A FURTHER 82 of the schoolgirls snatched three years ago from their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria (News, 2 May 2014), have been released by the militant group Boko Haram, in return for the release of some of their fighters from custody.
Three years ago, 276 girls were forced from their beds by Boko Haram militants in the middle of the night. The kidnapping sparked global outrage, and the resulting movement on social media #BringBackOurGirls was supported by Michelle Obama and celebrities around the world.
Some of the girls escaped almost immediately afterwards, and 21 were released after similar negotiations with the terrorists last year (News, 21 October). About 100 girls are still held by Boko Haram, as are many more men, women, and children whose plight has not received the same publicity. Many of the girls were Christian, but were forced to convert to Islam and marry Boko Haram fighters, bearing children for their captors.
The freed girls were flown to meet the ailing President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, in Lagos at the weekend. He has since flown back to the UK for continuing medical treatment. The release of so many of the girls will be a boost to his presidency, vowing as he did to crush Boko Haram when he took power in 2015.
“Let me reassure Nigerians, especially relatives and friends of the remaining girls, that the federal government will spare no effort to see that they, and all other Nigerians who have been abducted, safely regain their freedom,” Mr Buhari said in a statement after the meeting.
A statement from a spokesman for President Buhari said that he was deeply grateful to “security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the international committee of the Red Cross, and local and international NGOs” for playing a part in the operation.
Details of the number of prisoners exchanged for the girls have not been released by the government.
The UNICEF Acting Representative in Nigeria, Pernille Ironside, said that it was heartening to know that the girls would be returning to their families, but warned that they would face a “long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered”.
UNICEF was on standby, she said, to support the Nigerian authorities in providing psychosocial support for the girls, and to ensure that their education continues in a “safe environment”.