The over one hundred Chibok schoolgirls released so far by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram are expected to be in school by the start of the new academic year in September, the Nigerian government has confirmed.
The education of some 276 girls in Chibok in northern Nigeria was truncated when they were abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014.
Since then, 163 of the girls have either escaped (57), been rescued (3) or been released by the group (103) through deals agreed with the Nigerian government. A further 113 however remain unaccounted for.
The first 21 were released shortly after the resumption of the school year. They were released in October, so by the time we prepared them mentally and physically, the school year had started.
The latest group of girls set free by the militant Boko Haram group, 82, are undergoing medical tests in the Nigerian capital Abuja, after which they will be taken through psycho-social rehabilitation.
Nigeria’s Information Minister, Lai Mohammed has told Africanews that the government is working to make sure the girls will be ready to return to school by the start of the new academic year in September.
“The first 21 were released shortly after the resumption of the school year. They were released in October, so by the time we prepared them mentally and physically, the school year had started,” he said.
The 82 girls released at the weekend by Boko Haram should however be ready in good time to return to school as they are said to be more in good spirits than at the same point in time for the first 21 released by the group.
And although plans are in the works to get the girls back to the classroom, it is not yet certain where they will be schooling.
“The first 21 that came told us specifically with their parents that because of the trauma, they wouldn’t want to settle in Chibok,” the Information Minister told Africanews.
So the plan this time around “is to ask the parent and the girls, which school do you want to go to? Do you want to go back to your old school, or do we find them new schools somewhere”, he explained.
With still 113 of the Chibok girls unaccounted for and raging questions about their whereabouts, Lai Mohammed assured that the Buhari administration “had already resumed talks and that we are expecting a larger number (of the girls) to be released soon.
There however remain some doubts over whether all 113 girls will be returned. Last year, a Boko Haram fighter said in one of their propaganda videos that some of the girls had been killed in airstrikes and others had been given out for marriage.
Indeed, one of the girls rescued recently is said to have opted to stay behind with her husband, a Boko Haram fighter. It is not yet clear how many of the remaining girls would also opt to stay with their fighter husbands.
The focus of the Buhari administration, according to Lai Mohammed is to not only secure the release of the remaining girls, but to get the group to stop its nefarious activities.
“Right now we are going far beyond the release of the girls and we are at the complete end of hostilities and these are the talks that are going on,” Mohammed told Africanews.
He also dismissed suggestions that agreeing to the prisoner swap deal with the so-called Islamic State affiliated group would play to the group’s advantage.
“Everywhere in the world, governments do negotiate. They swap prisoners with terrorists. America did it, Israel did it, all other countries do it. So I don’t see anything strange,” he argued asking critics “to give us a better idea”.
Boko Haram has since the start of its insurgency in 2009 killed at least 200,000 people and displaced over two million others.