An African-American billionaire is sponsoring the education of 24 girls from Chibok in northern Nigeria, including the 21 girls who were released from captivity by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group, in October.

Robert Smith, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. (Courtesy Photo)

Malam Garba Shehu, senior special assistant on the media to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, confirmed that Robert Smith, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, is underwriting the cost of the girls’ matriculation at the prestigious American University of Nigeria, according to the News Agency of Nigeria. The scholarships include the costs for tuition, accommodations, food and other expenses. The annual cost of attending the institution ranges from $5,000 to $10,000, Forbes magazine estimated.

“Smith has offered to pay for the education of the 21 released through negotiations and is offering to take responsibility for all the others who will hopefully be eventually set free,’’ Shehu told Forbes.

The April 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram extremists drew international attention. As recently as Jan. 5, Nigerian soldiers reported finding one of the schoolgirls wandering in the forest near the insurgents’ stronghold. It is believed that more than 200 are still in captivity.

Smith spent several years at Goldman Sachs before founding his own private equity firm, which manages over $26 billion in capital investments.

An inventor who holds two U.S. and two European patents, Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a masters degree in business administration from Columbia Business School.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO