Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria’s military are reportedly negotiating the release of the nearly 300 young women and girls who were abducted by Boko Haram more than six months ago, ostensibly bringing an end to six months of activist efforts calling for their return.
An adviser to President Jonathan, Hassan Tukur, told Voice of America that President Jonathan and the self-described “secretary-general of Boko Haram,” Danladi Ahmadu, have been in talks in Saudi Arabia regarding the over 270 schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group in April. The President of Chad, Idriss Deby, and high-ranking Cameroonian officials have also been party to the dialogue.
Although videos released by Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau indicated that they intended to sell the girls into slavery and hold them until members of the group were released from prison, Ahmadu said the girls are “in good condition and unharmed.” A spokesperson for Boko Haram claimed the girls will be released Monday in Chad.
Initial reports of the girls’ disappearance were met with inaction by the Nigerian government, which sparked acts of resistance in Nigeria and eventually spurred the viral – and global – #BringBackOurGirls campaign. In the United States, activists staged protests and rallies calling for government support to help locate the missing girls. Ultimately, President Obama announced that he had dispatched a team of military and law enforcement agents to the region, but although the Nigerian army announced in May that they had located the girls, they remained missing months later, over 100 days after their abduction. As activist and media attention waned, advocates and the families of the abducted were frustrated and angered by the failure to rescue the girls.
“As far as our girls are concerned, they have been abandoned,” Mkeki Mutah, uncle to two missing teens, told Al Jazeera prior to the news of the neogitations. “There is a saying: ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ Leaders from around the world came out and said they would assist to bring the girls back, but now we hear nothing. The question I wish to raise is: ‘why?'”
Even so, optimists have pointed to Boko Haram’s release of 27 hostages last weekend as evidence the tide could turn in favor of parents and loved ones who have come to fear the worst. Last Saturday, the wife of Cameroon’s Vice-Prime Minister, Akaoua Babiana, and 10 Chinese workers were among those released. That group was taken captive during two separate raids in May and July. How or why the group was set free is unknown, but to date, of the 276 captured over 180 days ago, far fewer have been so fortunate.
Of the young women and girls abducted in April, 57 successfully fled. Late last month, a young woman kidnapped by Boko Haram in early April from her dormitory was found roaming a small village. The 20-year-old was pregnant and “in a state of extreme trauma.” 15 young Chibok women who managed to rescue themselves from Boko Haram were granted scholarships to continue their studies made possible, in part, by Nobel Prize winner and champion of girls’ education, Malala Yousafzai. This summer, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also announced government-sponsored scholarships to support the young women’s return to school by improving infrastructure, telecommunications, and community engagement to decrease the risk of comparable attacks and create a model for school safety in conflict zones.
The freed are encouraging thousands of other girls – who’d stopped attending school for fear of Boko Haram – to bravely resume their studies.