They prayed, hoped and waited all three years for a moment like this: a reunion like never before.
An emotion-filled air. Smiles, cries, hugging and back slapping.
They were in no short supply as parents of the 82 newly released Chibok girls set their eyes on them yesterday in Abuja.
The setting was the Department of State Security (DSS) facility in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where the girls have been trying to get over the trauma of abduction and incarceration in Boko Haram’s camp.
The parents came into town in a convoy from Borno State to interact with their children.
Relief showed all over their faces as they awaited the nod to be admitted into the sprawling premises by security agents.
Reporters were not allowed in. Only a few photographers were permitted to record the meeting.
While awaiting security clearance to go into the premises to see their daughters, some of the parents recounted some of the ‘crazy’ things they did to rescue the children from their abductors in the hours and days immediately following the April 14,2014 kidnapping, the most daring being the chase they gave the terrorists to wrestle the girls from them.
“Our husbands ran after them, the location of where the girls were hidden was pointed out to them but they were told that if they got closer to the place, they would be killed so they turned back,” Mrs. Juliana Bulus, mother of Comfort Bulus, told The Nation.
They returned empty handed and Comfort became “more heartbroken,” crying every day.
Now, the crying session is over for her and she said yesterday that “When I see her, I will laugh so much because I’ve missed her.”
She added: “right now, I am overjoyed and grateful to the whole world for standing by us and fighting for the return of my daughter. I say thank you all.
“My hope became renewed after the release of the 21 girls. Even though my daughter was not among them and I felt bad a little, their release gave me hope that my daughter would return so I continued to pray and now that she is back, I am grateful to the people of the world and to God that made it all possible.”
Mr. Yama Pogu, a retired assistant superintendent of police (ASP) and father of Margaret Yama said only God “knows the effort we put in and the bushes that we entered in our search for the girls.”
“All of us parents went into the bush and searched for them but the task was bigger than us. If I say that I am going to talk about what this statement means, I don’t know what might happen. I came before now and said everything that there is to say.”
Continuing, Pogu said: “I cannot describe to you how I feel right now because some of the girls are yet to be rescued. When all the girls are back, then we would be able to say our mind without fear, but the girls still in captivity are also our daughters.
“So right now, all I have to say is that we are grateful to the Federal Government and Shekau (Boko Haram leader) for reaching the agreement that made the return of our daughters possible.”
Poga lost his wife within a month of their daughter’s abduction, succumbing to the emotional stress of the incident.
“My wife died within a month of our daughter’s abduction, so I don’t want to talk so much about it because it still hurts.
“Margaret was her mother’s only daughter, only boys. So after she was taken, her mother was heart- broken and could not bear the thought of it, so that is why I don’t want to talk so much about it.”
He doesn’t want to inform Margaret yet about her mother’s death because “she has already gone through a lot. I am scared of what might happen if I break such news to her. I will wait until the rest are back and she is strong enough, to tell her.”
Adamu Joshua, father of Lydia Joshua, prayed for the release of the other girls remaining in Boko Haram’s custody.
“As long as our daughters have been released, we are not going to insult anybody,” he said.
“We are grateful to President Buhari, we are very happy, Lydia was my only daughter but in her absence God blessed me with another daughter.
“Now I have five boys and two daughters. With the return of Lydia, I am so happy.
“If I had feathers, I would fly high. We thank God for everything.
“Lydia will be meeting her sister for the first time. My wife lost so much weight because she was always thinking of her daughter; she did not suspect that Lydia would be returned to us.”
Joshua Dirmi, father of Yana Joshua said: “today, I feel like is the day I was born.
“If I die today, I die a happy man because my greatest wish has been met. My gratitude goes to the whole world for their support and my prayer is that the other girls are returned to their parents like ours have been.
“We are grateful to President Buhari for all his efforts in returning our daughters home.
“If you had seen me after my daughter was taken, you would have pitied me.
“If I went to the farm, my heart would be so heavy. I would be unable to do much work. My wife cried all day long.
“I stopped my other children from going to school because I was afraid for their safety. “But after the escape of Amina Ali, my confidence returned and I allowed them return to school.
“After the abduction, I cried and ran after them. The other fathers and I got as far as where we were told that the girls were being hidden but we could not move farther because they had guns and an army while we had nothing.
“We are grateful to God for touching their minds and allowing them release our daughters. We plead with them to release the rest.”
Dirmi is not contemplating returning to Chibok immediately with his daughter.
“Whatever the government wants to do, I give them my blessings. Whatever my daughter wants, either to return to school or anything else, will be supported by me fully.
“I just want her to be happy. That is all that matters to me. All I care about right now is the fact that she is out.”
Yakubu Nkeki, chairman Chibok Parents and uncle to one of the girls said the parents will be leaving to Chibok tomorrow.
He said, “This is farming season, and everyone is preparing to start planting. Government wants us to stay for at least a week but we said we want to go back, we have to return and take care of the young ones.”
He said the federal government offered to fly the parents to Abuja from Maiduguri but they chose to travel by road.
Women Affairs Minister Jummai Alhassan said in a message to the re-union that a group of experts had been put together to address the girls’ psycho-social support and medical needs.
“The children are being rehabilitated and we believe that in due course they will be properly aligned with their families,” she said in a speech delivered on her behalf by Mrs Abidemi Aremo, Director Planning, Research and Statistics in the Ministry.
She added: “Intensive medical attention is being administered and as soon as they are done, they will be enrolled into a remedial programme.”
Alhasan also said that the 21 others who were rescued last year were undergoing psycho-social counselling and remedial programmes preparatory to their enrolment in school next academic session.
“For the 21 and three that were earlier released, I wish to inform us that their psycho-social counselling is still in progress and of course they have started remedial classes.
“They are being taught five subjects, with a view to getting them back to school come the next school session, which is in September this year.
“They will be settled in various schools and I am sure they will continue their education from there.”
The Minister spoke of the Federal Government’s commitment to the rescue of the remaining girls in captivity and expressed appreciation to all those involved in the rescue mission.
Yesterday was also a reunion day for the 82 girls and their 21 mates that were released by Boko Haram in October last year.
They reunited at the DSS facility.