After the release of some of the Chibok Girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 during the Goodluck Jonathan regime, parents of the girls and the whole country were happy.
However, things were not any better for the girls as they were returned home and had to school in the North East, leaving them exposed to post-traumatic disorder.
Emmanuel Ogebe, a self-acclaimed 'international human rights lawyer and social activist', approached former President Goodluck Jonathan to sponsor some girls to the United States of America to be educated. The decision was initially rejected by the Federal Government but was later accepted and Ogebe claims he was allowed to take the 10 children to the US.
“I approached former President Goodluck Jonathan to take some of the released Chibok girls to the US but he declined the offer. After so much influence from some individuals, he accepted and allowed me to take five girls," Ogebe said, recounting his experience to SaharaReporters.
“I processed their passports and tickets, and they were admitted to a school on scholarship. While those girls were in school, another school approached me to bring another five Chibok girls who would be admitted on scholarship.
“I spoke to the Federal Government and they released another five, who were taken by Mr. Doug Wead.”
Ogebe says in 2016, he began to face victimization from some people in the Muhammadu Buhari administration. He explained that he had never demanded and collected a dime from the government but today, he is accused of trafficking the 10 girls he is sponsoring.
He maintained that some people within the presidency who had personal interest in making money off the Chibok girls connived with US media, Wall Street Journal, Doug Wead and former Acting Nigeria Ambassador to the United States of America, Hakeem Balogun, to ensure the girls were taken from him.
A Nigeria-based non-governmental organization, confirmed the incident but asked to remain anonymous, saying Ogebe was not only victimised, he was defamed and subjected to ridicule.
“In 2016, the Nigeria ambassador to USA, Hakeem Balogun, who was in acting capacity, and Doug Wead plotted taking the children away from my care. They were able to take seven girls; two out of them were given to Wead and five were taken to an Islamic foundation, Murtala Mohammed Foundation. The five girls with the Nigerian government now live in ghetto-like, Bronx in New York. The girls were first taken to Oregon, and were further moved to Bronx in New York,” Ogebe said.
"After arriving in Bronx, one of the girls, who was a Christian, converted to Islam. She publicly announced her change of name and religion on Facebook.”
Ogebe further accused some people in the Nigerian government of using the freed Chibok girls to enrich their pockets to the tune of millions of dollars.
Noting that the girls were not benefiting from international donations to the Federal Government, he said: “Some people in the Nigerian government are using the girls to launder funds and over $2million is said to have been spent on just taking care of five girls.
“The government promised to take the girls to university and take them home to visit their parents, but that has not been done. Instead, they took the girls to an adult-education school and lied to the world that they were enrolled in a university. It was even discovered that the girls were not taught well, which made them failed their exams," he said.
"Since 2016, none of the students in custody of the Nigerian government and Murtala Mohammed Foundation has gained admission to a university. However, the three girls who decided to remain with me have completed various associates programmes in the university."
Ogebe also claimed that Nigeria’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Hajiya Aisha Alhassan, addressed a press conference where she lied to the public, accusing him of using the girls to make money. He added that the families of the girls are currently under pressure by the government, as they are targeted to be used to support their evil plot.
He said: “One of the families of the girls was paid by the Nigerian government to testify against me in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. Few weeks after, the lady who granted the interview to Wall Street Journal, sent me a message apologizing and pleading.”
Ogebe further disclosed how the Nigerian government orchestrated his trial before the Defence Intelligence Agency and military panel in Nigeria for refusing to give in to their "unlawful and illegal" demands that he should release the girls to them.
“I have been made to appear before four agencies in the United States and one of them is the Defence Intelligence Agency. I was also probed by a military panel in Nigeria and I was investigated for trafficking,” he continued.
"I am standing my ground and I will not give in to their threat. They are going through illegal and unlawful means to have all the girls in their custody and continue to use them to enrich their pockets."
Ogebe said that as he was frustrated by the antics of the Nigerian government, he decided to approach the court for Justice. He insisted that the Nigerian government had published some defamatory news reports about him. He also lamented that the Nigerian government had been deliberately absenting itself from court to defend its position on the matter.
