ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed joy at meeting Sunday with the 82 Chibok schoolgirls newly freed after being held captive for three years by Boko Haram Islamic extremists.
“We’ve always made it clear that we will do everything in our power to ensure the freedom & safe return of our daughters & of all BH (Boko Haram) captives,” Buhari said on his Twitter account.
Photos tweeted by the president show dozens of the freed girls at Buhari’s official residence.
“The president was delighted to receive them and he promised that all that is needed to be done to reintegrate them into the society will be done,” said presidential spokesman Femi Adesina. “He promised that the presidency will personally supervise their rehabilitation. He mentioned that they will continue with their education.
The young women have been handed over to government officials who will supervise their rehabilitation, said Adesina. The schoolgirls will be reunited with their families soon, said the International Committee of the Red Cross, which helped negotiate the girls’ release.
Shortly after meeting the freed schoolgirls Buhari announced that he will be returning to London for medical treatment. Buhari was in Britain earlier this year for more than seven weeks for medical care. In Nigeria Buhari missed three consecutive Cabinet meetings, prompting concerns for his health.
Other Nigerians including some parents of the kidnapped girls gathered in Abuja at the Unity Fountain to celebrate the weekend release.
Parents of the missing girls expressed anxiety over the fate of their daughters.
The Rev. Enoch Mark, whose two daughters have been among the missing, was still waiting word if they were among those freed. He emphasized though that he considered all 82 of the girls to be his daughters “because most of them worship in my church.”
“Three years is not three days,” he said. “I have to be anxious with the intention to see if one of my daughters is among the released ones.”
Some parents did not live long enough to see their daughters released, underscoring the tragedy of the three-year-long saga. And the recovery process is expected to be a long one for the girls, many of whom endured sexual assault during their time in captivity.
“They will face a long and difficult process to rebuild their lives after the indescribable horror and trauma they have suffered at the hands of Boko Haram,” said Pernille Ironside, acting representative of UNICEF Nigeria.
Authorities say 113 schoolgirls remain missing from the group of 276 abducted from their boarding school in April 2014. Girls who escaped early on said some of their classmates had died from illness. Others did not want to come home because they’d been radicalized by their captors, they said.
Human rights advocates also fear some of the girls kidnapped from the Chibok boarding school have been used by Boko Haram to carry out suicide bombings.
Last year, a first group of 21 Chibok girls was freed in October, and they have been in government care in Abuja for medical attention, trauma counseling and rehabilitation. Human rights groups have criticized the decision to keep the girls in custody in Abuja, nearly 900 kilometers (560 miles) from Chibok.
It was not immediately clear whether the newly freed girls would join them.
They should be quickly released to their families and not be subjected to lengthy government detention, Amnesty International’s Nigeria office said, adding that the girls don’t deserve to be put through a “publicity stunt” and deserve privacy.
Five Boko Haram commanders were released in exchange for the freedom of 82 Chibok schoolgirls, a Nigerian government official said Sunday.
The confirmation of the prisoner swap came a day after the young women were liberated. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters on the matter.
Neither the Nigerian president nor Boko Haram, which has links to the Islamic State group, gave details on the exchange.
The young women were flown Sunday by military helicopters from northeastern Nigeria to Abuja.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which along with the Swiss government mediated the Nigerian government’s negotiations with Boko Haram, said Sunday that the girls soon would meet with their families.
Though Boko Haram has abducted thousands of people during its eight-year insurgency that has spilled across Nigeria’s borders, the Chibok mass kidnapping in 2014 horrified the world and brought the extremist group international attention.
The failure of Nigeria’s former government to act quickly to free the girls sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls movement; U.S. first lady Michelle Obama posted a photo with its logo on social media.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign said Sunday it was happy that Nigeria’s government had committed to rescuing the 113 remaining schoolgirls.
“We urge the president and his government to earnestly pursue the release of all our Chibok girls and other abducted citizens of Nigeria,” the group said in a statement.
Buhari late last year announced Boko Haram had been “crushed,” but the group continues to carry out attacks in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries. Its insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
Associated Press writers Haruna Umar in Maiduguri, Nigeria and Sunday Alamba in Abuja, Nigeria contributed to this story.