Reports circulated on Thursday that the Federal Government freed some top Boko Haram commanders in exchange for the 21 Chibok girls who were released by the insurgents at Banki, a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The released girls were among over 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14, 2014.
But so far, the Federal government of Nigeria had offered a different narrative to the one doing rounds in the media.
A security source said that five Boko Haram commanders were released in exchange for the 21 Chibok girls. “Those released are not among those released earlier by the military in the North-East on October 1, 2016. These ones are confirmed by Boko Haram commanders who have been in the custody of the DSS. I think it was a planned operation which involved the DSS. The released Boko Haram commanders were not in the custody of the military,” the source added.
The government, however, has a different story. Yemi Osinbajo, the Vice President, spoke to the press after meeting the girls.
“I met them about an hour ago and I can confirm they are in good health,” Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said after meeting the 21 released girls who were brought from the northeastern city of Maiduguri to the capital Abuja.
Officials said that their release came after the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered a deal with the group.
“In the next few days or months, we will be able to negotiate the release of more of the girls,” Osinbajo told reporters.
A picture released by a presidency official showed one of the girls holding a baby when they met Osinbajo. Officials have accused Boko Haram of having married off the girls to its followers.
Information Minister, Lai Mohammed denied reports that the government had swapped Boko Haram fighters for their release and said he was not aware if any ransom had been paid. He said a Nigerian army operation against Boko Haram would continue.
Switzerland “facilitated contacts between Nigerian representatives and intermediaries of Boko Haram” after a request from Abuja said a Swiss government spokeswoman. “We have nothing to add,” she said when asked if it had been a prisoner swap.
In recent days, the Nigerian military has been carrying out a large-scale offensive in the Sambisa forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram, which last year pledged loyalty to the Islamic State militant group.
Boko Haram published a video in August, which apparently showed recent footage of dozens of kidnapped girls and said some had been killed in air strikes.
In recent months, President Muhammad Buhari said his government was prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram about their release.
After their release, the former captives went to meet with the governor of northeastern Nigeria’s Borno state and later taken to the central Nigerian city of Abuja, said Borno officials. “We welcome reports of the negotiated release of 21 of our abducted #ChibokGirls today,” The Nigeria-based #Chibokgirls campaign said in a statement. “Following this development, we trust that our government will continue to work to keep the safety, security, and well-being of the other girls a high priority. We further urge the international community to support our government’s efforts to rescue all other abducted Nigerians, so that parents, the Chibok community, the nation and the world can finally put an end to this nightmare once and for all.”
The terms of the release of the 21 girls from the clutches of the deadly terrorist sect, however, remains unknown. The government sources partly agreed to a negotiation with the intermediary of Boko Haram but, what was given in return has not been disclosed.
Nonetheless, congratulations to the girls on their freedom!