THE Presidency has confirmed that 21 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls have been released to the Nigerian government by the Boko Haram sect.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, who confirmed this in a short message on Thursday, said those released to the government were in custody of the Department of State Services (DSS).
He added that President Muhammadu Buhari had been briefed on the development by the Director-General of DSS, Malam Lawal Daura, before his departure to Germany on a three-day official visit.
The Boko Haram sect had, in April 2014, abducted over 200 girls from their dormitory at Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State.
President Buhari, on his way to Germany, joined by the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima and Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, in his address to newsmen said the negotiations would continue.
He said his administration would continue to secure the lives of all Nigerians in every part of the country.
Shortly before departing the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, for security talks with the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Buhari said he was pleased by the development of the release of the girls.
“Well, I am very pleased about it. I expect you to get through to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. I believe he will be duly briefed by the Vice President so that he will give you the details. I have just been briefed about it.
“To Nigerians all over, it is our responsibility and we will continue to secure them wherever they are,” the president noted.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that government officials had assembled medical experts to examine the girls’ condition of health, before they could later be re-united with their families.
Report earlier on Thursday indicated that the 21 girls were picked up by military helicopter from Banki area of Borno State, where the terrorist group dropped them off.
“It is confirmed that 21 of the missing Chibok girls have been released and are in the custody of the Department of State Services, DSS.
The Director-General of DSS, Malam Lawal Daura, just finished briefing the President.
“The release of the girls, in a limited number, is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram, brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue.
“The President welcomes the release of the girls but cautioned Nigerians to be mindful of the fact that more than 30,000 fellow citizens were killed via terrorism.
“Malam Lawal wants the girls to have some rest, with all of them very tired coming out of the process before he hands them over to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. The President takes off shortly on a trip to Germany for a state visit.
The names of the released girls follows shortly.” Shehu was quoted to have said.
Meanwhile, the 21 girls were, after their release, flown to Kaduna as the Federal Government insisted that their freedom was not a product of swap deal.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who confirmed this in Abuja, said the moment the government had a credible lead, President Buhari gave the green-light to the DSS to pursue it.
He stated that the DSS pursued the lead in collaboration with a friendly European country and a renowned international humanitarian organisation.
He recalled that the government had been working on the safe release of the girls and following all the leads available.
“This is the most glaring manifestation to date of the unwavering commitment of Mr President to secure the safe release of the girls and reunite them with their families.
“It is also a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the administration to put closure to the sad issue of the kidnap of the girls,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed said the government expected the released girls to land in Abuja on Thursday, stating that a team of medical doctors, psychologists, social workers, trauma experts, among others, were assembled to properly examine them, especially because they had been in captivity for so long.
“They will also be adequately debriefed. We have the list of The 21 girls but we are now contacting their parents as part of the necessary verification exercise. As soon as that is concluded, we will release the names to the public.
“Please note that this is not a swap. It is a release, the product of painstaking negotiations and trust on both sides.
“We see this as a credible first step in the eventual release of all the Chibok girls in captivity. It is also a major step in confidence-building between us as a government and the Boko Haram leadership on the issue of the Chibok girls.
“We want to thank all Nigerians for their support and for never losing confidence in the ability of Mr President to secure the safe release of our girls,” he said.
Speaking further, the minister said the government would not do anything that would jeopardise future releases, bearing in mind that there were still other abducted girls in captivity.
It will be recalled that in May, one of the over 200 girls escaped with her baby.
Reacting, the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group commended the efforts of President Buhari and the Nigerian military in rescuing the 21 girls.
Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, the convener of the BBOG, on Thursday, expressed the group’s gratitude on her Twitter handle from London, United Kingdom
“With tears of unspeakable joy at the release of 21 of our Chibok girls, we cry out and use them as point of contact for the rest 197.
“We BBOG are thanking our soldiers in the frontline of battle. You have given and keep giving us so much hope and sacrifices. We wait for the Federal Government for release of the remaining girls,” she said.
On his part, the BBOG spokesman, Mr Abubakar Abdullahi, commended the efforts of government and security agencies for the release of the girls.
“We thank the government and people who have been on the negotiation team, security agencies and all those who are part of the release,” he said.
Former vice president and chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in a statement by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, said “I am incredibly happy at this news. A lesson, hope always wins. Prayers for the release of the remaining #ChibokGirls.”
Borno State governor, Shettima, said the release of girls strengthened ?determination to recover others still in captivity.
This was disclosed in a statement issued by his spokesman, Malam Isa Gusau and made available to journalists on Thursday.
Shettima said if any Nigerian had doubts about the sincerity and commitment of President Buhari ?to the rescue of the girls and other victims, as well as ending the Boko Haram insurgency, such doubts should be eliminated by the success of the negotiation that led to the release of 21 schoolgirls.
“I am certain that the recovery of our 21 precious daughters from insurgency only strengthens the resolve of the Buhari-led administration to continue to work tirelessly until all the girls and all Nigerians abducted are freed and until the Boko Haram insurgency is brought to an end, to guarantee public safety.
“I must hasten to strongly commend the Nigerian Armed Forces and all those who worked towards the recovery of these 21 daughters of Borno State.
“We shall forever be grateful to those who contributed in any form towards this major feat that renews our hope to recover all our girls alive and in good health,” the statement read.
NAMES OF THE GIRLS
•Mary Usman Bulama