Boko Haram militants have released 82 Chibok girls out of a group of 276 abducted in 2014 from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok, the Nigerian government said in a statement on Saturday. The girls were handed over to the Nigerian authorities in exchange for Boko Haram suspects being held by the government. The exchange came after prolonged negotiations between the government and the militants.
The latest batch of Chibok girls released by the Boko Haram militants are now in the custody of the Nigerian army. They were released into the forest in a remote area near the border with Cameroon. They were brought from the forest to an army base in Banki, a small town near the border with Cameroon in northeastern Nigeria, according to the BBC.
The local authorities have not disclosed the identities of the latest batch of girls released, but they are believed to be among the 276 girls, aged 16 to 18, kidnapped by the militants from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, in April of 2014.
The number and identities of the Boko Haram suspects released by the authorities in exchange for the girls were also not disclosed. But the BBC reported that eyewitnesses said two blindfolded men were spotted in a convoy of armored vehicles that traveled into the forest to recover the girls.
Although Pastor Enoch Mark, a parent of two of the kidnapped Chibok girls, could not immediately confirm whether his daughters were among those freed, he told AFP that the release was “good news.”
“This is good news to us. We have been waiting for this day. We hope the remaining girls will soon be released.”
“I am very, very excited with this development. I cannot even sleep tonight,” said Yana Galang whose daughter was among the 276 girls kidnapped in 2014, according to CNN.
She also could not confirm whether her daughter was among the girls released.
“I hope and pray that my daughter is among these released girls,” she said.
About 113 of the girls remain missing following the latest release, the Nigerian authorities confirmed. More than 50 of the girls escaped within hours after they were kidnapped in 2014. Several girls were recovered in the months that followed before a batch of more than 20 girls were released last October after negotiations that involved the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The girls, most of whom are Christian, will receive medical care and psychological counseling before they are reunited with their families.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will meet the girls in Abuja on Sunday, the president’s office said in a statement. A spokesperson for President Buhari said that he (Buhari) was grateful to the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, security agencies as well as local and international NGOS who played a role in the release of the girls.
The abduction of 276 Chibok girls was a high-profile incident that focused global attention on the bloody Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. The incident sparked global outrage in 2014 and a social media campaign under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The campaign drew the support of First Lady Michelle Obama and several international celebrities.
Thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency that flared in 2009 and escalated further in 2014. Although the Nigerian government claims to have suppressed the insurgency, the conflict continues with suicide bombings and sporadic guerrilla attacks. Large areas of the northwestern parts of the country remain under threat.
The Nigerian government said it was in touch with the militants to secure the release of the remaining kidnapped girls and to ensure that they are reunited with their families unharmed.
[Featured Image by Sunday Alamba/AP Images]