In 2014, #BringBackOurGirls swept the world as hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped from their dorms by members of Boko Haram. Seven years later, over 100 of these girls remain missing. Ruth Ngladar Pogu and Hassana Adamu were “returned” or “surrendered” to their families this month. This comes at a time when an unusually high number of fighters (over 1,000) are surrendering to the army in the wake of the death of former leader Abubakar Shekau and the increased offensive presence of forces in northern Nigeria. Many of these fighters are surrendering with their families, but it is unclear what exactly will become of them. Nigeria’s Operation Safe Corridor will undoubtedly be put to the test over the next few months as criticism builds over what to do with the newly surrendered fighters.
Ruth Ngladar Pogu surrendered to the Nigerian military with her “husband” and two children on July 28th. Her daughter is aged one and her son is aged three. Ruth Ngladar Pogu is the 108th Chibok girl to be released. The man she was with claimed to be her husband, who she married in captivity. The details of this are unclear as she is currently undergoing a program that hopes to rehabilitate and reintegrate her back into society. A Christian at the time of the abduction, Ruth surrendered in a hijab and other traditional Muslim attire, although this does not come as a surprise amid reports that Boko Haram forced religious conversion on its captives.
Hassana Adamu surrendered to the Nigerian army one week after Ruth Ngladar Pogu. Hassana also now has two children and was received by Governor Babagana Umara Zulum in Gwoza. She also wore a hijab and it is assumed that she was converted during her time as a prisoner. She is now undergoing a rehabilitation and reintegration program. Little is known about the treatment of the women over the past seven years and how they were able to survive living under Boko Haram.
Both women have been reunited with their families, but their futures remain uncertain. Although they have been released from Boko Haram, their suffering is far from over. Although they were involuntarily taken away from their families at such a young age, critics state that they now have ties to the terrorist group. No doubt that the psychological stress they have undergone over the past seven years has left a mark on their well being. It is also not to be forgotten that communities can have a stigma towards people bearing children out of wedlock, especially more so for those children fathered by terrorists. What will become of these children and if they will be accepted into society is yet to be determined. After being born within terrorist confines, these children and the returned schoolgirls may be rejected by their communities. This may have a further impact if the girls decide to stay with their former captives. Being captive for so many years may have caused the girls to be victims of Stockholm syndrome, but with little public information available, this is yet to be determined. Regardless, as the women are undergoing their rehabilitation programmes, their parents are thankful that their daughters are now safe.
The Chibok girls’ release comes as a sign of hope for many parents who have had their children abducted. The news has given parents the anticipation that their children may be alive as well, and the possibility of being reunited if the surrenders persist. However, this does not come without mixed feelings as little is known about the treatment abducted children have undergone. They could have been indoctrinated and forced into marriages during their time with Boko Haram.
However, it is possible more girls will be released as more and more repentant Boko Haram fighters surrender, seeking refuge under Operation Safe Corridor, which was established by the army in 2016. Under this program, terrorists who surrender undergo a de-radicalisation, rehabilitation, and reintegration programme through which they aim to be released back into society. Over 1,200 former Boko Haram fighters have been reintegrated into society in this way. In July of 2020, 601 people were reintegrated, and in February 2021, another 603 ex-terrorists were announced to have completed the deradicalisation programme. It is unknown with the recent uptick in surrenders if this program will continue as there has been an increase of backlash. Many of these fighters have committed various human rights violations and have contributed to Nigeria’s most pressing issue of the century. Although this should be remembered, there are also people surrendering that were low-level combatants that were involuntarily recruited into the organization. However, the army has claimed Operation Safe Corridor is successful and welcomes fighters to surrender amid their goal of ending the terrorist operation in the country. With the thousands of fighters that are currently surrendering, the operation’s resources will be strained and tested as the influx of surrenders rises daily. Regardless, there are thousands of terrorists in the country, and putting them all into jails would only put pressure on Nigeria’s prison system. Actively trying to rehabilitate fighters so they can be contributing members of society has benefits, such as lowering the terrorist presence in the country and setting examples that the indoctrinated can become de-radicalized. Not to mention that many of these fighters are young people who may or may not have had a choice of joining Boko Haram in the first place.
The recent uptick in surrenders has called for a re-evaluation of the Operation Safe Corridor program that the Nigerian government has to offer. The release of Ruth Ngladar Pogu and Hassana Adamu has brought a renewed sense of hope to communities who have had their children taken away from them, but also worries about what kind of future these girls may be able to have. As Nigeria has struggled against Boko Haram and kidnappings over the past decade, these two factors may cause a decrease in terrorist activity in the country. How communities will cope with the new changes taking place will unfold in the next few months. For now, it is critical to remain hopeful that more victims will be released and that more fighters will denounce their membership and work towards returning to society as contributing members.