President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent declaration that all the kidnapped children by terrorists in the country would be freed could not have triggered any glimmer of hope.
Deferred hope on this has made the hearts of those concerned to be sick. Nigerians want to see the release of the innocent children without further delay. It is therefore needless to express what is a national desire and expectation without following it with action.
Buhari renewed his latest pledge at a high-level breakfast dialogue on “Stop the War on Children Affected by Armed Conflicts, Dividend of Silencing the Guns,” on the sidelines of the 33rdAU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the other day. The programme was co-sponsored by the governments of Nigeria, Uganda, Norway, the AU Commission and Save the Children Initiative.
During the dialogue, President Buhari reiterated that a number of girls from Chibok and Dapchi earlier abducted by Boko Haram have regained their freedom. He said: “We commend the gallant efforts of the Multi-National Joint Task Force and the partners in supporting the reintegration of the girls.”
He added: “Let me categorically reassure you of the steadfast commitment of the government of Nigeria to ensure the freedom of all kidnapped children from the shackles of Boko Haram. We will not relent until every child, boy, girl, every Nigerian adult in custody of Boko Haram is freed.”
The President urged African countries and stakeholders on the continent to work fervently towards strengthening the protection of children from what he called six grave violations during armed conflict. The six grave violations against children, which Buhari said have continued unabatedly include killing and maiming of children; recruitment or use of children as soldiers; sexual violence against children; abduction of children; attacks against schools or hospitals; and denial of humanitarian access for children.
It is unfortunate that like in other wars, the conflict in Nigeria’s North-East has taken a toll on children. Apart from suffering as orphans or recruited as child-soldiers, the abduction of hordes of children and their incarceration in terrorist camps represent a new and growing dimension.
Although some of the abducted children have been released through government and international interventions, nobody ever thought, for instance, that the yet to be released Chibok schoolgirls who were abducted from their institution on April 14, 2014, would remain in captivity nearly six years after. This is rather excruciating.
The same goes for Leah Sharibu, the lone Dapchi schoolgirl abducted on February 19, 2018, who is still held in captivity after her more than 100 schoolmates were released. The onus lies on the government to do everything possible to secure the release of the remaining girls.
This newspaper has repeatedly called on the government to make whatever sacrifice needed to secure the release of Leah Sharibu and the other girls from their Boko Haram captors.
It would be recalled that on the night of April 14, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the secondary school in the town of Chibok by Boko Haram terrorists. Some 57 of the children were rescued by the Nigerian Army shortly after. Since then, hopes have been raised on various occasions that the remaining 219 girls would be released. The general perception suggested that Boko Haram was hoping to use the girls as negotiating pawns in exchange for some of their commanders in jail. But it has not necessarily been so.
In May 2016, one of the abducted girls, Amina Ali was found. She stated that the remaining girls were still in captivity, but that six had died.
In October the same year, 21 girls were freed while another was rescued in November. And yet, another was found in January 2017, some 82 more girls were freed in May 2017. One of the girls was again rescued in January 2018.
Altogether, 112 of the girls are still missing.
Similarly, on February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls aged between 11 and 19 years old were abducted by Boko Haram from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi in Yobe State. The Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Gaidam, blamed the withdrawal of the military from a checkpoint in the town.
The Federal Government deployed security agencies including the Nigerian Air Force to search for the girls. Shortly thereafter, the abductors released all the girls with the exception of one Leah Sharibu (14), on the ground that she refused to renounce her faith and convert to Islam.
Apart from these two orchestrated mass abductions, there are several other pockets of abduction. The Nigerian military has occasionally rescued groups of those abducted women and children.
Now that President Buhari has brought the issue of securing the release of the unfortunate captives to the front burner, Nigerians are eagerly waiting to see the return of the victims.
We would like to stress, once again, that the government should use every possible means to see that our daughters, sisters, and mothers held in captivity by Boko Haram are set free. We want action and not rhetoric. Whatever actions needed to secure the release of all our children still in captivity should be activated. It is a reproach the Buhari administration should remove as soon as possible because it is a major source of disaffection.