The Nigerian government announced last night that it has agreed a deal with the militant group Boko Haram for the release of more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
Their release is part of a ceasefire deal agreed between the militants and the Nigerian authorities at three days of secret talks, reportedly held in Saudi Arabia and mediated by Chad.
Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the head of Nigeria’s military forces, announced last night: “I wish to inform this audience that a ceasefire agreement has been concluded.”
Mike Omeri, a government official, confirmed that the deal included the release of the girls and other people held prisoner by the group. Boko Haram has, he said, given them assurances “that the schoolgirls and all other people in their captivity are all alive and well”.
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
In pictures: Nigeria kidnapped schoolgirls
A total of 276 girls were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok, in Borno state, which has a sizeable Christian community. Some 223 are still missing
One of the kidnapped girls looks into a camera
One of the missing girls talking to the camera
The missing Nigerian schoolgirls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location. Boko Haram alleging they had converted them to Islam
Girls wearing the full-length hijab holding a flag reading "There is no god, but Allah" and "Mohammed is Allah's prophet"
A man claiming to be the leader of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau
Abubakar Shekau speaks on the video
Girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying are filmed by an unidentified man (R) in an undisclosed rural location
People carry signs as they attend a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok in Lagos
A protester demonstrates against the kidnapping of school girls in Nigeria, outside the Nigerian Embassy in London
Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Prime Minister David Cameron appearing on the BBC1 current affairs programme
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
Girls holding heart shaped banners in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil in Los Angeles
14/19 South Africa
South Africans protest in solidarity against the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram and what protesters said was the failure of the Nigerian government and international community to rescue them, during a march to the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg
Karilyn Coates (10) joins others in a candlelight vigil for the more than 300 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, at All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs
Mothers of the missing Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists gather to receive informations from officials. Nigeria's president said that Boko Haram's mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls would mark a turning point in the battle against the Islamists, as world powers joined the search to rescue the hostages
Former Nigerian Education Minister and Vice-President of the World Bank's Africa division (3rd L) Obiageli Ezekwesilieze speaks as she leads a march of Nigeria women and mothers of the kidnapped girls of Chibok, calling for their freedom in Abuja
18/19 Bring Back Our Girls
Kelly Hoppen tweeted: 'Please make sure you do this, we must stand together and not forget them'
19/19 Bring Back Our Girls
E.L. Rock Star tweeted: 'Join The Movement'
Last night it was not clear what concessions had been made on behalf of the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to secure the release of the Chibok schoolgirls. Marshal Badeh is already reported to have issued an order to his forces to “comply with the ceasefire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram in all theatres of operations”.
Danladi Ahmadu, the self-proclaimed “secretary-general” of Boko Haram, which has wreaked five years of havoc in Nigeria, told the Voice of America website that a ceasefire agreement had been reached.
A Nigerian presidential aide, Hassan Tukur, was quoted by the BBC as saying Boko Haram had announced a unilateral ceasefire and the government had responded. “They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them,” he said. “I am cautiously optimistic.”
Both domestically and internationally, President Jonathan has been pilloried for his sluggish response to the kidnapping, and for his seeming inability to quell the violence from the Islamist militants who control swathes of Nigeria’s north-east.
This week a group of British politicians and a general called for the UK to help Nigeria fight the militants.
Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in its attempt to create an Islamic caliphate. It has indiscriminately targeted civilians, bombing markets, bus stations, government buildings, churches and even mosques.
A senior Nigerian security source confirmed the existence of the talks, but told Reuters it was unclear whether the negotiations were taking place between Boko Haram’s self-proclaimed leader, Abubakar Shekau, or other factions within the group. “Commitment among parts of Boko Haram and the military does appear to be genuine. It is worth taking seriously,” the source said.
Several rounds of negotiations with Boko Haram have been attempted in recent years but they have never achieved a peace deal, partly because the group has so many different factions. “There are some talks but it depends on the buy-in of the whole group. I would be surprised if Shekau had suddenly changed his mind and is ready for a ceasefire,” the source added.
The Nigerian military said Shekau was killed in August 2013. But earlier this month a video was released purportedly showing Shekau dismissing rumours of his demise.
Even as the supposed ceasefire emerged last night, it was claimed that eight Cameroon soldiers and 107 Boko Haram militants had been killed in fierce fighting in the far north of Cameroon yesterday.