A report has emerged that the Swiss government paid millions of dollars on behalf of the Nigerian government to Boko Haram to facilitate the release of the 21 Chibok schoolgirls.
Twenty-one Chibok schoolgirls out of over 200 abducted by Boko Haram were released Thursday morning to Nigeria’s security officials near Sambisa forest by the insurgents in a negotiated deal involving the Nigerian government, Boko Haram and the Swiss government.
The Nigerian government on Thursday denied that the released Chibok girls were swapped with detained Boko Haram terrorists. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed clarified at different fora that there was no swapping deal with the insurgents.
Conflicting reports emerging about whether the first negotiated release of the 21 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 involved a ransom payment, a prisoner swap for Islamic extremist commanders or both linger.
A Nigerian hostage negotiator who was not involved in the schoolgirls’ release tells The Associated Press a “handsome ransom” in the millions of dollars was paid by Switzerland’s government on behalf of the Nigerian authorities.
Swiss officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment after confirming that they played a neutral, humanitarian role in the operation.
Around 270 girls were taken from their school in Chibok in the remote northeastern Borno state, where the jihadists have waged a seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state, killing thousands and displacing more than 2 million people.
Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 girls are still missing. The kidnapping brought outrage worldwide and the girls’ plight was promoted using a Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.
“It is the first step in what we believe will be the release of all the girls,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed told reporters.
He denied reports that the government had swapped Boko Haram fighters for their release and said he was not aware whether any ransom had been paid. He said a Nigerian army operation against Boko Haram would continue.
The girls were released at 5.30 am and will be taken to the capital Abuja during the afternoon to meet doctors and psychologists, Mohammed said.
CNN published a picture on its website it said showed several of the freed girls, wearing veils and being escorted by soldiers in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.
Authorities said in May one of the missing girls had been found and President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to rescue the others.
In the past 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 controlled a swathe of land around the size of Belgium at the start of 2015, but Nigeria’s army, aided by troops from neighbouring countries, has recaptured most of the territory. The group still stages suicide bombings in the northeast, as well as in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.
Boko Haram published a video in August apparently showing recent footage of dozens of the kidnapped girls and said some had been killed in air strikes.
The militant group has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children but the kidnapping of the Chibok girls brought it worldwide attention.
In the last few months Buhari has said his government was prepared to negotiate with Boko Haram over the release of the girls.