Lagos, Nigeria – One of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 was found on Tuesday on the edge of Sambisa Forest, the location that is thought to be the terror group’s stronghold. Although Nigerian military officials and witnesses gave different accounts of how she was freed, all agree that the girl has been reunited with her family after two years as a prisoner.
Other 200 girls remain missing, out of the 276 who were stolen by Boko Haram. The first girl found since the early days of the abduction told her family that six girls had died and that the rest of them were still held by Boko Haram in the forest.
Local vigilant commander, Aboku Gaji, said the girl found Tuesday, identified as Amina Ali, was carrying a baby and was with a man who said he was her husband and the father of the child, as reported by The New York Times.
The man said that he had been taken to Sambisa Forest after being kidnapped by Boko Haram militants from the town of Mubi, according to CNN. The couple married while in captivity and they appear to have escaped from the terror group’s camp in the heart of the forest.
Gaji told CNN that the girl and her companions wandered out about 7 p.m. while he was taking part in a nightly patrol with the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), a group working to fight Boko Haram. He said the girl’s name was Amina Ali Nkeki and he immediately knew she was one of the missing schoolgirls.
The eyewitness noted that they were dirty and in poor physical condition. He told CNN that he and his commander took the girl to her mother’s house in the settlement of Mbalala, where Binta Ali confirmed her daughter’s identity.
Yakubu Nkeki, a distant relative of Ms. Amina Ali, said his wife had been in contact with the girl’s mother and confirmed that they were reunited after two years of terror. Ms. Ali will be taken to the state capital Maiduguri on Thursday, according to Mr. Nkeki, who is the father of another of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
For its part, Nigeria’s army claimed credit by declaring the girl was rescued by army troops and that her name was Falmata Mbalala. Col. Sani Kukasheka, acting director of Army Public Relations, said government troops had rescued the girl and her companions at Baale near Damboa. Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammad backed this version of the story, according to CNN.
However, Lawan Zannah, a spokesman for the association of parents of missing Chibok girls, told the Thompson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday that he first heard of Amina Ali’s rescue from head of the parents association Yabuku Nkeki, who had spoken by phone with a vigilant group in Chibok saying they had found one of the missing teenagers.
Zannah added that Ali was sitting in a military vehicle at the area commander’s residence and that he was only allowed to exchange greetings with her, which is why he could not question her.
The mass abduction triggered a global campaign to help #BringBackOurGirls
Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls during an exam at their boarding school in Chibok in Borno on April 14, 2014. At least 57 managed to escape shortly after their abduction.
The kidnapping of the schoolgirls, most of whom were Christian and probably have been forced to convert to Islam, marked one of the major attacks by Boko Haram and led to a global social media campaign backed by prominent figures such as Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai, the student from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban and survived.
The Bring Back Our Girls campaign was as an attempt to press the Nigerian government to take action to recover the young women. But President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to find the girls although the military has recently gained several territories previously under the control of Boko Haram.
The news of Amina Ali’s reunion with her family brought hope to the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaigners. Oby Ozekwesili was one of the organizers of the first campaign and is now promoting the hashtag ‘#HopeEndures’, telling Twitter users that something as little as a tweet can raise awareness on such a relevant topic as terrorism. Ozekwesili tweeted on Wednesday that 218 girls were still held in the forest and expressed she was hopeful to eventually see them reunited with their families.
However, as President Buhari faces criticism for his inability to recover the girls, some critics of the social media campaigns argue that online work does not change anything if the government does not take serious steps to bring back the young women.
“It is now left for the government to act as quickly as possible and we are calling on international leaders to act”, as told to CNN by Nkeki Mutah, the vice chairman of the Chibok association of Abuja.
Boko Haram has led Nigerians to distrust one another
The terror group, which is affiliated with the Islamic State, has killed about 15,000 people and abducted hundreds of children, men and women in the past six years as it tries to establish an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria. The extremists have burned entire towns and conducted beheadings, rapes, and lootings, among other horrendous violent acts.
The Global Terrorism Index reported last November that Boko Haram ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group in 2014 since it was responsible for as much as 6,644 deaths. Fatalities in hands of these militants increased 317 percent compared to the previous year.
The trauma Nigerians have faced throughout the years of suffering under Boko Haram has caused severe distrust among them, especially towards those who have returned home after spending a long time as prisoners of the militants. In fact, the military said the man who described himself as the husband of Ms. Ali is a suspected Boko Haram fighter, according to a report by The New York Times.
As for civilians, many of them do not even trust the girl out of fear that she might be used by militants to hurt more people. The Islamist insurgents have recently used a large number of women and girls as suicide bombers and hundreds of people have been killed in attacks carried out in schools and markets.
“I will never trust them,” Adamu Isa, a market vendor, told The New York Times. “The government should detain them for the rest of their lives”, he said, referring to anyone who had ever been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Source: The New York Times