The first schoolgirl abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, more than two years ago has been found, the military and activists said Wednesday, raising hopes for the release of 218 others still being held.
Amina Ali was discovered on Tuesday in the Sambisa Forest area of Borno state by civilian vigilantes assisting the military and brought back to her home town of Mbalala, near Chibok.
“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.
– Forest enclave –
All three men said the teenager appeared to have given birth while in captivity while Abana said she had told family there were other kidnapped girls in the forest, but “six were already dead.”
The Sambisa Forest has long been known to contain Boko Haram camps. 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.
– Previous sightings –
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.
– Prisoner swap –
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.