Almost 1,000 days since she was kidnapped with 275 other schoolgirls from school dormitories in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, the 24th girl to be released from captivity has been found.
Rakiya Abubakar Gali was discovered on 5 Jan. by the Army, who were questioning captured Boko Haram militants. She has a six-month-old baby.
The mass abduction on 14 April 2014 eventually generated headlines around the world and fuelled a social-media storm, with the hashtag #bringbackourgirls and campaign group Bring Back our Girls (BBOG). It says 195 are still missing.
Fifty-seven girls escaped shortly after being taken by extreme Islamist militants Boko Haram, while others have recently found freedom.
17 May 2016: Amina Ali Nkeki, 19, became the first of the 219 missing girls to be found alive when she was discovered by vigilantes in the Sambisa Forest, close to the border with Cameroon. (Two days later, Nigeria’s Army said it had rescued a second girl, Serah Luka, believed to be the daughter of a pastor, though she was later found not to have been among the Chibok girls.)
13 Oct. 2016: 21 girls were released by Boko Haram following negotiations with the government.
5 Nov. 2016: Another girl was discovered in Pulka in northern Borno State. Maryam Ali Maiyanga was found by soldiers screening escapees from Boko Haram’s base in the Sambisa forest. She was carrying a 10-month-old baby boy. According to BBOG, Maryam was Number 198 on its register of kidnapped girls; she comes from Askira Uba, and was abducted along with her twin – who is yet to return.
According to the government, a splinter group of Boko Haram has been willing to negotiate the release of 83 more girls. CNN has reported that the other 114 girls are dead, or, reportedly, don’t want to leave their kidnappers because they are now married or have been radicalised.
The 21 met President Muhammadu Buhari days after their release, on 19 October. They thanked him personally for his part in their release. Since then, they’ve been undergoing intense psychological evaluations at a medical facility in the capital, Abuja.
Most of the 276 kidnapped girls came from Christian families; 201 of them are members of the Ekeklesiya Yan’uwa Nigeria (EYN) Church. (The 21 were reunited with their families during a thanksgiving service led by the EYN Church in Abuja.)
Home to Chibok for Christmas
There has been some criticism that the freed girls are being too closely “protected” by the government, keeping them away from their home community and depriving them of the vital therapeutic benefits of close family companionship in the months since their re-appearance from the horrific conditions of the Boko Haram camps.
However, Yakubu Nkeki, Chairman of the Chibok Abducted Girls’ Parents group told World Watch Monitor the 21 released girls were taken to Chibok to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with their parents, staying almost four days.
Initially, the parents, who came from various villages around Chibok, expected to take their girls home, but the military advised that they should be kept in Chibok town – in one place – for security reasons, said Nkeki.
“At the beginning I wanted to resist that alternative,” he said. “But I understand that the security issues are genuine. Boko Haram’s militants are still active in the surrounding villages – some of the parents still sleep out in the bush overnight for fear of attacks. So I called the attention of the parents so that the military could explain the security concerns and they all agreed.”
Nevertheless, the girls stayed with their parents in Chibok, and others could meet them freely.
Nkeki described the atmosphere when the parents met the girls as “full of emotions”, with parents and girls hugging each other, and much singing and clapping.
“On Christmas Day, as security advised us not to move the girls to the EYN congregation, we invited the parents and one pastor, the CAN Chairman of Chibok, to come and pray with them instead. It was a special Christmas service. We bought two rams and more than 30 chickens to make a delicious meal for the girls and their parents,” he said.
On 26 Dec, the Governor of Borno State went to Chibok to see the girls, and apparently endorsed the plan for the parents to stay with their daughters in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, until 8 January when the girls are due to return to Abuja.
Nkeki added: “The girls are really happy with their parents. In general, the authorities are taking good care of us. And the girls too. Even in Abuja, I’ve been several times to where they were kept. They look very happy. Actually they’re eager to go back to Abuja because the government has promised they will study in various schools in January. The girls said that they may have a great future with their studies. For now, I am waiting to go back to Abuja and visit those schools.”
Nkeki also countered the fears expressed by some campaigners that the girls have abandoned their Christian belief and background. “Seriously, the girls are free to pray and worship. You can hear them singing. They are free to worship at any time. Since most are Christians, every day – with their parents – they have morning and evening devotional times,” he said.
1,000 Days anniversary events
To mark the 1,000-day anniversary on Sunday 8 January, BringBackOurGirls has planned a few events:
In Nigeria, the campaign group plans to march daily from Sun 8 to Sat 14 Jan, to the entrance of Aso Villa (the presidential palace), to urge President Mahammadu Buhari to rescue the 195 girls so far unaccounted for.
In the US: on 7 January, there will be a discussion of “The Chibok Girls: The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria”, led by Nigerian-born scholar and author Helon Habila, Associate Professor at US’s George Mason University. His book, based on interviews with three survivors and their families, along with security personnel, NGO workers, and other residents of Chibok, gives insight into the conditions that led to Boko Haram’s rise and that continue to fuel northern Nigeria’s long religious and ethnic clashes. On 8 Jan, there will be a Gathering at the White House Side Park, in Washington DC, in solidarity with the people of Nigeria.