More than 900 days after Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from Chibok, a town in Nigeria’s northeast, the group has released 21 of them. The girls, with their identities yet to be confirmed, are reportedly being held by Nigerian security forces in Maiduguri, a former Boko Haram stronghold. Before now, only one of the Chibok girls had been rescued by the military in May.
Nigeria’s presidential spokesman Garba Shehu confirmed the release of the girls, describing it as “the outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.” Shehu said “negotiations will continue,” suggesting that more of the kidnapped girls could be released.
The prospect of talks between the government under president Muhammadu Buhari and the group has long been on the cards. In a video released in August, the group offered the release of the girls for its fighters imprisoned by Nigerian forces. Buhari has also been open to the idea of negotiations. Last year, he told Al Jazeera his administration would explore negotiating with Boko Haram if the group proved the girls were alive and well.
Under former president Goodluck Jonathan, the government tried to negotiate with Boko Haram. In October 2014, Jonathan agreed to a ceasefire with the group, but that turned out to be an embarrassing hoax.
Despite today’s victory, it’s unclear whether the Nigerian government will be able to recover all of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, taken more than two years ago. In August, Boko Haram claimed that around 40 of them have been married and an unspecified number have been killed by Nigerian military airstrikes.