ABUJA, Nigeria —A group of 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed after more than three years of Boko Haram captivity met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari May 7 in Abuja, a day after their release in a prisoner swap.
Nigeria released five Boko Haram terrorists from prison in exchange for the girls, a government official told the Associated Press May 7 on condition of anonymity. But the Nigerian government did not officially disclose the number of terrorists released in the May 6 exchange.
An estimated 113 of the girls from the majority Christian town in northeastern Nigeria remain missing, their health and whereabouts uncertain.
“After lengthy negotiations our security agencies have taken back these girls, in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities,” Buhari media representative Garba Shehu said in a May 6 press release.
The swap marked the largest number of Chibok schoolgirls released since Boko Haram kidnapped a total of 276 of them from a government boarding school in April, 2014. About 60 of the girls managed to escape on the night of their capture or in the ensuing years; Nigeria secured the release of 21 others in October 2016. Buhari pledged to continue working for the remaining girls’ freedom.
“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,” Buhari said during yesterday’s meeting, according to an official statement from his press office. “On behalf of all Nigerians, I will [sic] like to share my joy with you, your parents, your relatives, friends and Government of Borno State on regaining your freedom.”
Parents and relatives anxiously gathered at newsstands today (May 7) as the girls’ names and photos were released, the AP reported, to determine whether their daughters were among the freed. While some parents have already traveled to Abuja, other are awaiting word at their homes, the AP said.
In comments to the International Christian Concern (ICC), a Chibok pastor praised God for answering prayers.
“God is answering the prayers of His people,” said pastor Filibus Madu, Chibok Local Council chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria. “We are grateful to God for answered prayers.
The entire Kibaki (Chibok) land and the parents are generally happy with this release. We are praying for the rest of the girls to be released.”
An estimated 95 percent of the girls were Christians when captured, the ICC said.
Boko Haram is suspected of having hidden the girls deep in the Sambisa forest for much of their captivity, and had threatened to enslave the girls as wives of the radical Muslim fighters.
“No human being should go through this kind of ordeal,” Buhari said during the 45-minute meeting. “The security agencies and state governments should continue to provide special protection to educational institutions vulnerable to this kind of outrage especially in remote areas.”
Buhari told the girls he would “personally supervise the performance of those entrusted with your welfare and commitments made by the Federal Government on your health, education, security and general well-being.” Physicians have already examined the girls who are today (May 8) with “those who will supervise their rehabilitation,” Buhari spokesman Femi Adesina told Al Jazeera.
Aisha Yesufu, who has campaigned for the girls’ release as a member of the Bring Back Our Girls grassroots advocacy group, told Al Jazeera the freed girls need rehabilitation and trauma counseling.
“It’s not just to bring them back home, we must ensure that they get the education they are supposed to have,” Al Jazeera quoted Yesufu. “It is time for them to be reunited with their families.
Psychosocial therapy … there has to be rehabilitation. And at the end of the day, we want to have world leaders out of every one of them so that they can be what the terrorists did not want them to be.”
While the girls’ kidnapping gained international attention, the ICC counts them among more than 2,000 boys and girls Boko Haram has abducted for use as suicide bombers, fighters, wives or cooks.
Buhari in December of 2015 claimed a technical defeat of Boko Haram, saying the terrorists’ tactics had been reduced to sporadic suicide attacks. The terrorists no longer have sufficient military power, Buhari said, to overtake towns and set up illegal caliphates that at one point covered 20,000 square miles.
About a week after the October 2016 negotiated release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls, Boko Haram attacked a military base in northeast Nigeria and destroyed Goptari village, just six miles from Chibok.
Boko Haram has killed between 20,000 and 25,000 people since 2009, according to official estimates, and has displaced about 2.6 million others, creating a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in the region that has been termed the gravest in the world.
— by Diana Chandler | BP