The Nigerian government late Saturday said the 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram were exchanged for some suspected members of the terror group held by the authorities.
“Today, 82 more Chibok Girls were released. After lengthy negotiations, our security agencies have taken back these girls, in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement without being specific on the number of the terrorists freed.
The girls are expected to be received by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on Sunday.
The girls were among 276 kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state on April 14, 2014. Fifty-seven of them escaped while being taken away, three others were found or rescued by the military.
21 girls were freed on October 13, 2016, after the Swiss government and international Committee of Red Cross brokered a deal between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. Though the government denied prisoner swap took place on that occasion, multiple sources, however, insisted that four Boko Haram prisoners were freed in order to secure the release of the girls.
“The four Boko Haram militants were brought to Banki from Maiduguri in a military helicopter from where they were driven to Kumshe in ICRC vehicles,” AFP reported quoting local sources.
Shehu had hinted at the possibility of securing the release of about 83 of the remaining girls in October last year. He told Reuters then that the government was already negotiating with a Boko Haram splinter group for the release of more girls.
“These 21 released girls are supposed to be talebearers to tell the Nigerian government that this faction of Boko Haram has 83 more Chibok girls,” Shehu told Reuters, adding that, “the faction said it is ready to negotiate if the government is willing to sit down with them.”
The Swiss government, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and local and international non-governmental organisations took part in the negotiations that led to the release of the girls, Shehu said.