The Prison Inmate Development Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, handling the matter, told one of our correspondents that the girls were handed over to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Zone 12, Bauchi, Mr. Tunde Ogunsakin, on Tuesday, by the Shari’ah Commission in the state.
SUNDAY PUNCH had reported on March 6, 2016, that Blessing Gopep, 13, was abducted by two men identified as Iliya and Umaru, both living in Alkaleri, Bauchi State.
Blessing and her friend, Mary, were on their way back to Jos after spending their holidays with Blessing’s uncle in Bauchi in August, 2015.
Her father had said Blessing and Mary had gone to the Alkaleri motor park, and while they waited on the bus for other passengers, two men, identified as Iliya and Umaru, arrived at the park on a motorcycle and abducted Blessing.
On November 19, Linda Christopher was abducted by one Mallam Shagari in Tarsha Durumi village, while Progress Jacob, 13, was abducted by Mallam Musa in the Yelwa, Sabon Kaura area, both in Bauchi State, on her way back from church on January 3.
According to Ms. Gobet, Progress’ aunt, the teenager went to church on the morning of January 3, 2016 and did not return when the church was presumed to have closed at about 10.30am.
She was allegedly abducted in the Yelwa, Sabon Kaura Area of Bauchi State by one Mallam Musa on her way back from church, which is said to be a few metres away from her aunt’s residence.
The distressed aunt said she reported the case to the traditional ruler (Seriki) of Sabon Kaura as well as the Yelwa Police Station, which only took her statement and directed her to inform them when she found Progress.
She added that all efforts to locate the ‘missing’ girl proved abortive until a letter was delivered to her from the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission, informing her of Progress’ conversion to Islam.
Sixteen-year-old Linda, a secondary school pupil in Enugu, was seen with one Mallam Shagari at Tarsha Durumi village in Bauchi State on November 19, 2015.
It was learnt that Linda had left Enugu four days earlier to join her parents, who lived in the Katanga Giwa village of Bauchi.
Her parents were notified of her whereabouts by a kinsman, who knew the family.
Just like the Jacobs, her parents got a letter from the Shari’a commission, notifying them of their daughter’s custody and her conversion to Islam.
SUNDAY PUNCH had reported the failure of the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, to rescue the girls one week after the newspaper had reported the abduction.
The Commissioner of Police, Bauchi State Police Command, Mr. Baba Tijjani, confirmed the release of the girls in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday.
Tijjani stated, “The girls have been released. They were not held by the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission; they volunteered to become Muslims on their own and reported themselves to the Da’awah & Islamic Education Department, which took them to the Bauchi State Shari’ah Commission.
“Now, they have been produced. Progress Jacob and Linda Christopher have been released to their parents while Blessing Gopep’s parents have been told to come tomorrow (Wednesday) and they will go home with their daughter.”
When asked if the case would be treated as a criminal case and the culprits prosecuted, the police commissioner said, “We just released the girls to their parents. The investigations are still ongoing and we will come out with the details after the investigations.”
The Executive Director, PIDI, Mr. Mbami Sabka, who also confirmed the rescue to The PUNCH on the telephone on Tuesday, said he was glad that effort to rescue the girls was not wasted.
He added that this was the beginning of the release of more child brides.
Sabka said, “I am extremely grateful to PUNCH newspapers for their help. We hope that other perpetrators would learn from this. We, as an NGO, won’t stop at this; we will continue the fight for the release of child brides. An end must be put to this illegal act.
“The police have asked the Shari’ah Commission to bring the abductors involved because the girls didn’t walk to the commission by themselves; someone brought them.”
Blessing’s father, who couldn’t contain his excitement while speaking on the telephone, said he was very happy to have his daughter back.
He said, “I have waited so long for this day to come; it has been my only wish. I just want to thank God for bringing my daughter back to us. I am extremely happy; words fail me to express myself. I also want to thank PUNCH newspapers for their help.”
Blessing’s sister, Happiness, said since receiving the news, she had been restless.
“I’m boarding a bus first thing tomorrow to Bauchi. I can’t wait to see my sister,” she stated.
Jacob, who is Progress’ father, stated that he was happy to see his daughter again.
He thanked everyone that helped in his daughter’s release.
He added, “I have informed everyone in the village about her release; they are all expecting us. We are with the Commissioner of Police in Bauchi State. My daughter, Progress, is fine but we are a bit worried about her condition.
“She was asked to identify us as her parents and she did so by pointing at us but she did not speak to us. She only shook her head or nodded to questions.
She confirmed she was not sexually molested by anyone. The commissioner said she would be released to us when the medical examination has been concluded.”
Linda’s mother, Mrs. Onah, added, “She looks fine but we have not spoken to each other yet, although we sat together today. We were told the girls were released because they were not up to 18 years old and could not make decisions on their own.
“They are undergoing medical examinations as we speak and we heard the results will be released after three days. I am happy to see my daughter again.”
PIDI had written letters to the state Commissioner of Police and the National Human Rights Commission but got no response before taking the cases to Amnesty International.
SUNDAY PUNCH’s campaign on the abduction of 14-year-old Ese Oruru from Bayelsa State on February 28 had led to her release within 48 hours from her captivity in the Tofa area of Kano State.
The #FreeEse campaign, launched by PUNCH, had led to Ese’s release and return to Yenagoa, while her abductor, Yunusa Dahiru, aka Yellow, is currently facing trial in the Bayelsa State capital.