YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Nigerian priest has compared the government option to marry off freed Boko Haram hostages to their abductors to trying to heal cancer with a bandage.

Father Moses Lorapuu – Director of Communication and Vicar General Pastoral for the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi in Benue State – was reacting to reports indicating that around 20 Chibok girls who have regained their freedom after years in Boko Haram captivity are now being forced to marry the men who abducted them.

“This strategy [of encouraging marriages between freed Chibok girls and their captors] is tantamount to bandaging cancer. You don’t bandage cancer,” Lorapuu told Crux.

The BBC tells the story of Yama Bullum, who is grappling with a profound sense of loss. A decade ago, Boko Haram militants abducted his daughter, Jinkai Yama, along with 275 other girls from their secondary school. Fifty-seven managed to escape, and between 2016 and 2018, 108 were either rescued or released through negotiations, according to the BBC.

Yet 91 girls remain unaccounted for.

Jinkai was among the 20 “Chibok girls” rescued from Boko Haram hideouts in the Sambisa Forest — a stronghold of the 15-year insurgency in north-eastern Borno state.

The trauma these young women endured during their captivity is unimaginable. Forced marriages to extremists, multiple husbands lost in clashes with the military, and the haunting memories of their abduction — all underscore the brutality they faced. Boko Haram’s name, meaning “western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, reflects their extremist ideology.

Despite their harrowing experiences, Jinkai – like many of the freed girls – has chosen to marry one of her captors, with the complicity of the Nigerian government. However, many observers say the women have been forced into these marriages.

Jinkai’s father now feels deep anguish at the realization that his daughter had chosen to remain married to one of her captors.

“I am not happy with what the governor did. The girls managed to come out of the forest and the governor married them off again. Her mother is very angry,” Bullum told the BBC.

It was a harrowing realization because Bullum had all along thought that his daughter, along with other freed girls had been in a special welfare center.

But the evidence on the ground suggests that the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara Zulum, approves of marriages between the freed girls and their abductors as a way of stabilizing the region.

Lorapuu has condemned the government, echoing the frustration and disbelief shared by many Nigerians.

The situation, the priest told Crux, is akin to trying to heal cancer with a bandage — a futile and damaging approach.

“To imagine that ten years on, some of the Chibok girls are still unaccounted for and the government does nothing except pieces of skullduggery in form of press statements by its spin doctors on how some of the girls have been resettled and how terrorists are being pushed back,” he said.

“No serious government will permit its citizens to be treated the way terrorists are dehumanizing Nigerians. See how the Israeli government reacted to Hamas for the October 7th terror attacks,” Lorapuu told Crux.

“What the government is doing is legitimizing Islamization. How do you ask a victim of a rapist to marry him? The government is seeking to minimize the catastrophe in international circles and allow the legitimization of Islamic terrorism,” he said.

The government has pushed back at the accusations, saying that the marriages are voluntary.

Zuwaira Gambo, Borno state commissioner for women affairs and social development, told the BBC that the girls do insist that  “without their husbands, they will not stay in Maiduguri.”

She explained that the risk of denying them their wish is that the couples could run back to the forest.

Fr. Moses Lorapuu challenges this, telling Crux that “in every village where these attacks take place, the victims are told to learn to live with the terrorists.”

The priest described kidnappings in Nigeria as “an epidemic,” noting that he lacked a better word to describe the situation.

Money at the root of kidnappings

Maria Lozano of the charity Aid to the Church in Need said northern Nigeria has become home to “mass kidnappings.”

“It’s all about ransom money. Many criminal bands make a living from it,” she told Crux.

“Kidnapping has been a major source of revenue for both violent extremist organizations in the North East and bandit groups in the North West,” Lozano said.

On Feb. 29, insurgents kidnapped over 200 women, girls, and boys who had left their Internally Displaced Persons camp in search of firewood in Ngala, northeast Borno state.

“While the perpetrators of the abductions have not been claimed by specific groups, it is likely that either Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) or Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad (JAS) are behind the February abductions in Borno,” Lozano said.

She said Nigeria also leads in the list of religious people and priests kidnapped around the world by far, with 28 cases in 2023, including three religious sisters.

“The vast majority of [religious] kidnapped in Nigeria ended up being released,” she said.

Lozano noted that three were killed last year “related to a kidnapping or attempt of it: Father Isaac Achi was brutally murdered in January, when he was unable to escape his residence as it burned to the ground following an attack, and seminarian Na’aman Danlami in September  suffered the exact same fate. “

In October, Godwin Eze, Benedictine who had been abducted along with two fellow novices, was murdered by his kidnappers, she said.

“The abduction of priests and religious in Nigeria has become so common that new cases barely register. Although most end up being released, in what has become a lucrative business for criminals, there have also been cases of fatalities, leaving Catholics in constant fear,” Lozano said.