Kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirls are back with their families. This is how their return happened.
As the dust settled on rusty roofs and withering trees, a number of the schoolgirls who were abducted from their hostel on February 19, 2018, clambered out of the trucks and into the dry Dapchi air; heaving palpable sighs of relief.
And then the trucks sped out of Dapchi with the same rage with which they had come.
Bashir Manzo, who heads a parents' support group in Dapchi, recalls the events of a dizzying morning in the northeast.
"The girls have been brought back. They were brought in nine vehicles and dropped outside the school at about 8:00 am (0700 GMT).
"I have the list of the missing girls with me, so I am now heading to the school to take a roll call of the returned girls to determine if any of them is still missing.
"These girls were not accompanied by any security personnel. Their abductors brought them, dropped them outside the school and left, without talking to anyone.
"We will get to know more details from the girls about their predicament while in captivity."
Initial reports suggested that 105 of the 110 schoolgirls had been released with five not making it out of Boko Haram custody alive.
But information minister Lai Mohammed said 76 girls were returned.
At the time of this report, a head-count to ascertain just how many girls have been released, was still ongoing.
“The directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to all security agencies to do everything possible to secure the release of the Dapchi schoolgirls who were abducted, has yielded fruits, with the confirmed release of 76 of the 110 abducted students in the early hours of Wednesday”, Mohammed said in a statement sent to Pulse.
Alhaji Deri, whose daughter was among those kidnapped, told AFP in a phone conversation that "we are here in the school with the girls."
Mohammed said the release was "unconditional". The Nigerian presidency says no ransom was paid.
However, President Buhari had announced that he was open to negotiating with the captors of the schoolgirls if that was what it would take to bring them home to their grieving parents.
Reports reaching the Pulse news desk say the nation’s intelligence agencies like the Department of State Services (DSS) were locked in talks with the terrorists over the Dapchi schoolgirls, as Buhari read his security chiefs the riot act.
“We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive,” Buhari had told former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was in Abuja for an official visit on March 12, 2018.
“Nigeria prefers to have schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok and Dapchi back alive, and that is why it has chosen negotiation, rather than a military option,” a statement issued by the president’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, read afterward.
According to Mohammed; "For the release to work, the government had a clear understanding that violence and confrontation would not be the way out as it could endanger the lives of the girls, hence a non-violent approach was the preferred option.
''Within the period when the girls were being brought back, operational pause was observed in certain areas to ensure free passage and also that lives were not lost."
Mohammed said the girls “were released around 3 a.m. through back-channel efforts and with the help of some friends of the country”.
“It was unconditional”, he added.
“The 76 are those who have been documented so far. The release of the other abducted students is ongoing”, Mohammed said.
The kidnap of the Dapchi schoolgirls evoked painful memories of a similar incident in Chibok on April 14, 2014.
Over 164 Chibok girls have thus far returned home following negotiations between the federal government and the terrorists; with 112 still in Boko Haram custody.
It is understood that the Abu Mus'ab al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram was behind the Dapchi abduction.
In August 2015, the Islamic State (IS) publicly backed Barnawi as leader of Boko Haram, or Islamic State West Africa Province, over Abubakar Shekau.
The Chibok abduction was carried out by the Shekau faction.
Shekau’s tactics of abducting schoolgirls and subjecting them to inhumane treatment was frowned at by IS, security analysts have said.
Shekau has also been criticized by al-Barnawi Boko Haram faction for his crude techniques and indiscriminate suicide bomb attacks in Nigeria's war-torn northeast region.