Joy as 21 freed Chibok schoolgirls are reunited with their families

Girls released by Boko Haram meet their families for first time since April 2014

chibok

One of the kidnapped girls celebrates with family members during a church service in Abuja | Photo: PA Images

Twenty-one Nigerian schoolgirls who had been abducted by Boko Haram have been reunited with their families.

The girls were among 276 female students kidnapped by the Islamist militant group from their school in the town of Chibok in April 2014.

They were handed over to the government on Thursday morning, following an international campaign for their release.

One of the kidnapped girls embraces a relative | Photo: PA Images

The girls' relieved parents are reported to have travelled from Chibok to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, for a homecoming ceremony on Sunday.

The AP news agency quoted one mother, Raha Emmanuel, as saying: "I never expected I will see my daughter again and I pray that those girls still left behind, that God will bring them out safely the way our own daughter came out alive."

Some 197 of the kidnapped girls are still missing, with some believed to have died in captivity. Others escaped shortly after their abduction by jumping off trucks.

Hawa Abana, mother of freed Chibok schoolgirl Blessing Abana, smiles as she looks at news coverage | Photo: PA Images

The release came following negotiations between Boko Haram and Nigerian authorities, brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.

The government has since denied reports that it paid a ransom worth millions of dollars as part of the agreement.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the minister for information and culture, told reporters on Friday that no money was handed over to militants. 

Other reports, citing defence officials, said four Boko Haram prisoners were swapped for the girls.

This claim has also been rejected by Nigerian authorities. 

A newspaper vendor sells newspapers reporting on some of the girls' release | Photo: PA Images