress. After the (release of) the 21 girls, how many hundreds have been killed by suicide bombings?”
“While Boko Haram may indeed hold out in 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.”
Media reports about the 21 Chibok girls released in October 2016, caused the delay in the release of their 82 colleagues, who were left off the hook on Saturday.
A competent source told our correspondent on condition of anonymity on Monday that the arrangement between the Boko Haram sect leaders and the Federal Government negotiators was that the release of the 21 girls on October 13, 2016 should be kept secret.
The source added, “Unfortunately, I guess somebody who was part of the process was excited at the release of the girls and broke the news to an online medium. The government had no choice but to confirm the development against the wish of the sect leaders.
“With that development, which was seen in the Boko Haram camp as a betrayal of trust, they also refused to release the 82 girls the following Saturday as agreed earlier.”