The Boko Haram group kidnapped girls aged 11 to 19, most of them dropped off at the centre of town in Dapchi. (Reuters: Ola Lanre)
Islamist militants have freed scores of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, but some of the released students say five of their friends have died in captivity and another is still being held.
- More than 100 of the 110 girls seized in Dapchi on February 19 were returned
- The Government issued a statement saying 76 girls had been freed in an “ongoing process”
- The extremists reportedly said they returned the girls “out of pity”
The fighters from the Boko Haram group, some of then shouting “God is greatest”, drove the girls back into the north-east town of Dapchi in a line of trucks in the morning, dropped them off and then left, witnesses said.
“Five among us taken away were dead,” one of the freed girls, Khadija Grema, said.
“One is still with them because she is a Christian.”
Dapchi resident Muhammad Bursari said his niece Hadiza Muhammed, another of the freed girls, told him the remaining student was still in captivity because she had refused to convert to Islam.
Witnesses said more than 100 of the 110 girls seized in Dapchi on February 19 were returned, though the Government issued a statement saying 76 girls had been freed in an “ongoing process”.
Nigeria had secured the release “through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country,” Minister of Information Lai Mohammed said in a statement, without elaborating.
“For the release to work, the Government had a clear understanding that violence and confrontation would not be the way out as it could endanger the lives of the girls, hence a non-violent approach was the preferred option,” he said.
‘Don’t ever put your daughters in school again’
As terrified residents emerged from their homes, the extremists said “this is a warning to you all”, resident Ba’ana Musa said.
“We did it out of pity. And don’t ever put your daughters in school again,” the extremists said.
Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.
The kidnapping of the girls aged 11 to 19 was the biggest mass abduction since Boko Haram took more than 270 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014 — a case that triggered international outrage.
- Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful”, is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
- The group considers all who do not follow its strict ideology as infidels, whether they are Christian or Muslim.
- It demands the adoption of Sharia law in all of Nigeria.
Commentators feared the Dapchi girls had been taken for ransom, after Boko Haram received millions of euros for the release of some of the Chibok girls last year.
“No ransom was paid to them to effect this release,” Mr Mohammed said.
“The only condition they gave us is not to release [the girls] to the military but release them in the town of Dapchi without the military presence.”
The Dapchi abduction has piled pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in 2015 promising to crack down on Boko Haram’s nine-year-old insurgency and could face the voters again next year.
Mohammed Dala said he had found his 12-year-old daughter in a crowd of the girls in the centre of town.
“Some motors painted in military colour came with our girls,” he said.
“They [the militants] … said we should not flee.
“They dropped the girls at the centre of town, near Ali’s tea shop. I found my daughter and left.”
Most of the other girls were taken to a hospital guarded by the military, witnesses said.