Nigeria's president has met with 82 young women students freed by Boko Haram. In April 2014, the terror group kidnapped 276 girls from their boarding school in the northeastern town of Chibok.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has met with 82 young women who were freed on Saturday after being kidnapped by Boko Haram over three years ago. In the largest negotiated release between the parties so far, Nigeria's government traded several imprisoned members of the group for the young women. They were some of the 276 schoolgirls whose mass abduction in 2014 made headlines around the world.
"I cannot express in a few words how happy I am to welcome our dear girls back to freedom," Buhari told the girls in his residence on Sunday, according to a statement. "On behalf of all Nigerians, I will like to share my joy with you,"
The president also promised to "spare no effort" in securing the release of all remaining Boko Haram kidnap victims.
Presidential adviser Femi Adesina told reporters that Buhari promised to do all that was needed to reintegrate the freed girls back into society.
In a separate statement, Buhari's government thanked Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross for helping secure the release of the 82 women after "lengthy negotiations." The government did not, however, reveal how many Boko Haram prisoners it had traded for the young women.
Boko Haram's abduction of 276 girls from a school in Chibok on April 14, 2014, captured international attention. Celebrities such as Michelle Obama, then the first lady of the United States, joined the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign to free them.
'Continue in earnest'
Dozens of the young women escaped soon after the event, but up to 200 remained missing for over two years. Last autumn, the International Committee of the Red Cross brokered the release of more than 20 of the young women. Including a few women who escaped in the intervening months, Saturday's prisoner exchange leaves more than 110 of the hostages unaccounted for.
The release of the girls may give a new boost to President Buhari, who has rarely appeared in public since returning from Britain in March for treatment for an unspecified illness. He had made crushing Boko Haram's insurgency a pillar of his election campaign in 2015. The army has retaken most of the territory initially lost to the group, but continued attacks and suicide bombings have made it nearly impossible for displaced persons to return to their recaptured towns.
Much work remains to free the remaining young women. "The president directed the security agencies to continue in earnest until all the Chibok girls have been released and reunited with their families," the government announced.
In April, the rights group Amnesty International announced that it had documented at least 41 other mass abductions by Boko Haram since 2014. In November 2014 the group kidnapped about 500 people - including some 300 children - from the town of Damasak, on the border with Niger, in the far north of Borno state. Most of those victims remain missing.
Buhari leaves for 'medical consultation in London'
Following Sunday's meeting with the Chibok girls, Buhari's office announced that the 74-year-old president would travel to London for a "follow-up medical consultation."
The announcement comes amid weeks of increasing concern over Buhari's health, although presidency spokesman Femi Adesina said the "president wishes to assure all Nigerians that there is no cause for worry" and that he was "very grateful for the prayers and good wishes of the people, and hopes they would continue to pray for the peace and unity of the nation."
Doctors would determine how long Buhari would remain in the British capital. In January he was forced to stay almost two months in London to undergo medical treatment. That trip was billed by Buhari's office as a 10-day holiday combined with "routine medical check-ups" but it was ultimately extended through February before the president eventually returned in early March.
mkg,dm/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)