Many of the Chibok schoolgirls still held by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria do not want to leave their jihadist captors, a community leader has claimed.
There were jubilant scenes in the capital Abuja this week after 21 of the girls were set free, the first successful breakthrough in negotiations between the Nigerian government and the militants, brokered by Switzerland.
But Pogu Bitrus, the chairman of the Chibok Development Association, said more than 100 of the remaining girls appeared unwilling to return home, either because they have been radicalized or they are ashamed of their experience.
Mr Bitrus told The Associated Press the 21 Chibok girls freed last week in the first negotiated release between Nigeria’s government and Boko Haram should be educated abroad, because they will probably face stigma in Nigeria. They are expected to meet with Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
Some 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a school in northeastern Chibok in April 2014. Dozens escaped early on and at least half a dozen have died in captivity, according to the newly freed girls, Mr Bitrus said.
All those who escaped on their own have left Chibok because, even though they were held only a few hours, they were labelled “Boko Haram wives” and taunted, he said. At least 20 of the girls are being educated in the United States.
“We would prefer that they are taken away from the community and this country because the stigmatization is going to affect them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Even someone believed to have been abused by Boko Haram would be seen in a bad light.”
Mr Bitrus said that according to the testimony of the freed girls, the schoolgirls were split into two groups early on in their captivity, when Boko Haram commanders gave them the choice of joining the extremists and embracing Islam, or becoming their slaves.
The girls freed and those whose release is being negotiated, numbering 104, are believed to be in the group that rejected Islam and Boko Haram, he explained. The freed girls said they never saw the other girls again.
Nigeria’s government has denied reports that the girls were swapped for four Boko Haram commanders, or that a large ransom was paid.