More than 80 high school girls from Chibok were released on Saturday from Boko Haram after more than three years of captivity at the hands of the Nigerian jihadist group, confirmed the Nigerian presidency.
“Today, 82 new Chibok girls have been released … in exchange for alleged members of Boko Haram detained by the authorities,” the Nigerian presidency said on Twitter, confirming information initially given by a Minister, security sources and the father of two daughters.
A military source said at first that “at least 80 girls from Chibok” had been taken to Banki on the border with Cameroon in northeastern Nigeria.
“Vehicles picked them up in a forest without a military escort and took them back to Banki at 5:30 pm (1630 GMT). They are housed in the military barracks and will leave by plane to Maiduguri (capital of Borno state) tomorrow “The source added.
Enoch Mark, the father of two abducted girls, testified that she was told: “We have been kept informed by the Bring Back Our Girls movement (BBOG, which is demonstrating the liberation of high school girls since their kidnapping) and an official State of Borno. This is great news for us, “Mark said.
“The expectations are great,” BBOG said Saturday in a statement on Twitter: “We are delighted to hear officially that this news is confirmed and true.
On Friday, the British and American embassies said they had received a report stating that Boko Haram was planning a kidnapping of foreign nationals “along the Banki-Kumshe axis.”
NGOs, particularly active in the area devastated by eight years of conflict, had to suspend their activities in the area.
In mid-April, Nigeria had sadly celebrated the third anniversary of the kidnapping of over 200 girls by the jihadist group in 2014.
Related to the media from around the world, the mass kidnapping of 276 adolescent girls – 57 of whom had managed to escape just after the abduction – had caused a wave of indignation that many global celebrities had participated in with hashtags #bringbackourgirls (Bring us our daughters).
Three of them had been found near the forest of Sambisa, one of them accompanied by her husband, whom the army immediately suspected of being a fighter of Boko Haram.
In October 2016, another 21 girls had been released, some with children born in captivity, after negotiations between Boko Haram and the government, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Switzerland.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said the release of 83 other girls was under negotiation, but that they were held by other factions in the group. He added that “foreign countries” and the ICRC continued their assistance in the talks.
The ICRC did not wish to comment on the release.
The high school girls in Chibok have become the symbol of the tens of thousands of people still held by Boko Haram, who use mass kidnapping as a means of recruitment.
On Christmas Eve, President Buhari had triumphantly announced “the final crushing of the terrorists of Boko Haram in their last enclave” of Sambisa, a forest of some 1,300 square kilometers. The release of high school students was one of her campaign promises during her election in 2015.
But access to the northeast of the country, a vast territory on the borders of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, remains extremely difficult: even if Boko Haram no longer controls vast territories, attacks and kidnappings are daily.
“Boko Haram continues to abduct women, girls, and young boys to punish them for the worst punishment: they are raped, beaten and forced to commit suicide bombings,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty’s representative International for Nigeria, on the third anniversary of their abduction.
“Unfortunately, most of his kidnappings are not reported in the press. Many parents, many families have given up hope of finding those they love,” Kamara wrote in April.
This particularly bloody conflict in the Lake Chad area has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.6 million people since 2009.