Five top Boko Haram commanders were released in exchange for 82 Chibok schoolgirls, who arrived in the Nigerian capital after being held for years, the Nigeria government said Sunday.
The girls were released Saturday and the International Red Cross transported the girls from a town near the Cameroon border. Military helicopters then brought them to Abuja, the capital.
The president’s chief of staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari, greeted the girls at the airport.
“Welcome our girls, welcome our sisters,” Kyari said to the girls, who sat quietly in chairs. “We are very glad that you are back, and every Nigerian today must be forgetting every other hardship and suffering, because this is a very joyous moment. Welcome, welcome, welcome.”
They were driven in a military convoy to meet the president, Muhammadu Buhari, who delayed a previously scheduled trip to return to London for medical treatment, his office said.
“This evening I received 82 of our daughters, who have just regained their freedom after three years in Boko Haram captivity,” Buhari, 74, said in a tweet on Twitter.
The Nigerian government previously issued a statement that a deal was struck in return for “some” Boko Haram suspects. Nigerian media initially had reported that two militants were released.
“No price is too high to pay for the release of the girls,” Nigerian Sen. Shehu Sai said on Twitter.
Abubakar Bukola Saraki, president of the Nigerian Senate, commended Buhari, security operatives and the International Red Cross in gaining the girls’ release.
“As a father, I can’t help but feel delighted and excited at the release of the 82 schoolgirls,” he said in a statement. “When they were taken from us, the whole world joined in demanding for their return – now, it is a testament to the tenacity and commitment of the federal government, led by Mr. President, that they are back with us, and will soon be reunited with their families.”
One girl has a broken arm and another has a leg injury, but otherwise they appeared to be in good physical condition, Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, told CNN.
A total of 276 girls were forced from their beds by Boko Haram militants in the middle of the night in northern Nigeria in April 2014.
The group released 21 girls last October after negotiations with the International Red Cross. About 50 escaped on their own.
More than 100 girls remain in Boko Haram custody and negotiations with the terror group continue, the government said.