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Nigeria Announces The Release Of Some Kidnapped Girls


I'm Renee Montagne with some rare good news out of northeast Nigeria. A Nigerian presidential spokesman says 21 of more than 200 school girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents two years ago have been released. That came after negotiations brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The information has yet to be independently verified, but we reached NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton who is monitoring developments, and she's on the line with us. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: What in fact do you know?

QUIST-ARCTON: Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu says, as you've said, Renee, 21 of the 218 missing Chibok schoolgirls has been released after these negotiations with Boko Haram. And, you know, it would be rare for the government to come out with this information if it wasn't absolutely sure. So we have yet to have it confirmed independently, but this is an incredible coup for the Nigerian government because, of course, everybody has been saying what is happening to the Chibok girls? What is happening to the hundreds of girls, boys, women and men who have been abducted by Boko Haram before and after the April 2014 mass abduction of these girls from their dormitories in the remote northeast of Nigeria?

MONTAGNE: Right, in that area where Boko Haram had really, really cut a swath of terror through the land. Of course, at that time two years ago, there was a lot of pressure. There was hashtag #bringbackourgirls, a big campaign. A lot of the world's attention turned away from all of this. But remind us of the events of April 2014 and this mass abduction.

QUIST-ARCTON: So in the dead of night, Boko Haram fighters went to this boarding school where the girls were just about to take science exams, we're told, the next morning, and 276 were abducted.

And in the past two years, Renee, only one in May - in fact, when I was in Maiduguri in the northeast - has actually either been released or has escaped or has been rescued. About 50 managed to jump off that night in April 2014, and they managed to escape. But we have heard under the former government of Goodluck Jonathan that the girls had been released, that negotiations were happening, then nothing happened. And when the current president of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari was campaigning for office, he said one of the priorities would be to get these young women liberated and to defeat Boko Haram. But Boko Haram is still able - although it no longer holds territory - it's still able to strike at will as we've seen this week in Maiduguri, the regional capital in the northeast.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, how do you expect these girls to be received? You would think with great celebration, but that's not necessarily the case.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. That is not what has been happening because there is a lot of suspicion. Have they been brainwashed by Boko Haram? Have they become fighters? Their children have been branded as rebel children, so it is a very difficult process for anyone who comes out of Boko Haram captivity and territory, and not only girls and young women, young men also who have been abducted.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton on the news that 21 girls abducted by Boko Haram have been released. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.