Education International has warmly welcomed the release of 82 schoolgirls from a group of 276 abducted three years ago by Islamist militants of the Boko Haram group in north-eastern Nigeria.
The girls were handed over after negotiations in exchange for five Boko Haram leaders held by the authorities. The children are now in the custody of the Nigerian army and arrived in the capital, Abuja,to meet President Muhammadu Buhari on 7 May.
Lengthy negotiations took place in Switzerland and Sudan, according to Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator, and the girls were released near Banki, a town in north-eastern Nigeria along the border with Cameroon.
A spokesman for President Buhari said he was deeply grateful to “security agencies, the military, the Government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and local and international NGOs” for playing a role in the operation.
Plea for privacy
Amnesty International said that the former prisoners did not “deserve to be put through a publicity stunt … The government should respect their privacy and ensure that the released girls are reunited with their families and not kept in lengthy detention and security screening which can only add to their suffering and plight”, said Amnesty’s Nigeria director, Osai Ojigho.
The abduction of the so-called “Chibok girls” triggered a global outcry and sparked a huge social media campaign, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls trending on social media, where it was promoted by the then First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, and other celebrities.
After the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state, was raided in April 2014, more than 50 girls quickly escaped. Boko Haram then released another 21girls and young women in October 2016, in a similar deal also involving the Red Cross in the transfer of the released captives. More than 100 of the 276 girls taken have yet to be returned.
Education International calls for the Nigerian public authorities to ensure that the remaining girls will soon be released.
As well as the Chibok girls, many hundreds, if not thousands, of girls and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram over the years, who have forced them to fight, cook, clean and bear children. Pregnant young women, a woman with a baby on her back, and even children as young as eight have been used as suicide bombers by the group, deployed as human weapons who have brought destruction to markets and even camps of desperate people fleeing the violence.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people during its eight-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria. More than 30,000 others have been killed, the government says, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.
The militant Islamist group was founded in 2002, initially focusing on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language.Since the Chibok abduction, Boko Haram has splintered into different factions, one of which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.