Hundreds of people abducted by Islamist militant group Boko Haram are reportedly free this week, including at least two of the 112 still-missing Nigerian school girls kidnapped in April, 2014.
Boko Haram’s attack on a girls’ finishing school in the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok almost seven years ago sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
The Chibok girl who was freed, Hauwa Halima Maigana, spoke with her father on the phone.
“She asked me, ‘Is this my daddy? Is this my daddy,’ and she started crying,” he told CNN. “The crying was [so] much and I couldn’t hear her very well. I was crying too. I never expected to hear from her again.”
Hauwa – one of the few girls kidnapped who is a Muslim – was taken along with her step-sister, who was rescued with a baby from a Boko Haram commander in 2016.
To date, the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria and border countries – Niger, Cameroon and Chad – has claimed the lives of thousands, including two literacy facilitators from the Bible Society of Cameroon’s Alpha Program. They were killed late last year.
Kidnappings by Boko Haram during the same time period have numbered more than 250,000.
This year, Nigeria entered the top 10 of Open Doors 2021 World Watch List – the annual global rankings of countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Nigeria is ranked number nine.
Another parent of one of the Chibok girls, Malam Madu Mutta, confirmed his daughter was also free. He said she and others had escaped following attacks by the Nigerian military on Boko Haram hideouts.
Speaking to Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper, he said that “parents of the escaped girls, including Chibok residents, were thrown into jubilation, lauding the Army over yesterday’s counter-terrorism operations in forest”.
Lawal Zannah, secretary of the Chibok Parents Association (whose daughter was among those abducted), also reported the news that some of the girls had escaped but the exact number had not yet been ascertained.
A military source reportedly told Nigerian news outlet The Cable that the abductees were freed last Thursday. This followed a series of military operations in the Sambisa Forest, northeast Nigeria.
“For a month now, troops have been bombarding the Sambisa forest and Boko Haram hideouts, and many civilians are being rescued,” the source said. “When the enemies are neutralised, those they have captured regain freedom.”
The same source told The Cable that there may be other Chibok girl among those rescued. “There are many other girls, we are still trying to find out where they were stolen from,” they said. This was reinforced by other Sahara Reporters who said the group is not only Chibok girls: “They are made up of a variety of women abducted by Boko Haram terrorists.”
Some 276 female school students were abducted overnight on 14 April, 2014, when Boko Haram militants stormed the Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria.
Dozens of girls escaped almost immediately, and another girl was found in May, 2016, having walked out of the forest and asked for help.
Following negotiations in 2016, Boko Haram released 21 girls to the Nigerian government. Then 82 more were freed in a prisoner swap between the terrorist group and the government in the capital city of Abuja in 2017. But 112 girls have remained missing for almost seven years.