Thirty months after they were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists, 21 of the over 276 Chibok school girls have regained their freedom.
They were released on Thursday by the insurgents, who handed them over to the Federal Government’s negotiators.
The Federal Government said the release of the girls, which did not involve a swap of prisoners, came after a series of negotiations involving the international community, government agencies and the Boko Haram insurgents.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke on the girls’ release at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on his way to Germany for a security summit, promised to secure the release of more of the girls.
The girls were abducted by
Boko Haram terrorists on April 14, 2014, from THE Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in Borno State.
Fifty-seven of the girls had earlier, at various times, escaped from their captors’ den and reunited with their families.
With the escape of the 57, the search for the remaining 219 girls continued until one of them, Amina Ali, was freed with baby in May after being found with her Boko Haram husband.
Yesterday’s release of another 21 girls has brought the number of the remaining captives to 197.
In a reaction to the development, the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaigners led by former Education Minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, which has been championing the agitation for the girls’ release, expressed gratitude to God and thanked both President Buhari for ensuring the safe release of the girls.
Ezekwesili, who took to the social media to express her joy over the development, said her mood was that of “weeping, a cry that is an admixture of multiple emotions” and urged Nigerians and the rest of the world to join voices with the Psalmist’s song of 126 in thanking God.
She said that at 4am in California, she could not sleep again because of joy. “I can only weep, right now. You know that kind of cry that is a mix of multiple emotions. Lord, some of our girls are back! It is 4am in California and I can no longer sleep. Join me in singing the words of Psalm126… “When the Lord turned again the captivity…” she added.
She also said it was a thing of joy that the number of the abducted girls has now reduced from 218 to 197.
Although government officials insist there was no swap of prisoners, a security official, however, disclosed that several top-level Boko Haram detainees were taken to a meeting point close to the Cameroun border under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) where the girls were released.
The girls were transported to Maiduguri and placed under the supervision of the security forces.
According to the security official, 18 of the girls have babies.
The news of their release was broken by the Presidency which said that they were in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS).
The confirmation of the release of the girls came shortly after the DSS Director-General, Malam Lawal Daura, briefed President Buhari at the State House, Abuja.
In a statement issued by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, he said: “The release of the girls, in a limited number, is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue.
“The President welcomes the release of the girls but cautioned Nigerians to be mindful of the fact that more than 30,000 fellow citizens were killed via terrorism.
“Malam Lawal wants the girls to have some rest, with all of them very tired coming out of the process before he hands them over to the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.”
The girls, who are now in Abuja, will be examined by a team of doctors and psychologists, Information Minister Lai Mohammed told journalists in Abuja yesterday.
Mohammed insisted that the release was an offshoot of a series “of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides.”
“As soon as the necessary confidence was built on both sides, the parties agreed on the date and the location of the release of the 21 girls. Please note that this is not a swap. It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides,” the minister said.
He explained that following a credible lead on how to secure the safe release of the girls, the President gave the go ahead to the DSS to pursue it and the operation was carried out in collaboration with a friendly European country and a renowned international humanitarian organisation with support from the military.
“We see this as a credible first step in the eventual release of all the Chibok Girls in captivity. It is also a major step in confidence-building between us as a government and the Boko Haram Leadership on the issue of the Chibok Girls.
“We want to thank all Nigerians for their support and for never losing confidence in the ability of Mr. President to secure the safe release of our Chibok girls,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday visited the 21 freed Chibok schoolgirls at the medical centre of the Department of State Services (DSS) along Airport Road in Abuja and assured them that their parents would be brought in to be with them today.
Addressing journalists at the Presidential Villa after his visit to the girls, Osinbajo said that although the girls were in relatively good health, they would remain with the DSS and continue to receive more medical attention before they return home.
“One of the 21 girls has a baby; she is the only one”, he clarified even as he insisted that no Boko Haram commandant or fighter detained by the security agencies was swapped for the girls yet as earlier demanded by their abductors.
According to the Vice-President: “We should congratulate ourselves and thank the almighty God for the release and subsequent returning home of 21 of the Chibok girls who were taken almost 2 years ago. It is an exciting news for the whole country. Everyone is really excited and I believe that we should be very thankful to God.”
“I also want to thank the military and all the security services, DSS, intelligence services across the county as well as our friends and partners, internationally who have also helped in bringing a happy ending of the captivity of at least 21 of the Chibok girls.
He insisted that “there was no exchange (of prisoners) of any kind. There was no swap of any kind. Even when we started negotiations, we said we will consider all options available to us. Absolutely, there was no exchange of any kind”.
Among the senior government officials who joined the Vice President at the press briefing were the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Al-Hassan; Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed and the Director-General of DSS, Lawal Daura.