Eighty-two of the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria in 2014 arrived in Abuja yesterday to meet President Muhammadu Buhari after a prisoner swap deal secured their release.
Presidency spokesman Femi Adesina said the schoolgirls from Chibok, in Borno state, were met at the capital’s airport by Buhari’s chief of staff Abba Kyari.
Military and civilian militia sources in the town of Banki, on the border with Cameroon, said the girls had left for Borno state capital Maiduguri on board six military helicopters.
“One of the girls was carrying a baby with her, a boy of less than two years,” said the source on condition of anonymity.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which said it “facilitated the safe return” of the girls as a “neutral intermediary”, tweeted photographs of a line of girls boarding a military helicopter.
The presidency announced late on Saturday that months of talks with the jihadists had “yielded results” about six months after 21 other Chibok girls were freed with the help of international mediators.
“Today 82 more Chibok girls were released,” it said.
“After lengthy negotiations, our security agencies have taken back these girls, in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities.”
No details were given about how many suspects were released or their identities.
Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator who has been involved in previous negotiations, said the talks lasted for “three to four months”. The government would now look to secure the release of the remaining hostages, he said.
Boko Haram fighters stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the evening of April 14 2014 and kidnapped 276 teenaged girls.
Fifty-seven managed to escape in the hours that followed but the remaining 219 were held by the group.
Boko Haram’s Abubaker Shekau claimed in a video that they had converted to Islam.
The girls have become a symbol of the Nigerian conflict. Last month parents and supporters marked the three-year anniversary of the abduction, describing the situation as an unending “nightmare”.