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Fear that rescued Chibok schoolgirls – now women – may return to their captors

22 April 2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

Radical and ingrained ideology, coupled with severe economic hardship, may be the triggers that send discouraged Chibok women back to the bush to be with their insurgent husbands.

The Nigerian Army has rescued one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls abducted by insurgents a decade ago.

Lydia Simon, who is five months pregnant, was rescued on Wednesday, April 18, by troops of Operation Desert Sanity III that falls under the North East Operation Hadin Kai.

The Nigerian Army said she and her three children had escaped from their captors.

Lydia surrendered to troops of the 82 Division Task Force Battalion at Ngoshe in the Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State. She claimed she was originally from Pemi town in the Chibok Local Government Area.

Zagazola Makama, a counterinsurgency expert and security analyst in the Lake Chad region, said intelligence sources had revealed that Lydia, who was tagged serial number 68 among the abducted schoolgirls, escaped from the Ali Ngulde camp in the Mandara Mountains where she was held captive for several years.

The mountains are a volcanic range extending along the northern part of the Cameroon-Nigeria border.

Her surrender happened just days after the 10th anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls by Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram, insurgents on April 14 2014.

The mostly Christian girls, aged between 16 and 18, were abducted from their dormitory at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok.

Fifty-seven of the schoolgirls escaped immediately by jumping from the trucks on which they were being transported. Over the years, the JAS has released some of the girls, mainly in exchange for insurgents being held in prisons. Others were rescued by the military.

Eighty-nine girls remain captive. It is not known if they are still alive.

Most of the girls converted to Islam. Many married – either by force or voluntarily – their captors and have had children with them.

The abduction sparked international outrage as thousands of people around the world – including the then United States first lady, Michelle Obama – protested under the #BringBackOurGirls movement.

The government of former president Goodluck Jonathan was criticised for reacting too slowly after the abduction, despite offers of military and intelligence support from the US, Britain, France and China. The search for the girls began only a month after the abductions.

Subsequent government administrations have also been castigated for not doing enough to get the remaining girls back home.

There is even speculation that some of the rescued girls – now women – would like to return to the bush because they have not received proper psychosocial support from the Borno State government.

The women say they have been stigmatised and their kids labelled as “children of Boko Haram”. They have been viewed as “Boko Haram collaborators” and shunned by their communities.

Rachel Daniel, the mother of one of the girls who is still being held captive, told RNI that she was extremely worried about her daughter. She has repeatedly called on the Nigerian Army to fast-track the rescue of the remaining girls but to no avail.

“Some of the Chibok girls have been rescued. Some have even been released from deradicalisation and rehabilitation programmes and have been reunited with their parents. Some are studying in schools. Most of the rescued girls, who are now women, have children with Boko Haram fighters.

“It is true that some of the rescued girls want to return to the bushes to be with their former captors. The government has not taken proper care of them, particularly regarding their mental health.

“These girls received good parental care and guidance in terms of their moral behaviour, character and social values before they were forcibly taken by Boko Haram insurgents. Many of them spent eight or nine years with their captors in the bush. They were indoctrinated in dangerous ideology. They have forgotten what they were taught before their abduction.

“Many of the parents of rescued girls are still having problems because of the way their daughters now view life. They complain that their daughters did not receive adequate mental healthcare and that they still harbor radical and extremist viewpoints. They fear their girls will return to live with Boko Haram insurgents.

“Their poor living conditions, coupled with economic hardships caused by the cost-of-living crisis, are adding to their dilemma.”

Allen Manassa, media director of the Kibaku Area Development Association in Chibok, told RNI that there were many lapses in the rehabilitation processes.

“The government has not provided sufficient psychosocial support during the deradicalisation and rehabilitation processes. The women were indoctrinated and radicalised while they were in captivity. Many still harbor those ideas. They still believe the dangerous ideology instilled in them.

“The women were in captivity for seven or eight years – some for even longer. They were forced to become sex slaves. Many were forced to marry their captors. They had babies with them. Having been radicalised and having lived for so long with insurgents, they miss their husbands even though the women were under their captors’ domination.

“The women should have been taken to special rehabilitation centres, not the same ones where surrendered insurgents are being held. During their deradicalisation process they came into contact with the so-called repentant insurgents, which was confusing and disruptive for the women.

“It is imperative that the government takes full responsibility for the care of the women’s children by providing education that will shape their way of thinking. If this is not done, they will not recover from their dangerous indoctrinisation.”

Manassa said that so far none of the rescued Chibok women had returned to the bush.

“But if the women and their children do not receive proper mental healthcare, there is always the chance that they will return to the insurgents in the bush. It is a very real threat and the government should not ignore this. The women need proper psychosocial support if they are to remain in society and become valued members of their communities.”



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