Nigeria identifies 82 freed Chibok girls; parents await word
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian newspapers published the names Monday of 82 Chibok schoolgirls set free three years after being kidnapped by Islamic extremists, but they remained behind closed doors and their parents awaited word on whether they could see them.
It was unclear if many of the parents in the remote northeastern town of Chibok had seen the list of names or if any would travel the nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) to the capital of Abuja to see their daughters who were abducted by the Boko Haram militant group.
The girls were flown to Abuja on Saturday after their release in exchange for five Boko Haram commanders, a government official said Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Neither the government nor Boko Haram, which has links to the Islamic State group, gave details about the exchange.
Photos distributed Sunday by the government showed the women in colorful T-shirts and wraps meeting Sunday with President Muhammadu Buhari before he announced he was leaving for London immediately for treatment of his own undisclosed illness.
On Monday, the young women met with Health Minister Isaac Folorunso Adewole.
Thousands of people have been killed and about 1.6 million driven from their homes in the eight-year insurgency by Boko Haram. But it was the mass kidnapping of 276 girls in April 2014 that horrified the world and brought the extremist group international attention.
Last year, a first group of 21 Chibok girls was freed in October, and they have been in government care for medical attention, trauma counseling and rehabilitation. Human rights groups have criticized the decision to keep them in custody in Abuja.
Following the weekend release, 113 Chibok schoolgirls remain missing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which helped negotiate the girls’ release along with the Swiss government, said they would be reunited with their families soon.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the latest release and urged the international community to support Nigeria’s government to work toward getting all Boko Haram victims home.
“We appeal to all Nigerians, including the families and local communities of the liberated girls, to fully embrace them and provide all necessary support to ensure their reintegration into society,” a statement said.
Girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the 2014 mass kidnapping said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home because they’d been radicalized by their captors, they said.
Human rights advocates also fear some of the girls have been used by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings as part of the group’s insurgency.
Some parents did not live long enough to see their daughters released, underscoring the tragedy of the saga. And the recovery process is expected to be a long one for the girls. Human rights officials have said some of the escapees described forced marriages and rapes, forced conversions to Islam, and forced labor and participation in attacks.
Nigeria’s government rebuffed criticism by a faction of the former ruling party that it should not have made an exchange for the girls’ release, along with other criticism that it waited too long to take such action.
After he became president, Buhari pledged that his government would do all it could to rescue the girls, including exchanges, said Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed in a statement Monday, calling the criticism insensitive.
“A lot of factors come into play when a nation has to decide whether or not to engage in prisoner-hostage swap,” he said. “None, however, trounces the sanctity attached to human life and the consideration for the pains of the loved ones of those involved.”