WARRI, Nigeria — Amina Ali, one of the over 200 girls abducted from a boarding school in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State by Boko Haram militants over two years ago, surprisingly reappeared on Tuesday and has reunited with her family, a leader of the vigilante group that found her told The Daily Beast.
The 19-year-old girl is the first of the 219 schoolgirls to be recovered since militants invaded and set ablaze the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on April 14, 2014, and captured close to 300 girls from their dormitory while they prepared for their science exams. A number of the kidnapped girls managed to escape days after, but 219 remained in Boko Haram custody for over two years.
Amina who was found with a baby and accompanied by a man who claimed to be married to her appeared to have wandered out of a forest, and then came in contact with men from the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a group of loosely organized vigilantes assisting the Nigerian military fight Boko Haram.
They were rescued in Balle, a village in Damboa Local Government Area in Borno State, not very far from Chibok, where Amina and her schoolmates were kidnapped.
“She was seen moving about sluggishly, apparently in search of firewood.” Mo Yusuf, a member of the CJTF vigilante group involved in the rescue, told The Daily Beast. “She identified herself as one of the abducted Chibok girls and told the vigilantes about her husband and her baby, and then led the boys to their location.”
The Nigerian army issued a statement on Wednesday, confirming the rescue of Amina and the arrest of a “suspected Boko Haram terrorist, Mohammed Hayatu, who claimed to be her husband.” The army’s account of the rescue was however lacking in details, but it stated that the girl was rescued by government troops working with the CJTF.
“Troops of 25 Brigade Damboa in conjunction with Civilian JTF deployed in one of the blocking positions at Baale, near Damboa rescued one Miss Amina Ali,” the statement said.
The army added that Amina was nursing a 4-month-old baby girl who was named Safiya, and that “both the suspected Boko Haram terrorist and the nursing mother have been taken to Maiduguri for further medical attention and screening.”
But Bashir Abass, the leader of the CJTF biggest command unit known as the Sector 2, where most of the vigilantes take their instructions from, told The Daily Beast that the army was not directly involved in the rescue of the Chibok girl but took custody of her after she was found.
“The vigilantes were carrying out their usual patrol when they found the girl trying to rest after wandering about for long,” he said. “Our men interrogated her and when they found out who she was, they immediately took her to the military and handed her over.”
A number of Boko Haram abductees have been rescued in recent times by the military and the CJTF while in search for food to eat.
Yusuf, whose CJTF group has in the past been credited with pushing Boko Haram out of the metropolitan center of Maiduguri, its birthplace, said the girl informed her rescuers that she and Hayatu sneaked out of the Sambisa forest camp to Balle where they were found because the baby was becoming ill and starving as a result of the blocking of the Boko Haram’s food supply routes by the Nigerian military.
Boko Haram militants have found it increasingly difficult to get food as Nigerian forces have blocked major routes used by agents in commercial towns to supply food to the jihadists in Sambisa forest. Large-scale drought in areas in the northeast has seriously affected harvest and this has led to a severe food shortage in the region. Lack of food in the region is really telling on the militants.
In recent weeks, a number of militants along with women and children held captive have on their own surrendered to Nigerian military forces after facing severe hunger in the forest; it’s the same situation Amina and her baby faced in Sambisa.
“Hunger led them out of Sambisa,” Yusuf said. “The girl feared things would get worse. She thought her baby was going to die.”
Nigerian officials conducted a medical examination on Amina and her baby on Wednesday before handing them over to the governor of Borno state who will lead both mother and child to visit President Muhammadu Buhari in the capital, Abuja, on Thursday.
News of Amina’s rescue has given hope to the families of the remaining girls yet to be found. About 218 girls are still missing. The just-found girl may possibly provide a clue on the whereabouts of her missing colleagues. Her rescuers said she informed them that about six of the Chibok girls have died in captivity and the others still are being held in Sambisa forest.
The kidnapping of the schoolgirls in 2014, grabbed global attention and brought huge focus to the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria. A number of global figures including U.S. first lady Michelle Obama added their voices to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign which trended for weeks on Twitter.
Last month, CNN released a video appearing to show some of the abducted schoolgirls alive. Many of the girls in the video were identified by their parents. The video, which was allegedly released on Christmas day last year, showed the girls saying they wanted to reunite with their families.
Efforts by the Nigerian military to rescue the Chibok girls have so far failed. A number of the mostly Christian girls have been forced to convert to Islam, and there have been reports especially in the media that the girls have been brainwashed and forced to begin fighting for Boko Haram, with many carrying out public beatings and even killings on the group’s behalf.
For months last year, Boko Haram, which is seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, controlled a part of the country as large as Belgium. But a severe military campaign by Nigerian forces and its neighbors chased them from much of the territory they once held and dealt a severe blow on their capability. The biggest asset the militants have in their possession are the now famous Chibok girls. But the situation may no longer be the case soon.
“Very soon, the girls will return,” Abass, whose colleagues in the CJTF have intensified their search for the missing schoolgirls since after Amina’s rescue, said. “We are having intelligence on their whereabouts and we will soon find them.”