Nigeria (MNN) — The 200 Chibok schoolgirls have been like ghosts since their kidnapping in April 2014: haunting subjects, rarely seen.
But now, the Associated Press reports, Boko Haram is willing to trade the girls for 16 incarcerated militants.
Rumors spread a year ago that there were negotiations between the Nigerian Government, former president Goodluck Jonathan, and the terrorist group.
“It was widely denied…. It does seem clear now that there were some negotiations a year ago; at some point they fell apart,” says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs.
“I think there’s still some skepticism because there were the rumors a year ago that never really amounted to anything. I think there are big questions now about: (A) Is this really happening? And (B) Is it really going to produce any kind of result?”
How will President Buhari react?
Since the last negotiations fell apart, the freshly-elected President Muhammadu Buhari has taken office.
“That seems to have kind of opened the door to at least consider the idea of some kind of a prisoner swap.”
Buhari has criticized the former government for not dealing with the kidnappings in the past. And during his campaign for presidency, he appealed to the public by saying he would defeat the terrorist group.
“This is a really huge test for him,” Nettleton says. “I think not only the people of Nigeria are watching, I think people around the world are watching to see how his administration responds.”
And, so far, it seems Buhari is staying true to his word.
Recently, he attended a Bring Back Our Girls activist meeting, something that Jonathan had refused to do. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has been used on Twitter more than five million times.
BBC News reports Buhari promised the activist group that there would be troops to fight the militants by the end of July.
But, the overarching question remains: Is Boko Haram trustworthy? After slaughtering more than 550 people in the first 5 weeks of Buhari’s term, it would seem the answer is NO.
“For Christians there in Nigeria, obviously they want to see their government to take an active role in protecting Christians, protecting religious freedom, in trying to bring home those who have been taken captive,” says Nettleton.
“But I think [there are] questions about the trustworthiness of Boko Haram and whether this is really going to go as they say it is, or whether it’s some kind of simple PR ploy or trap. Those are questions that I think concern us and obviously concern Christians in Nigeria as well.”
What’s happened to the Chibok girls?
Over the last 15 months, Boko Haram has taunted the public, saying these girls have converted to Islam, been sold and married off, trained to be suicide bombers, been used as human shields, and are now happy to be part of the terrorist group.
Escapees from the extremist group have reported they have seen the girls in camps, but Boko Haram had forced or brainwashed them to kill people, including Christians.
Former Boko Haram captive, Anna, told BBC the girls would flog prisoners for not memorizing the Koran.
“People were tied up and forced to the ground; then the Chibok girls slit their throats,” she said. “It’s not their fault. They are forced to do it. I pity them. I pity them! Anyone who’s seen the Chibok girls has to feel sorry for them.”
Faith, another former captive and a Christian, told BBC that she’d seen one Chibok girl married off. “She was just like any of the Boko Haram wives. We are more scared of the wives than the husbands.”
Seeing or hearing of the effects, many wonder how the girls will transition to “normal” life if the trade is made.
“When you talk about recovering from trauma, obviously, that’s not a one-day or a weekend process. That’s really a long-term commitment,” Nettleton says.
“We know that people can recover from trauma with the help of the Lord, and we know that they can go on to productive lives. But obviously that will be a huge challenge…. The scars of that are going to last a long time.”
What is VOM doing?
While the world waits for the Nigerian Government to act, VOM is moving and ministering to refugees and the persecuted. They’re giving Bibles and encouraging pastors and church leaders “to help them serve well in the midst of persecution.”
VOM is also providing one-of-a-kind medical attention.
“We set up a prosthetics clinic that is the first of its kind in Nigeria to help provide artificial limbs to those who have lost them in attacks, not only by Boko Haram, but by other radical groups in Nigeria.”
VOM encourages you to pray for the Nigerian Government and President Buhari to be wise in their decisions and to have a constructive response.
“I think of all those girls that have been taken captive, concludes Nettleton. “Pray for them, that the Lord will minister to their hearts, protect them, watch over them, and help them to deal with the terrible situation and abuse that they’ve had to endure.”