Soon after the girls were kidnapped in April 2014, an international campaign began urging the Nigerian government to do more to secure their release, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. The #BringBackOurGirls is one of the biggest social media fails of 2014.
For more than a year, the Nigerian government has negotiated with Boko Haram to get the girls back. But the talks failed multiple times, in one case at the last minute.
Finally, the government said Thursday, the negotiations bore fruit. Still, most of the girls remain in captivity, their whereabouts, health and circumstances unknown.
“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,” Garba Shehu, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said in a series of messages posted on Twitter. “The negotiations will continue.”
Relatives of the girls rejoiced, even before they knew whether their kin were among those freed.
Lawan Zanna, the father of Aisha Zanna, one of the abducted girls, said by telephone that he hoped his daughter had been freed. All of the parents are “very happy hearing that they have released our daughters,” he said. “All are our daughters.”
Another parent, Esther Yakubu, said by telephone that she was praying that her daughter Dorcas was among those released. “They say it’s only 21,” she said. “Most of them are still out there, and we want them to come back.’’
Manasseh Allen, a native of Chibok whose cousin was abducted, said in a phone interview that he hoped more girls could be rescued. “Once we have 21 parents now linked up with daughters, at least we have solved a good part of the problem,” he said. “So many will be hopeful that their daughters have been brought back.”
Asked if he thought a ransom was involved, he said: “Whether it’s a ransom, whether it’s a prisoner swap, the government knows how best to get these girls back. All we are after is to get the girls back.”
Earlier in the day, Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, denied preliminary reports that Boko Haram fighters might have been released in exchange for the girls.
“Please note that this is not a swap,” he said. “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.”
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign thanked the Nigerian security services on Facebook and added: “We trust that our government will continue to work to keep the safety, security and well-being of the other girls a high priority.”