Following what is described as “back-channel negotiations” with the government, 101 of the 110 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists have been returned to their hometown, the New York Times reports. This incident began on Feb. 19, when terrorists connected with the Nigerian militant group entered the Government Girls Science and Technical College in the town of Dapchi. The captives consisted mainly of young women, however, one schoolboy was taken as well who has since been released.
These kidnappings led President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian government to pause military action in the country’s northeast region, and prompted them to reach out to “friends of the country” who could help conduct backchannel negotiations with Boko Haram to ensure the children were returned safely. The Associated Press notes that while 101 of the 110 schoolgirls have been confirmed as free, there are indications that the mass release is not over. Nigerian Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, stated that no ransom was paid, alluding to a clear-cut victory by the government, but Dapchi residents had a different outlook, as reported by the AP.
Head of a parents’ support group in Dapchi, Bashir Manzo, claimed the girls “were not accompanied by any security personnel” upon their release by extremists in the town’s square. Another townsmen said the militants told them the girls were set free “out of pity,” leaving the community with a clear warning to never let them return to school.
This abduction mirrored Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls, an event President Buhari described as a “natural disaster.”