After more than two years in the hands of Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist terrorists 21 schoolgirls have been reunited with their families.
Tears flowed as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters hugged the girls, who were forcibly converted from Christianity to Islam during their ordeal.
In April 2014 more than 270 teenage girls were seized from a school in the town of Chibok by armed Boko Haram fighters, who share similar extreme jihadist views to ISIS.
A father and mother are overcome with emotion as they are reunited with their daughter, one of 21 freed after being kidnapped by Boko Haram
While 50 managed to escape within days the remainder were held in captivity as the Nigerian Army searched for them and politicians tried to negotiate their release.
At the weekend 21 girls attended a church ceremony in the capital Abuja and told horrified listeners about their ordeal.
Gloria Dame said she and her friends survived for 40 days without food and narrowly escaped death several times.
A delighted father hugs his freed daughter during yesterday’s ceremony (left). Earlier Oludolapo Osinbajo , the wife of Nigeria’s Vice President, consoled one of the 21 released Chibok girls in Abuja (right)
She told the congregation: ‘I was in the woods when a (government) plane dropped a bomb near me, but I wasn’t hurt.’
‘We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God,’ she said, speaking in Hausa.
Nigeria’s security services negotiated the girls’ release.
Pouring rain did not deter families who came many miles to be reunited with their daughters. There were emotional scenes as they were reunited after more than two years apart
Most of the kidnapped students were Christian but were forcibly converted to Islam during captivity.
Their abduction in 2014 made headline news globally and US First Lady Michelle Obama joined the #BringBackOurGirls online movement.
But nothing was heard of the girls until recently.
The girls were mostly Christian but were forcibly converted to Islam during their abduction. This video was released by Boko Haram in August. Many of the girls are believed to be still held by Boko Haram
Garba Shehu, a spokesman for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, said the Mamman Nur faction of Boko Haram had indicated its willingness to negotiate the release of 83 more Chibok girls.
But he did not say whether any ransoms had been or would be paid.
Two military officers told the AP news agency the 21 girls were exchanged for four detained Boko Haram commanders but another source said a large ransom was paid by the Swiss government on behalf of the Nigerian authorities.
Abana Muta, (left), and his wife Hawa, smile during an interview as they wait for their daughter, Blessing, one of 21 schoolgirls freed by Boko Haram
Information Minister Lai Mohamed said talks with Boko Haram would continue ‘until all the girls have been released’.
He said: ‘Very soon, another batch, bigger than this would be released.’
‘We can all see the joy and emotions of the parents,’ he added.
Abana Muta, the father of one of the released girls, told The Guardian he was worried their release would be exploited for political gain.
‘People’s children aren’t money, people’s children are not clothes you wear to campaign, people’s children are their pride,’ he said.
One parent told the BBC: ‘We thank God. I never thought I was going to see my daughter again but here she is…Those who are still out there – may God bring them back to be reunited with their parents.’
Families celebrate with their daughters, who have been freed after negotiations with a Boko Haram faction
Some of the 21 freed Chibok girls were brought to the office of Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbanjo, last week
Buhari, who hails from the overwhelmingly Muslim and Hausa north of Nigeria, was elected president in May last year.
Despite winning back swathes of territory from the jihadists, President Buhari has faced intense criticism for failing to recover the young captives, who became the defining symbol of Boko Haram’s brutal campaign to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country.
The insurgency has claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced 2.6 million people since Boko Haram took up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009.
Families dancing and ululating as they are reunited with their daughters