One of 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from their boarding school in the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria seven years ago has been identified after escaping.
The 2014 attack, carried out by the increasingly violent terrorist group Boko Haram, shocked the world and sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
According to Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors, she escaped with a number of other captives of the terrorist group and is now safe and in contact with her family. “One of the Chibok girls who has escaped was able to speak to her father over the phone and has been clearly identified,” said Illia Djadi, Open Doors senior analyst on freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking to ABC news Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human rights lawyer who has worked with the victims and their families, said: “Mr Ali Maiyanga's two daughters were part of the few Muslim schoolgirls taken with the majority Christian Chibok girls. Information currently available to us indicates that there are other escapees with the army whom parents are anxiously waiting to identify…We spoke and confirmed from Mr. Ali Maiyanga moments ago that he in fact spoke with his daughter today, who informed him that she along with others were rescued. Her sister who escaped four years ago and is on school break was overjoyed at the news of her sibling's escape."
Boko Haram – a name meaning “western education is forbidden” – has been leading a brutal insurgency against Nigerian Christians for over a decade, and has been explicitly aligned with Islamic State since 2015.
The groups violent attacks on civilians have killed tens of thousands and caused the internal displacement of millions of largely Christian Nigerians. The targeting of schoolgirls reflected the groups dedication to a “purified” Islam that rejects what they perceive as western influences, including the education of women and girls.
The rescue of these girls has raised hopes for the future return of the other kidnapped, with Henrietta Blyth, the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, saying: “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.”
Illia however offered a stark warning, saying that the abduction of girls by Boko Haram “does not begin and end with Chibok”.
He continued: “In the northeast of Nigeria, Boko Haram spreads terror with its systematic raids on predominantly Christian communities with abductions, sexual violence, and roadblock killings.
“Christians have been specifically targeted and disproportionately been affected by this violence. Open Doors data shows that 990 Christians - both men and women - were abducted by militant Islamic groups in Nigeria in the last year. The responses by the government are clearly not enough, since perpetrators of such violence are able to continue attacking Christians, and other Nigerians, with impunity.”