First missing Chibok girl found near Sambisa Forest
The first of more than 200 schoolgirls missing for over two years after they were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Chibok, Borno State has been found.
The girl whose name was given as Amina Ali was found in the Kulakeita area, near Sambisa Forest, Borno State in the company of her Boko Haram husband, and was immediately rescued by vigilantes who handed her over to Nigerian troops in Damboa.
According to reports, she was discovered by civilian vigilantes assisting the military and brought back to her home town of Mbalala, near Chibok.
But Reuters reports that Lawan Zannah, secretary of an association of parents of the missing girls, said teenager Amina Ali was found on Tuesday near the Sambisa forest close to the border with Cameroon.
“She was carrying a baby but I do not know whether it is a boy or girl,” Zannah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Chibok.
Hoses Tsambido, chairman of the Chibok Community in the capital Abuja, confirmed the discovery but did not provide details.
“It is true that one of the Chibok girls has been found and rescued,” he told Reuters. “Her name is Amina Ali Darsha. She was found yesterday in an area of Kulakasha at the fringes of Sambisa forest. Right now she is with the military in Damboa.”
Ali was sitting in a military vehicle at the area commander’s residence in Chibok, Zannah said. He was not allowed to question her beyond exchanging greetings in their local language, Kibaku, he added.
Boko Haram militants captured a total of 276 girls in a raid on their school in Chibok in April 2014. Dozens of them escaped in the initial melee but more than 200 remained unaccounted for. Three mothers of abductees said they recognised their daughters in a video released in April.
The insurgents have killed an estimated 15,000 people and kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children in their six-year campaign to carve out a mediaeval Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.
Zannah said he had first heard of Ali’s rescue from Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of the parents association, who had received a call from members of a vigilante group in Chibok saying they had found one of the missing girls.
“She met her parents, who recognised their daughter before she was taken to the military base in Damboa,” Ayuba Alamson Chibok, a community leader in Chibok, told AFP. “Her father's name is Ali and the girl's name is Amina. I know the family very well because I have worked with them, being a spokesman for the families of the Chibok girls.” Yakubu Nkeki, head of the Abducted Chibok Girls Parents' group, also confirmed her name and said she was 17 when she was abducted.
He added, “She's the daughter of my neighbour… They brought her to my house.” Tsambido Hosea Abana, a Chibok community leader in the capital, Abuja, from the BringBackOurGirls pressure group, also gave an identical account.
Borno state governor Kashim Shettima told reporters Ali was on her way to the state capital, Maiduguri.
She had told family there were other kidnapped girls in the forest, but “six were already dead.”
Other abducted women rescued from the former game reserve over the last year have reported seeing some of the Chibok girls. Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman confirmed the girl's rescue, although he gave a different name — Falmata Mbalala — and said she was found by troops in Baale, near Damboa.
Manaseh Allan, a Chibok youth leader, said it was not uncommon for children in the town to use different names at home and at school. The leader of the BringBackOurGirls group in Abuja, former education minister Oby Ezekwesili, tweeted: “It is OFFICIAL. OUR #ChibokGirlAminaAli of Mbalala village is BACK!!!!!!! “#218ShallBeBack because #HopeEndures… Thanks #CivilianJTF and @HQNigerianArmy.”
The group has mounted daily vigils in the capital since the abduction calling for the release of the schoolgirls and hundreds of other hostages.
Boko Haram seized 276 students from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on the night of April 14, 2014. Fifty-seven managed to escape in the immediate aftermath. The abduction sparked outrage worldwide and brought global attention to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed at least 20,000 people and made more than 2.6 million homeless since 2009.
Nothing had been heard from the 219 still held captive since a video published by the Islamists in May 2014, until an apparent “proof of life” message was sent to the Nigerian government earlier this year. Fifteen of the girls, wearing black hijabs, were seen in the video, which was purportedly shot on December 25, Christmas Day, last year. But despite the identities of the girls being confirmed by mothers and a classmate, the government said it was cautious about raising hopes of their release.
There have been previous claims of talks with Boko Haram, whose leader Abubakar Shekau has said he would release the hostages if Islamist fighters held in Nigerian custody were released. But the talks appear to have been with factions of the group, without the approval of the high command. The video gave weight to theories the girls were split up after the abduction and were being held in separate locations, complicating any possible talks or a rescue bid.
The girls were taken as Boko Haram captured swathes of territory in northeastern states in 2014. But the insurgents have been pushed out by a military fight-back in the last 15 months. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, who has said Boko Haram is “technically” defeated, has said success in the campaign would be measured on the return of the Chibok girls and other abductees.”
The rescue will give a boost to President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who had made crushing the Boko Haram insurgency a central pillar of his campaign for the leadership of Africa’s most populous nation.