ABUJA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Relatives of one of the 21 Chibok schoolgirls freed by Islamist militant group Boko Haram after two-and-a-half years in captivity in northeast Nigeria said on Friday they could not wait to be reunited.
Around 220 girls were taken from their school in Chibok in the remote northeastern Borno state, where Boko Haram has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state, killing thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.
Boko Haram released 21 of the girls on Thursday after the Red Cross and the Swiss government brokered a deal with the group. They were brought from the northeastern city of Maiduguri to the capital Abuja to meet government officials.
Travelling from eastern Yola to Abuja, Goni Mutah, the father of Asabe Goni, who was 21 when she was kidnapped, was overjoyed to hear of his daughter’s release, and said he had immediately phoned his relatives to share the news.
“Seeing her will bring happiness to us,” Samuel, a cousin of Asabe, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Abuja.
“And we will hear about the other girls,” he said, adding that his delight at Asabe’s release was tinged with sadness because his sister, Margaret, and several other relatives who had been kidnapped in Chibok, were not among the 21 freed girls.
The militant group has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children but the kidnapping of the Chibok girls brought it worldwide attention, with some 200 of them still missing.
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.
It is unclear what will now happen to the freed girls.
Amina Ali, the first of the Chibok girls to be released from Boko Haram captivity in May, has since been held in a house in Abuja for what the state has called a “restoration process”. She said in August that she “just wanted to go home”.
In recent days, the Nigerian military has been carrying out a large-scale offensive in the Sambisa forest, a stronghold of Boko Haram. The militant group last year pledged loyalty to Islamic State.
Boko Haram controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium at the start of 2015, but Nigeria’s army has recaptured most of the territory. The group still stages suicide bombings in the northeast, as well as in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.
(Reporting By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Additional Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Abuja, Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing By Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)