Thursday 24 August 2017

Five militants released in deal to free 82 Chibok girls

Chibok schoolgirls freed from Boko Haram captivity pictured in Abuja. The 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls arrived in Nigeria’s capital yesterday to meet President Muhammadu Buhari as anxious families awaited an official list of names of those released. Photo: AP
Chibok schoolgirls freed from Boko Haram captivity pictured in Abuja. The 82 freed Chibok schoolgirls arrived in Nigeria’s capital yesterday to meet President Muhammadu Buhari as anxious families awaited an official list of names of those released. Photo: AP

Bashir Adigun Abuja

Five Boko Haram commanders have been released in exchange for the freedom of 82 Chibok schoolgirls, a Nigerian government official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to reporters on the matter.

The confirmation of the prisoner swap yesterday came a day after the young women were liberated after more than three years in captivity by the Islamic militants.

There was no immediate comment about the exchange from the Nigerian presidency or Boko Haram, the extremists linked to the Isil group.

President Muhammadu Buhari said on Saturday that some Boko Haram prisoners had been released for the freedom of the schoolgirls, but he did not give any details.

The freed young women were flown yesterday by military helicopters from north-eastern Nigeria to Abuja, the capital, where they were expected to meet the president.

"They will face a long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram," said Pernille Ironside, acting representative of Unicef Nigeria.

Authorities say 113 schoolgirls remain missing of the 276 girls abducted from their boarding school in 2014. Girls who escaped said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home because they'd been radicalised by their captors, they said.

Human rights advocates also fear some of the girls kidnapped from the Chibok boarding school were used by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings.

In Abuja, anxious families were awaiting the official list of names of the 82 schoolgirls freed. Some parents have not lived long enough to see their daughters released, underscoring the tragedy of the three-year-long saga.

Last year, 21 other Chibok girls were liberated in October and they have been undergoing counselling for months. It was not immediately clear whether the newest girls freed on Saturday would join them.

Those girls are still in government care in Abuja for medical attention, trauma counselling and rehabilitation, according to the government. Human rights groups have criticised the decision to keep the girls in custody in Abuja, nearly 900km from Chibok.

The newly freed schoolgirls should be quickly released to their families and not be subjected to lengthy government detention, Amnesty International's Nigeria office said, adding that they don't deserve to be put through a "publicity stunt" and deserve privacy.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which along with the Swiss government has mediated negotiations between Nigeria's government and Boko Haram, said the girls soon would meet with their families.

The release marks the largest negotiated release so far of the 276 girls whose abduction in 2014 drew international attention to the threat of Nigeria's extremists. Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Isil, and carried out attacks in neighbouring countries.

The mass kidnapping horrified the world and brought Boko Haram international attention. The failure of Nigeria's former government to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global 'Bring Back Our Girls' movement; then US first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on social media.

The campaign said yesterday it was happy that Nigeria's government had committed to rescuing the 113 remaining schoolgirls.

"We urge the president and his government to earnestly pursue the release of all our Chibok girls and other abducted citizens of Nigeria," the group said in a statement.

Irish Independent

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