Nigeria’s government has reached an agreement with Boko Haram allowing for the release of about 200 schoolgirls that the Islamic terrorist group has been holding hostage since April.
Included in the agreement is a ceasefire between Boko Haram and Nigeria’s military. It is expected that the terrorist group will see the agreement through, although Boko Haram has not released a public statement on the issue as of yet.
“Commitment among parts of Boko Haram and the military does appear to be genuine,” an official with Nigeria’s security forces told Reuters Friday. “It is worth taking seriously.”
In April, Boko Haram abducted over 300 schoolgirls from Chibok boarding school in Northern Nigeria, angering many around the world and giving the group international status for the first time. While a little more than 50 of the girls have managed to escape, the rest have remained in captivity. Many have criticized the Nigerian government for their handling of the situation thus far.
Members of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign released a tweet Friday, stating, “We are monitoring the news with huge expectations.”
Negotiations for the girl’s release are expected to be finalized at a meeting next week. While the ceasefire agreement will not give any territory to Boko Haram, spokesman for the Nigerian government Mike Omeri said the government does not plan to publicize the concessions it is making.
“From the discussions, [Boko Haram’s representatives] indicated their desire for, and willingness to discuss and resolve all associated issues,” Mr Omeri said. “They also assured that the school girls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well.”
However, BBC’s Will Ross said that “many Nigerians are skeptical,” especially with no official word on the situation having been heard from the terrorist group. The military in Nigeria has in the past released statements concerning the conflict in Northeast Nigeria that has turned out to be untrue, so many will wait to celebrate until they see physical proof. Some are wondering if the announcement is merely part of a tactic on the part of President Goodluck Jonathan to gain re-election.
“He’s having a tough run with Boko Haram, and he needs a boost,” a Western diplomat said. “It’s the main thing that people are concerned about, security. If he can score a ceasefire, great. If he can bring the girls back, even better. But we’ve not yet heard from Boko Haram. Until then, we’re taking this with a little salt.”
If the news is true, it could be the biggest breakthrough in Nigeria in over a decade.
Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden.” The terrorist group has been acting in Nigeria since 2009 to return the country to a pre-colonial era ruled by Muslims. Since its inception, the group has killed more than 5,000 Nigerians considered to be pro-government. Almost 2,000 have been killed just this year. Many of the attacks have been on schools, which the group views as a symbol of Western culture.