Nigeria said Islamist militants freed more than 100 schoolgirls they seized last month from the northeastern town of Dapchi.
At least 102 girls have been released, Information Minister Lai Mohammed said by phone Wednesday. Five others died of suffocation when they were forced into a tightly packed truck during their abduction, 15-year-old Khadija Grema, one of the girls, told reporters. Boko Haram militants are believed to be holding at least one other for refusing to convert to Islam, a lawmaker for the area, Goni Bukar, said by phone from Abuja, the capital.
The release of the girls was “unconditional” and was negotiated “through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country,” Mohammed’s ministry said in an earlier statement. President Muhammadu Buhari visited the area a week ago and said he was confident that the girls, between the ages of 11 and 19, would be rescued or freed.
“Absolutely no ransom was paid,” Mohammed said, adding that he wasn’t aware of any students who had died. Asked if Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, he said he had no information on the matter.
Boko Haram militants drove the girls at dawn into Dapchi, where they were seized on Feb. 19, and handed them over to their parents after preaching a sermon to them to shun Western education, Idris Ibrahim, a parent of two of the girls, said by phone from the town on Wednesday.
“They warned us not to send our daughters to Western schools,” he said. “If we do, they will come back and take them away and will never return them.”
The militant group, which advocates strict Koranic learning, has been waging a violent campaign since 2009 to impose its version of Islamic law on Africa’s most populous country of more than 180 million people. In 2014, the group abducted 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, in the same region, many of whom have not been freed.
(c) 2018, Bloomberg · Mustapha Muhammad, Yinka Ibukun, Michael Olukayode