The Nigerian terrorist outfit Boko Haram has offered the release over 200 kidnapped schoolgirls who were abducted from a boarding school over a 14 months ago in exchange for the release of multiple Boko Haram militant leaders who are being held by the Nigerian government.
A human rights activist who is close to the negotiations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that the terrorist group's renewed offer includes only the release of the 200-plus girls who were kidnapped from a school in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok in the early hours of April 15, 2014.
Although the militant group kidnapped a total of 276 girls, some managed to escape and an estimated 219 girls remain detained by the Nigerian ISIS affiliate. The girls are believed to have been forced into marriages with Boko Haram fighters or trained to become suicide bombers.
International human rights lawyer Nina Shea, the director of the U.S.-based Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, told The Christian Post on Thursday that the Nigerian government should jump on this opportunity to secure the girls' freedom.
"Governments regularly engage in prisoner exchanges with their enemies, including the U.S. government as we saw in the recent Bowe Bergdahl case," Shea explained. "The Chibok schoolgirls are totally innocent and their release should be pursued, including by negotiated prisoner exchanges."
Although 219 girls are believed to still be held by Boko Haram, Shea said there is enough reason to believe that a few of those girls are likely dead.
"I have spoken to several of the Chibok girls who escaped in the first two days and would not be surprised if not all the missing Chibok schoolgirls have survived their ordeal," Shea said. "Some serious observers suspect that some of the girls are the female suicide bombers that have become common over the past year. Some of the girls have been forcibly married, according to Boko Haram leaders, and thus have been abused as sex slaves."
"These girls, most of whom are Christian, have borne unspeakable persecution and every possibility should be pursued to rescue them," she added.
The girls' kidnapping sparked an international outcry that cultivated into the hashtag movement #BringBackOurGilrs and criticism toward the Nigerian government for not doing enough to free the girls.
AP reports that Boko Haram's offer reboots negotiations that occurred last year between the group and former President Goodluck Jonathan that would have secured the release of the 219 schoolgirls in exchange for 16 Boko Haram militants detained by the government.
The AP was also told by Fred Eno, a Nigerian who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for over a year, that "another window of opportunity" has opened. He added that since President Muhammadu Buhari took office just five weeks ago, there is now a "clean slate" for the negotiations, which previously fell through under Jonathan's administration.
Eno asserted that as Boko Haram's violence in the last nine days has lead to over 350 deaths, the increase in violence is consistent with the group's attempts to gain negotiating leverage.
Presidential advisor Femi Adesina said last Saturday that the government is open to continued negotiations with the terrorist group that has caused widespread havoc in the northeastern part of the country.
"Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table," Adesina told AP.
In March, Boko Haram also kidnapped over 400 women and children from the northern Nigerian town of Damasak days after a mass grave filled with slit-throat victims was found under a bridge in the town.
An Amnesty International report released in April states that Boko Haram has kidnapped over 2,000 women and children.