More than 100 "Chibok girls" released by Boko Haram militants have begun a new phase of their lives, taking classes at the American University of Nigeria after months of rest and recovery under the care of the Nigerian government.
The girls had been expected to start at the university in the city of Yola early next month, and the government threw them a send-off party last week at their rehabilitation center in the capital, Abuja; but, the chairman of the Chibok parents' association, Yakubu Nkeki, said the start date was moved up because the school year had already begun.
"I went with them to the school until they were handed over to the school authority," Nkeki told VOA's Hausa service on Tuesday. "Since the school has already started, it was decided that it is best for them to go straight to school so they don't miss too many classes. They were already starting late."
At the send-off party, the minister for women's affairs and social development, Hajia Jummai Alhassan, said the girls will start remedial classes at AUN to prepare them for undergraduate studies in any field of their choice, to be paid for by the federal government.
AUN was already educating 24 girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the Islamist radical group, notorious for killing thousands of Nigerians, kidnapped more than 250 students from a secondary school in the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.
The abductions sparked worldwide outrage and a "Bring Back Our Girls" movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.
The girls who entered the university this week spent 30 to 37 months in Boko Haram captivity before the militants released them in two groups, in October 2016 and May 2017, following negotiations with the Nigerian government.
U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), an early supporter of Bring Back Our Girls, met the girls in Abuja shortly before they left the city and told VOA the former captives generally seemed to be in good shape; but, she said that according to the girls' caretakers, this followed a long period of medical treatment and psychological therapy.
"Can you imagine being held captive with terrorists, men who frighten you every single day for three years? When you are released, you are not normal, your psyche is not too good. They had to debrief them and help them," Wilson told VOA.
Wilson said she was told that some girls are also recovering from bullet wounds, machete wounds and snake bites.
Wilson said that contrary to some reports, the girls have seen their families since being released; but, she endorsed the government's decision to keep the girls together in rehab instead of returning them to their homes.
"Because these girls had been together so long, to separate them would have traumatized them in my estimation. I think the decision to keep them together was the best thing they could have done," she said.
More than 100 girls from Chibok remain in Boko Haram captivity, three-and-a-half years after they were taken.
At the send-off party, Women's Affairs Minister Alhassan expressed optimism the rest of the girls will be freed.
“I assure you that by the grace of God, we will have our remaining girls released,” she said.