Brought Back Our Girls: 21 Kidnapped Chibok Girls Returned, Most With Babies. More Expected

Written by Dana Sanchez

Rumors abound over the terms of their release after 21 schoolgirls kidnapped from the Nigerian town of Chibok in northeastern Borno state were handed over to Nigerian authorities Thursday following a series of negotiations, Nigeria’s government said.

The 2014 kidnapping prompted global figures such as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai to support a #BringBackOurGirls campaign on social media.

Officials say they’re confident more of the 190 girls still held by Boko Haram will be released soon, The Guardian reported.

One official said that the girls were released as part of a prisoner swap supervised by the International Committee of the Red Cross, according to BBC.

However a source with knowledge of the negotiations said no captive Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, according to CNN.

Most of the Chibok girls freed after more than two years have babies born in captivity, a security official said.

This is the first mass release of any of the 200-plus girls and women stolen from their beds in April 2014 by Boko Haram militants.

The kidnapping of 276 girls spurred global outrage. As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, and one was found in May with her 4-month-old baby and suspected militant husband. Almost 200 girls remain unaccounted for after Thursday’s release, CNN reported.

The International Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered the deal between the Islamist militant group and the Nigerian government, said Mallam Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. “Negotiations will continue,” he said on Twitter.

Gen. Rabe Abubakar, a Defense Ministry spokesman, said he could not release details of how the girls were retrieved, but the operation to bring them home is ongoing. “We are optimistic we will retrieve more of the Chibok girls from Boko Haram very soon, in the coming weeks,” he said, according to The Guardian.

Until now just one other Chibok schoolgirl had been rescued, The Star Kenya reported. A vigilante group found Amina Ali Nkeki in May in a forest with Mohammed Hayatu, her suspected Islamist militant husband and their new baby.

She and the infant were still being held three months later in the capital, Abuja, for what the government termed a “restoration process, BBC reported in August.

Nkeki said she missed the baby’s father, and told Reuters she wanted to go home to Chibok. The 21-year-old said she was unhappy about being separated from Hayatu, who was arrested after they were found.

“I want him to know that I am still thinking about him,” she told Reuters. “Just because we got separated, that does not mean that I don’t think about him.” During the interview she only looked up once to nurse her daughter when the baby was brought into the room, Reuters reported:

“I just want to go home. I don’t know about school,” she said. “I will decide about school when I get back.”

Her mother, Binta Ali, told the BBC Hausa service that her daughter wanted the government to give her a sewing machine so she could become a seamstress.

She said the man claiming to be her daughter’s husband had said he was a mechanic from the town of Mubi before he was captured by Boko Haram – and that he had organised their escape.

The Nigeria-based #Chibokgirls campaign said in a statement Thursday, “We further urge the international community to continue to support our government’s effort 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.”

Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language. Founded in 2002, the group started military operations in 2009, and has killed thousands of people, mostly in northeastern Nigeria, BBC reported.

When the group ran short of manpower as recruitment slowed, it turned to abductions.
It joined Islamic State, and now describes itself as IS’s “West African province.” Recently splits have formed in the leadership.

Boko Haram seized a large area of northeast Nigeria and declared caliphate. Regional forces retook most of the territory in 2015, BBC reported.

A spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed that 21 of the missing girls were in the custody of the Department of State Services.

More than 30,000 Nigerians have been killed by terrorists, Buhari said.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign group said Thursday’s release was a “wonderful development” that confirmed “what we have always known about the capacity of our government to rescue our #ChibokGirls,” The Guardian reported.

“We’ve been castigated by the past government, by the military and by the hardliners in the current administration for continuing with our advocacy and protests for the kidnapped girls, ” said Prof. Emma Shehu, a group leader. “They’ve treated us as though we were mad but we’re happy that this is partly a vindication of our insanity. For the parents it’s raised their hopes.”