After months of negotiation, 82 of the Chibok schoolgirls were released by Boko Haram militants on Saturday 6 May.
They were part of the group of 276 girls (predominantly Christian) kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state, in April 2014.
The 82 young women (now aged between 19 and 21) were handed over to the Nigerian government in the town of Banki in northeast Nigeria close to the border with Cameroon. It is understood that the young women were released in exchange for five Boko Haram militant commanders.
The deal was negotiated by Mustapha Zanna, a barrister who currently runs an orphanage in Maiduguri but who was once the lawyer of the late founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. It also involved the Swiss government and the Red Cross. A source said that negotiations were complicated but that “Both parties agreed to manage the release of the girls in a no winner, no vanquished manner. We don’t want to jeopardise the chances of freedom for others.”
Meeting with President Buhari
On Sunday, the young women were picked up in Red Cross vehicles and boarded military helicopters to be flown to the capital, Abuja, where they were given medical checks and later met Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari. “I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom,” the president said, according to a statement released by his office. President Buhari promised to “personally supervise” the authorities charged with ensuring the girls’ “health, education, security and general well-being”. The 45-minute meeting was held shortly before President Buhari left for London for a medical consultation amid growing concerns over his health.
The young women appeared tired, sombre and confused but in reasonable health. Two of the group were physically injured – one with a wrist injury and the other was on crutches. One had a young child with her.
Joy in Chibok
Sources from Chibok said the entire town reacted with joy when the releases were confirmed, with churches full for Sunday services in which there were expressions of gratitude to God for “the bountiful harvest of release of our daughters from the hands of their abductors”.
“Our joy is unquantifiable; we are most grateful to God most high for this day, and will continue to pray fervently for the release of the remaining 113,” said Mrs Yana Galam, the leader of the mothers of the abducted girls, as she boarded a vehicle to Abuja.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign welcomed the releases and commended the government for its action but also stated that the freed girls require rehabilitation and trauma counselling. “It’s not just to bring them back home, we must ensure that they get the education they are supposed to have…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.”
It is unclear what will happen to the 82 young women. Some 21 others who were released in October 2016 are still being kept in Abuja, ostensibly for counselling and have not been allowed to go back and live with their families, who live 800 km away in Chibok. Concerns have been expressed that the government is reluctant to allow them freedom because it doesn’t want details of their treatment by Boko Haram to become known.
It is thought that some of the other 113 abducted schoolgirls are dead or have been radicalised and do not want to leave their Boko Haram husbands. A Boko Haram commander previously told a Nigerian newspaper that about ninety of the students “had since become Boko Haram members, having been married off and radicalised… as soon as they were captured”. The Nigerian government has pledged to work to secure the release of all the abducted girls.
Names of the released young women
1. Kwatah Simon 2. Grace Dauda 3. Junmai Paul 4. Tabita Pogo 5. Yanke Shetima 6. Junmai Miutah 7. Juliana Yakubu 8. Mary Yakubu 9. Ruth Kolo 10. Mairawa Yahaya 11. Rachael Nkeke 12. Fibi Haruna 13. Asaba Manu 14. Esther Usman 15. Filo Dauda 16. Awa Abga 1 17. Lydia Joshua 18. Naomi Bitrus 19. Martha James 20. Falmata Musa 21. Aisha Ezekiel 22. Awa Yerima 23. Mwada Baba 24. Hannatu Ishaku 25. Mwa Daniel 26. Rifhatu Soloman 27. Maryanu Yakubu 28. Rebecca Joseph 29. Laid Audu 30. Amina Pogu 31. Sarah Nkeki 32. Esther Josiiuwa 33. Saraya Yanga 34. Ruth Amos 35. Hauwa Musa 36. Hauwa Ishaya 37. Glory Aji 38. Mary Ali 39. Rahilla Bitrus 40. Luggwa Mutah 41. Lataba Maman 42. Lydia Habila 43. Deborah Peter 44. Naomi Yaga 45. Kwazigu Haman 46. Lugguwa Samue l 47. Maryamu Lawan 48. Tobita Hellapa (Maryam Lawal) 49. Ruth Ishaku 50. Maryamu Musa 51. Margret Yama 52. Kawa Luka 53. Solomi Titus 54. Naomi Yahona 55. Maimuna Usman 56. Grace Paul 57. Hawa Ntakai 58. Yagana Joshua 59. Comfort Bulus 60. Ramatu Yaga 61. Rhoda Peter 62. Naomi Luka 63. Naomi Adamu 64. Liatu Habila 65. Victoria William 66. Ladi Ibrahim 67. Christiana Ali 68. Hanatu Stephen 69. Patina Tabji 70. Martha James 71. Tabita Sila 72. Yana Bukar 73. Abigie Bukar 74. Hadiza Yakubu 75. Naomi Zakariya 76. Maryamu Wari 77. Amina Bulama 78. Asabe Lawan 79. Mary Dauda 80. Maryamu Balama 81. Naomi Philemon 82. Saratu Ayuba
(Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Post, Daily Trust, Guardian)