In keeping faith with its promise, the President Muhammadu Buhari government, saturday, secured the release of additional 82 Chibok girls, bringing the number of abducted Chibok girls that the administration has been able to secure their release since coming to office in 2015 to 106.
Yesterday’s release was the outcome of the ongoing negotiations with the Boko Haram leadership on the release of the girls captured since April 2014. Although full details of the terms of release were not out as at the time of filing this report, astatement last night by the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said that the girls were released in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects who were hitherto held by authorities.
Shehu who noted that President Buhari was pleased to announce the release of the girls said the president had expressed his gratitude to security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the Red Cross, local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for their fruitful negotiations.
He also disclosed that the freed girls would be formally received by Buhari in Abuja today (Sunday).
He added that the release was a follow-up to the earlier freedom of 21 girls in October last year, after which he said the president tasked security agencies to sustain their efforts until all the girls were freed and reunited with their families.
He said the president had since then been receiving briefings from the Director-General of Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, on progress of the negotiations.
The statement reads: “The President is pleased to announce that negotiations to release more of the Chibok Girls have born fruits with the release of 82 more Girls today. After months of patient negotiations, our security agencies have taken back these abducted girls in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities.
“The Girls are due tomorrow in Abuja to be received by the President. The President expressed his deep gratitude to security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the Red Cross, local and international NGOs for the success of this operation.
“It may be recalled that when the first batch of 21 Girls were released in October last year, the President directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok Girls have been released and reunited with their families. The President has been receiving full reports from the Director-General of the State Security Services at each stage of the operation.”
Apart from the statement issued last night by the state House, no other government official was willing to give additional information or agreed to be quoted. THISDAY however gathered that upon their release, the girls were initially camped in Banki town in the North East part of the country, where they were awaiting further instructions before they were air-lifted to another location, for debriefing and compulsory medical checkup.
There were also indication that the processes leading to the release of the 82 girls were kept secret as several senior government officials contacted by THISDAY when the news broke could not confirm the release of the girls.
For instance, the Director of Defence Information, Major General John Enenche, told THISDAY that the DHQ was yet to ascertain the true situation of things as far as the release of the girls was concerned.
When contacted also, the presidential spokesperson, Mr. Femi Adeshina, could not confirm too, as he said he was awaiting details of the negotiations before he could be armed to give information on the development. He however promised to do so immediately he was availed details of the release.
In similar breath, spokesperson for Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, Isa Gusau, said he had no information and could not reach his principal on phone and as such he could not confirm their release.
But a source in the Ministry of Information and Culture was the first to confirm the development and to also give the correct figure of 82 as against the 80 that a majority of the online news portal had earlier published.
The source described the news as another promise kept by the Buhari government, adding that while critics of the administration would naturally fail to see or acknowledge a feat as exciting as the release of more Chibok girls, the government and its functionaries are not unaware of their efforts and would continue to do more.
Boko Haram had seized 276 female students from the Government Secondary School in Chibok on the night of April 14, 2014. About 57 of the girls managed to escape in the immediate aftermath of the abduction.
Negotiations between the federal government and Boko Haram had led to the release of 21 of the girls while another three were freed by soldiers. Dozens of others had escaped on their own.
Despite losing most of the territory they controlled at some point, including the dreaded Sambisa forest to Nigerian troops, the insurgents kept hold of an estimated 195 girls, with some of them already feared dead.
But Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had disclosed last month that negotiations were ongoing for the release of more Chibok schoolgirls still in the custody of the deadly terror group.
“There is a lot of negotiation going on,” he had said at an interaction with journalists and activists at the State House in Abuja in April.
Expressing optimism that the dialogue would yield the desired result in due course, Osinbajo had said government had “gone quite far” with negotiations to free more girls.
THISDAY gathered that the release process was slow because of the existence of two factions in Boko Haram, with each faction holding on to some of the girls.
One of the factions is led by Abubakar Shekau, the erstwhile leader of the group, while a breakaway faction is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, believed to be a son of the late founder of the group, Mohammed Yusuf.