The Presidency, Thursday, confirmed the release of 21 Chibok school girls, following dialogue with leaders of Boko Haram, their abductors, after 911 days in captivity. “We can confirm that 21 of the girls were released, safely, to us by 5.30 this Thursday morning (yesterday) and they were flown to Kaduna from the location of their release. This is the most glaring manifestation, to date, of the unwavering commitment of Mr. President to secure safe release of the girls and reunite them with their families. It is also a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the administration to put a closure to the sad issue of the kidnap of the girls. We expect the released girls to land in Abuja shortly,’ the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said.
According to the minster, “there is no truth in reports that the girls were swapped with detained Boko Haram insurgents. The girls’ release was secured based on a very delicate negotiation and confidence built over the time,” he stressed. It had been earlier reported that the girls were freed in a swap for detained Boko Haram leaders. According to the report, four detained Boko Haram leaders were released on Wednesday night at Banki, a town on the northeast border with Cameroon. The girls were among the 219 students abducted by the insurgents in Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014. One of them, Amina Ali Nkeki, had earlier this year, escaped from the abductors’ grip and was received by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Negotiations failed last year, when Boko Haram demanded a ransom of $5.2 billion for the girls’ freedom, according to a recently published authorized biography of President Muhammadu Buhari by American historian, John Paden.
Indeed, an elated President Buhari, who jetted out to Germany, yesterday, welcomed the release of the girls and promised to discuss the issue with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. “As I depart Abuja for Germany on an official visit, I welcome the release of 21 of our Chibok Girls, following successful negotiations,” Buhari said on Twitter, a few minutes after the news broke out. “The Department of State Services (DSS) has briefed me on the matter, and will continue to provide updates. Cooperation on the security and humanitarian situation in the Northeast will form a significant part of my discussions with Chancellor Merkel,” he added. Freedom for the 21 girls elicited joy in the Borno State Government House and from the Bring Back Our Girls group, BBOG, which has been in the vanguard of the crusade to get the girls freed.
In the absence of President Buhari, the girls were received by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Welcoming the girls, Osinbajo said: “Welcome back girls! I am sure you know that the whole country has been waiting for you to come back, all these many months, the whole country has been waiting that, one day, we will see you again and we are very happy to see you back! We are going to bring your parents, your parents will be coming here to join you. You can’t immediately be taken out of here because we need to be sure that you are in very good health. I am sure you are going to be very well taken care of. We have provided very good accommodation for you where you will stay, where you will sleep and your parents will come and meet you there also. We are also going to see to it that everything that you require going forward, perhaps your education, those who need to go back to school, those who need to find employment, we are going to make that we make all the provisions for you.”
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who also confirmed the release of the 21 girls, stated that the the girls, who were in the custody of the DSS would be received by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The girls were eventually received by Osinbajo and other dignitaries, including the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari and Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The names of released girls The 21 girls whose names were released, last night, by the Presidency, included Mary Usman Bulama; Jummai John; Blessing Abana; Lugwa Sanda; Comfort Habila; Maryam Basheer; Comfort Amos; Glory Mainta; Saratu Emmanuel; Deborah Ja’afaru; Rahab Ibrahim and Helen Musa. Others are Maryamu Lawan; Rebecca Ibrahim; Asabe Goni; Deborah Andrawus; Agnes Gapani; Saratu Markus; Glory Dama; Pindah Nuhu; and Rebecca Mallam.
“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,” Shehu said in a statement. FG assembles team of doctors, psychologists, others for freed girls Ahead of the arrival of the girls in Abuja, Lai Mohammed told journalists that the Federal Government had assembled a team of medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, trauma experts, etc, to properly examine the girls, especially because they had been in captivity for so long. He also disclosed that government will adequately debrief the girls and had started contacting their parents as part of the necessary verification exercise.
On how the deal was struck, the minister said: “We have been working on the safe release of the girls and following all the leads available. In this instance, the moment we had a credible lead, Mr President gave the green-light to the DSS to pursue it. We can confirm that the DSS pursued the lead in collaboration with a friendly European country and a renowned international humanitarian organization. The DSS was supported by the military. “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. 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.” Confirming the medical and psychological attention the government was paying to the girls, Mr. Laolu Akande, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s spokesman, in a tweet, said, the “FG is now gathering medical and other support and care in Abuja for the just released 21 Chibok girls.”