Exactly 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls returned yesterday in tears and emaciated. One of them has a baby.
The government gave the details of how the schoolgirls kidnapped two and a half years ago were released.
The girls are among the over 200 Chibok Girls Secondary School pupils taken from the premises on April 14 2014.
Reports said the 21 girls were swapped with four detained Boko Haram fighters at Borno State border town Banki.
But the government denied there was a swap.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited the girls and the baby at the Directorate of State Services (DSS) medical facility in Abuja after they were brought to the Federal Capital Territory.
With the VP were his wife, Dolapo, Minister of Information Lai Mohammed and Minister of Women Development Hajia Aisha Alhassan.
Presidential Spokesman Garba Shehu, in a statement, said: “The release of the girls, in a limited number is the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue.
“The President welcomes the release of the girls but cautioned Nigerians to be mindful of the fact that more than 30,000 fellow citizens were killed via terrorism.
Explaining how they were released, Alhaji Mohammed said: “We can confirm that 21 of the girls were released, safely, to us by 5.30 this Thursday morning and they were flown to Kaduna from the location of their release. This is the most glaring manifestation to date of the unwavering commitment of Mr. President to secure the safe release of the girls and reunite them with their families.
“It is also a result of the round-the-clock efforts by the Administration to put a closure to the sad issue of the kidnap of the girls.”
Mohammed gave insights into how the girls were released.
He added: “Gentlemen, as we have always said, we have been working on the safe release of the girls and following all the leads available. In this instance, the moment we had a credible lead, Mr President gave the green-light to the DSS to pursue it.
“We can confirm that the DSS pursued the lead in collaboration with a friendly European country and a renowned international humanitarian organization. The DSS was supported by the military.
“As soon as the necessary confidence was built on both sides, the parties agreed on the date and the location of the release of the 21 girls. Please note that this is not a swap. 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. It is also a major step in confidence-building between us as a government and the Boko Haram leadership on the issue of the Chibok Girls.
“We want to thank all Nigerians for their support and for never losing confidence in the ability of Mr. President to secure the safe release of our Chibok Girls.”
The minister said the release of the girls could mean a new phase to the conduct of the war against terrorism
He added: “Whatever it will take to get Boko Haram insurgency under control, we will do it through military operation, peace talk, dialogue and whatever. I think all in all, when you are fighting insurgency, it is a combination of carrot and stick. The Federal Government will continue to adopt carrot and stick approach.
“The release of 21 out of the Chibok girls does not mean the end of military operation it could mean a new phase to the conduct of the war against terrorism.
“These negotiations are very delicate bearing in mind that we still have more girls in captivity we must not do anything to jeopardize their release.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has made it clear that what it will take to get the girls in captivity from the Boko Haram insurgents we will do it.
“We have always been looking for leads. This time around, we were able to have a credible lead.”
On the insinuations that some members of Boko Haram were swapped to secure the release of the girls, the minister responded: “That is not true.”
“If you listen, I said this particular release is significant because it is a first step in what we believe will lead to the eventual release of all our girls in custody.
“And it is significant also because we have been able to establish ever than before a kind of confidence in the core leadership of Boko Haram and Nigerians. And I am not aware of any monetary transactions.
“This is not a swap. This was a release effected because over time we succeeded in confidence building. This is unique because we also used friendly approach and friendly organization and friendly countries. I repeat this is not a swap.”
He expressed confidence that the government will work towards the release of other girls in Boko Haram custody.
“This particular release is significant because it is just a first step in what we believe will eventually lead to release of other girls in custody.
“The Federal Government will not relent until the whole girls gain total freedom,” he said.