More than two years ago, Nigeria was hit with the most ridiculous, catastrophic news: close to 300 secondary school girls had been kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists from Chibok, a community in North-East Nigeria, and they had been ferried off in lorries, through routes and distances that made it unbelievable that they had not been intercepted by the military, especially since the state was technically under emergency rule.
But even more appalling was that the federal government refused to believe or admit that any such thing could have happened. They lived in denial for two weeks, and by this time, a few of the girls had managed to escape while over 200 were left firmly in the hands of the terrorists.
That was 928 days ago. Nigerians came out enmass in protest of governments shoddy handling of the situation and demand that the girls be returned. The international community soon joined, with celebrities lending their voices through social media. From US first lady, Michelle Obama, to pop singers, 'bring back our girls' was the cry all over social media. Even when the initial noise died down, people like Oby Ezekwesili have not stopped advocating for the girls to be brought back.
And finally, some of them are back! The government seems to have negotiated a deal with the terrorists and more of the girls are expected in the near future.
I can imagine the joys and sorrows of their parents and the Chibok community: joy because their children who had seemingly been left for dead are now returning. Sorrow because there are still many more out there, and even the ones that have returned did not come back the same way they left: They had been forcefully converted to Islam, raped, married, and made to bear children for the terrorists. In fact, it is said that more than 100 of these girls do not wish to return because they fear that they won't be accepted into the normal society anymore.
And therein lies my fear. That it is the duty of the government to rescue these girls, I have no doubt. That they have been victims not only of terrorism but also of irresponsible leadership is not in question. Yet, given that they have already been forced into more than two years of terrorism training and mentorship with people they have borne children for, I must submit that they are now a huge security risk.
I believe that the Chibok girls must be treated with dignity and respect, as they are Nigerian citizens who did not ask to be abducted. But they must also be treated with caution. Their already regained freedom should, sadly, be given to them gradually. They must undergo psychological evaluations and be weaned of any seeds of bitterness or terrorism planted into them. This process may take years and significant commitment from the government and organisations.
We want our girls back. But they have already been changed forever. For the greater good, we must tred very carefully.