The Nigerian government says most of 110 the girls abducted by Boko Haram from the northeastern town of Dapchi last month have been returned. As Chika Oduah reports, parents of the released girls are happy and relieved to have their children back.
AFP reported that the girls were brought back to the remote farming town of Dapchi in the northern Nigerian state of Yobe by their abductors in a convoy of nine vehicles.
Media reports said that five of the girls died along the way, but a Yobe state government official said this could not yet be ascertained.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information Lai Mohammed said the early morning release was "unconditional" and was a result of "back-channel efforts" with the help of "some friends of the country."
“Ninety one girls and one boy have been documented to have been released. It’s a development," he told reporters. "Many of the girls, many of the students that were released were not dropped in one place. They were dropped on the road and they went back to their parents’ houses.”
Sources on the ground told VOA that the residents of Dapchi are rejoicing. Parents who were once mourning are now celebrating.
Yahaya Tarbutu is one of them. He spoke to VOA from Dapchi. He said that three of his daughters came back.
“I have Amina Yahaya Tarbutu. I have Fatima Yahaya Tarbutu, and Maryam Mohammed. Seriously, they are happy," he told VOA. "I got them around in the morning around eight. We are together with them. I take them, I go and take bath, they take bath. I give them pop and bread and they ate bread. Ah, I feel, wow. I can’t say anything now.”
His three daughters are now on their way to a government hospital in the Yobe State capital for a health checkup.
VOA was able to reach one of the released girls as she explained to her father about her time in Boko Haram captivity. The girl, 15-year-old Fatuma Abdullahi, said that she and her classmates were not harmed.
She also said that two of her friends were among the ones who died en route to Dapchi.
“I swear to God they didn’t do anything to us. We were the ones who were cooking for ourselves and they provided the means. Aisha and Maimuna were among the five girls who lost, died," she said.
Questions are being raised about the nature of the release. VOA spoke to the Nigerian president’s spokesperson Shehu Garba. He did not confirm nor deny that a ransom had been paid.
However, another government official, Yobe State representative Khadija Ibrahim, said no money had been exchanged.
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari had visited Dapchi and had assured the parents that the girls would be released through negotiations rather than by military force.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International said the Nigerian military ignored repeated warnings about the movements of Boko Haram fighters before the kidnapping. The military denied the claim.
The Nigerian government says it is still trying to rescue many of the Chibok schoolgirls who were kidnapped in April 2014. More than 100 of them are still missing.