AT LEAST one of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has escaped her captors, seven years after her kidnap.
After conflicting reports of her escape, the persecuted-church charity Open Doors said it had confirmed that Hauwa Halima Maigana, one of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014, had managed to escape captivity and was now safe.
“One of the Chibok girls who has escaped was able to speak to her father over the phone, and has been clearly identified,” the charity’s senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in Sub-Saharan Africa, Illia Djadi, said.
The father of the girl told CNN: “She asked me, ‘Is this my daddy? Is this my daddy?’ and she started crying. 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. The whole family is so happy. Our house is full of people who are rejoicing with us.”
Although he suggested to CNN that his daughter had been freed by the Nigerian army, and was being looked after by them, this has been denied by the military.
The Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Lucky Irabor, has said that his troops had freed some people from Boko Haram captivity during recent operations in the Sambisa Forest, a mountainous region in the north-eastern Borno State, which is believed to be where the Islamists keep their captives.
He said, however, that none of the Chibok girls was among those rescued by the army.
Hauwa Halima is believed to be the stepsister of another Chibok girl liberated from Boko Haram in 2016, Maryam Ali Maigana, along with her baby, fathered by a commander of the militants.
A therapist who treated her, Somiari Fubara, told CNN that the two girls were very close, and that Maryam often cried while speaking of her stepsister, who was still in captivity.
The Nigerian schoolgirls’ ordeal began in 2014, when the Islamist group Boko Haram stormed a boarding school in the village of Chibok and kidnapped 276 girls (News, 2 May 2014). The incident sparked international outrage, including a global movement demanding their return under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Over the years, a number of the 276 have been freed: sometimes in exchanges for Boko Haram prisoners (News, 12 May 2017), and sometimes because the girls have managed to escape. More than 100 are still believed to be in captivity, however, and many have been forced to convert to Islam and to marry Boko Haram militants.
Henrietta Blyth, the chief executive of Open Doors UK, which has workers in northern Nigeria, said: “The news of girls escaping from Boko Haram — including the schoolgirl from Chibok — is a ray of hope that others still in captivity may regain their freedom, too.
“The abduction of the Chibok girls seven years ago was a painful illustration of the fact that women are especially vulnerable to persecution in Nigeria because of both their faith and gender.
“Even after escape, their painful journey is normally not yet over — they need to reintegrate into their community and cope with the trauma of their captivity.”
Open Doors figures suggest that 990 Christians were abducted by militant Islamist groups in Nigeria in 2020 alone. The charity said that it was calling on the Nigerian authorities to step up their efforts to protect Christians and others vulnerable to attacks.