He reiterated that the Buhari-led administration has no sense of wrong or right, which is why he is being victimised and labelled as a child trafficker.
But all of Ogebe's allegations were denied by Wall Street Journal. "Ogebe's account contains a number of false and unverified accusations. The Wall Street Journal is alleged to have 'connived' with the Nigerian government and other actors to take the girls from Mr. Ogebe. The allegation is false, no comment was sought, and the Wall Street Journal article was researched and published long after almost all of the Chibok girls had voluntarily severed contact with Mr. Ogebe," a WSJ reporter wrote in an email to SaharaReporters.
"Ogebe says the family of one of the individuals who spoke with the Wall Street Journal received money for the interview - the allegation is false. He says one of the young women from Chibok who spoke to the Wall Street Journal wrote to him 'apologising and pleading' after the article - this is also false. The email attached in the story as evidence of the individual’s alleged apology is timestamped from 2015 when the Wall Street Journal story was researched and published in 2018. The individual [Kauna] denies ever sending the email. The Wall Street Journal spoke to dozens of sources for its March 2018 story on the experience of the Chibok girls in the US that detailed the role of Mr. Ogebe.
"The Wall Street Journal heard from several of the Chibok students in America, as well as their teachers, counselors, and families, along with officials from the DHS and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Journal reviewed two reports written by the American schools they attended, as well as two undisclosed Nigerian governmental investigations that allege Mr. Ogebe and his Nigerian associates fraudulently exploited the ex-hostages for tens of thousands of dollars. It stands by that reporting."
Similarly, Kauna refuted all the claims made by Ogebe, including the one that she apologised to him. Ogebe is "lying too much," she says.
"Dear Sahara Reporters, I wanted to to address you, based on the article that you wrote where my name is mentioned," she wrote in an email to SaharaReporters on June 10.
"I want to let you know that since I voluntarily came out off of Emmanuel’s hands in 2016, I have never called or texted him to apologize. You maybe ask me why? There is no reason I would take my time to apologize to Emmanuel. He has lied and used us for money.
"Also, Emmanuel claims he is the one that 'sponsored' us to come here. Jubilee campaigns are the ones that sponsored us to come here, paid for our flight and bought clothes for us. Emmanuel didn't sponsor us to come here. He also says that he 'processed our passports and tickets,' but all of our parents paid N51,000 for each passport. I don't know why he is lying too much, but I don't want to be part of Emmanuel's lies. Yours, Kauna Bitrus."
SaharaReporters contacted the Murtala Mohamed Foundation to verify the authenticity of Ogebe's allegations. However, the foundation failed to reply two emails to the same official address with which it communicates with the media.
On his part, when contacted, Wead said that Ogebe paraded himself as the guardian of the girls but had no document to show for it. He also stated that the parents of the girls did not know Ogebe as the guardian of the girls.
“At various times, Mr. Ogebe alleged that he was the guardian of the girls and we asked him for such documentation but to my knowledge, it was never given to us. On the rare occasions when we were able to reach the parents in Nigeria, they did not confirm Mr. Ogebe's claim,” he said.
Wead further revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) contacted him in 2016, asking if he could accommodate seven of the girls. He said that after receiving them, the Nigerian government deceitfully took five of them from him, claiming they were travelling to New York for a weekend.
“After a summer of tutoring, five of the girls were invited by a 'friend of the Nigerian government' - a public figure - to a weekend in New York City. At that time, all of the girls were over the age of 18. Five of the girls went on the trip.
“We never saw them again. Nor did we receive any request for transcripts of transference of their visas. After waiting the required amount of time, we reported their disappearance to the FBI and DHS and the State Department."
He asserted that he obtained legal representation for the remaining two girls who are in his custody, Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu, to protect them from persons using them in trafficking for any reason.
Clearing the air on the education of the two girls, Wead said that they graduated from high school on June 3, 2017, and are presently in Southeastern University.
Editor's Note: This piece has been edited to reflect the accounts of WSJ and Kauna Bitrus