ABUJA – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari Sunday met with 82 Chibok schoolgirls freed from Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram in the capital Abuja.
The freed young women, who were kidnapped from their school in the north-eastern town of Chibok more than three years ago, were received by Buhari as well as several top government officials, local broadcaster Channels Television reported.
“I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom,” Buhari said in a statement released shortly after the meeting.
“No human being should go through this kind of ordeal,” Buhari added.
The president promised “to spare no effort” to ensure that all other people abducted by Boko Haram would also regain their freedom.
The meeting at the presidential villa, Aso Rock, took place behind closed doors with only the cameraman of the Nigeria Television Authority and the president’s personal photographer present.
Earlier on Sunday, the girls were undergoing health checkups. Most of them were “in good health,” said Anne Okoroafor, the director of the Department of State Services medical facility.
All 82 girls had been flown in several military aircraft to the capital on Sunday morning.
Nigeria’s government negotiated their release together with the Swiss government, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other local and international NGOs.
The girls were freed “after lengthy negotiations … in exchange for some Boko Haram suspects held by the authorities,” according to the presidency.
Details about the prisoner exchange were not made public.
Nigeria marked the third anniversary of the kidnapping of the 276 girls, mostly Christians, on April 14.
The girls’ abduction captured the world’s attention, with celebrities and prominent personalities such as former US first lady Michelle Obama joining the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign to free them.
About 50 of the 276 abductees managed to escape immediately. In October, the Red Cross and Switzerland managed to broker the release of 21 girls. The Nigerian military rescued two more of the girls several months later.
But more than 200 other young women remained missing until Saturday’s release of another 82 of them.
United Nations children’s fund UNICEF said it commended government for rescuing the girls but remained “deeply concerned for the thousands of women and children still held in captivity by Boko Haram.”
The Elders Forum of Borno State, in which the town of Chibok is located, said it hoped the most recent negotiations would lead to “the abductors releasing all the people in their custody.”
Boko Haram, which has been active in north-east Nigeria since 2009, wants to create a special Islamic state in the country, as well as in bordering regions of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
The group has kidnapped thousands of other women and children over recent years, forcing them into sexual slavery or into marriages with its fighters. -DPA