Boko Haram jihadists have released 76 of the 110 schoolgirls that were abducted from the northeastern town of Dapchi in February, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.
Information Minister Lai Mohammed said “the 76 are those who have been documented”, adding that the release of the abducted students “is ongoing”.
The schoolgirls were returned to Dapchi by Boko Haram early Wednesday morning following negotiations between the Nigerian government and the militant group.
“The girls were released around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country,” said Mohammed, without elaborating.
The number of freed girls may increase “because the girls were not handed over to anyone but dropped off in Dapchi,” he said.
Bashir Manzo, who heads a parents’ support group in Dapchi, earlier told AFP that the girls had been returned.
“The girls have been brought back. They were brought in nine vehicles and dropped outside the school at about 8:00 am (0700 GMT),” Manzo said.
The Dapchi kidnapping on February 19 conjured painful memories of a similar abduction in Chibok in April 2014, when more than 200 girls were taken.
That brought Boko Haram — whose name translates from Hausa as “Western education is forbidden” — worldwide notoriety at a time when it controlled swathes of territory in Nigeria’s northeast.
Boko Haram is increasingly using kidnapping as a means to fund their operations in Nigeria and the remote Lake Chad region.
The jihadist uprising has claimed some 20,000 lives and forced at least 2.6 million to flee their homes since 2009.
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