Five commanders of the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram were released in exchange for 82 Nigerian schoolgirls freed this weekend after more than three years in captivity, authorities said Sunday.
The Nigerian government previously issued a statement saying a deal had been struck in return for "some" Boko Haram suspects. Nigerian media initially had reported that two militants had been released. Nigerian Sen. Shehu Sai said Sunday that five commanders were granted freedom.
"No price is too high to pay for the release of the Girls," Sai, a civil rights leader in his nation of more than 180 million people, said on Twitter.
The girls flew Sunday to the Nigerian capital of Abuja from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, where they spent the night after their release Saturday from a town near the Cameroon border. The girls were driven in a military convoy to the State House to meet the president, Africanews.com reported.
Boko Haram, which means "Western Education Is Forbidden," was founded almost two decades ago and in recent years declared solidarity with the Islamic State. The group made international headlines in 2014 when it kidnapped almost 300 female students, many of them Christian, from a government school in the Borno state town of Chibok.
Borno, which forms the northeastern tip of the Nigeria, has been a hotbed for deadly attacks by militant Islamic insurgents who killed thousands of people, burned villages, kidnapped women and forced children to join their marauding army. Hundreds of thousands of people in the region were forced to flee their homes.
President Muhammadu Buhari won election in 2015 by vowing to crush the insurgency, and his army has scored damaging victories against the struggling militant group.
Dozens of girls escaped in the years since their capture, and they told tragic stories of girls dying from illness or being taken as brides of the militants and becoming pregnant. Another 21 girls were released in October under a deal mediated by the International Red Cross.
Some of the girls have been supportive of the militants. More than 100 girls remain unaccounted for.
🎷🎺🎷💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾— Oby Ezekwesili (@obyezeks) May 6, 2017
It is REAL!
It is a FACT!!
Another set of OUR # ChibokGirls ARE BACK, folks!
WE REJOICE & PRAISE GOD with their Parents! FG,👏🏿👏🏿
Details of the negotiations and the return of the girls were not immediately released. Buhari thanked security agencies, the military, the government of Switzerland, the Red Cross, and local and international relief agencies for their roles in the operation.
Oby Ezekwesili, leader of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, expressed joy on Twitter at news the girls were released: "It is REAL! It is a FACT!! Another set of OUR # ChibokGirls ARE BACK, folks! WE REJOICE & PRAISE GOD with their Parents! FG" The campaign's website shared the joy: "We rejoice for the families. Our heart goes out to the 114 remaining in captivity"
Abubakar Bukola Saraki, president of the Nigerian Senate, commended the efforts of Buhari, security operatives and the International Red Cross in gaining the girls' release.
“As a father, I can’t help but feel delighted and excited at the release of the 82 schoolgirls," he said.
Still, the release of the five Boko Haram leaders had some Nigerians on edge, particularly residents of the northeastern region.
"I don't understand how these Chibok girl are more important that the whole community around here!" Mustafa Alirambe said on Facebook. "How can a government release these monsters to back to there (sic) fighting camp?"
82 Chibok girls now in Abuja. Received on behalf of the President at the airport by Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari. Congrats Nigeria.— Femi Adesina (@FemAdesina) May 7, 2017