The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, says the release of the 21 Chibok girls “is only a first step in what we believe will be a total liberation of all the girls’’.
The minister made the statement on Sunday at a thanksgiving service organised for the freed girls at the premises of the Department of State Security (DSS) medical centre in Abuja.
Mohammed, who was with the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Jumai Alhassan, at the service, said negotiation was on-going for the release of the others in captivity.
“This is just the beginning and we are very optimistic that another batch, bigger than this will be released to us soon.
“Negotiation is on-going even as we speak now but it is only those who ought to know that know the details.
“All we can do is to support them with prayers so that in a very short time we are going to have a bigger reunion than this,’’ he said.
The minister cautioned “naysayers’’ who doubted the process and some social commentators to refrain from making comments that could jeopardise the process.
“We want to sound a note of warning, particularly to many reckless analysts and commentators who are not helping the situation.
“We still have more than 120 of our children in captivity, therefore we must be careful of the kind of comments we make.
“We must not make comments that will make the release of other girls difficult or impossible.
“We should know that these are very delicate situations. There are some promises we made also about the confidentiality of the entire process and we intend to keep them,’’ he said.
The minister specifically frowned at the comments of some people, who were claiming credit for the release of the 21 girls and speculating specific period for the release of others.
He said the event, which witnessed the reunited of the girls with their parents, was a day the entire world had been expecting.
“Many doubted the ability of government that this day will come but they have been proved wrong.
“When President Muhammadu Buhari said that the Boko Haram saga will not be closed until all the abducted girls have been released to their families sadly many doubted us but we thank God for today.
“We can all see the joy and emotion of the parents and this is ample proof that the girls that were released were indeed those that were abducted,’’ he said.
The minister reiterated that the girls were not swapped for Boko Haram members in captivity and that government did not pay ransom for their release.
He said it was unparalleled in the history of kidnapping and terrorism what the government had done; securing the release of the girls safely without any ransom or swap.
“This was achieved because of the single mindedness of the administration; we are focused, we are dogged and we refused to be stampeded,’’ he said.
The minister thanked Nigerians for their prayers and assured the parents and relations of those yet to be released of their freedom.
For the 21 freed girls, Mohammed said the team of doctors, psychologists and trauma experts would continue to examine them to ascertain their physical and mental state before their gradual re-absorption into the society.
On her part, Alhassan said she was excited and happy to see the girls reunited with their parents.
“You can see the joy of the parents who arrived this morning.
“They arrived in Abuja at about 2a.m. and it took me a lot of persuasion to keep them to rest till now before bringing them to the children.
“As my colleague had said, this is just the beginning; the others, by the grace of God, will be released safely soon.
“I am also happy that from the interim reports we are getting, the girls are well and okay,’’ she said.
The minister reiterated the earlier promise by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that government would take care of the education of the girls.
Earlier in a sermon, a clergywoman, Sister Shiktra Kwali, urged the girls not to allow the challenges and the trauma they went through to deter them from achieving their dreams and goals in life.
The President of the Church of the Brethren, (EYN), Rev. Joel Billi appealed to the Federal Government not to rest in efforts to ensure the release of other girls in captivity.
He noted that most of the abducted girls were members of EYN church.
The General-Secretary of the Church, Rev. Daniel Mbaya, the Head of Abuja Church, Rev.
Paul Abraham, Pastor Abba Mtsheila and the Director of Medical Services, DSS, Dr Anne Okoroafor, were at the service.