The tide may have turned against Boko Haram, at least for the moment. Camps in the Sambisa forest – said to be the militants’ last stronghold in Nigeria – have been captured in raids by the Nigerian army in late April and early May. Around 1,000 women and children have been freed in recent days.
Successful operations such as this naturally prompt the question: Who are the women they held captive, and are any of them among the 232 schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014 from their school in the town of Chibok?
So far, none of the freed women or girls has been identified as having been from Government Secondary school in Chibok.
The Nigerian Armed Forces tweets: "FLASH: Troops this afternoon rescued 200 girls & 93 women from #Sambisa Forest. We cannot confirm if the #ChibokGirls are in this group /1"
World Bank Vice President for Africa and former Nigerian Education Minister Obiageli Ezekwesili tells Time Magazine: “Alas it certainly seems they are not Chibok Girls and that is profoundly heart breaking.” Video here.
The Los Angeles Times: “On (April 29), army spokesman Sani Usman told news agencies that those rescued were not the Chibok schoolgirls, but later added it was possible some might be among those freed.”
Premium Times: “In a statement, the Director of Defence Information, Chris Olukolade, said sustained ground operations, following aerial bombardments by the Air Force, had led to the capturing of over 13 camps of the terrorists in the notorious Sambisa forest and liberation of 200 girls and 93 women who are currently undergoing ‘comprehensive profiling.’ Until such comprehensive profiling is done, no one can confirm if they are among the Chibok Girls or not, Mr. Olukolade said.”
Christian Broadcasting Network: “One-hundred and fifty more girls and women were rescued from Boko Haram (on May 1). …[T]he government says none of the girls who were abducted from a school in Chibok were among those rescued.”
Reuters speaks with some of the rescued women and reports: “None of the women interviewed had seen any of the Chibok girls.” One woman tells Reuters that Boko Haram soldiers in the camps "said the Chibok girls were married off this year. Some sold to slavery, then others (militants) each married two or four of the girls."
The Paradigm reports that on May 6, “Troops in the ongoing onslaught to flush out Boko Haram terrorists from the Sambisa forest . . . rescued [an] additional 25 women, children and destroyed seven terrorists’ camps.” None of the 25 are identified as being one of the Chibok victims.
Punch Nigeria: “It is unclear if those rescued include some of the schoolgirls kidnapped a year ago from Chibok town.”
The Paradigm: “The wife of Nigeria’s President-elect [Muhammadu Buhari], Mrs. Aisha Buhari . . . revealed that the release of the Chibok schoolgirls and all the women seized by Boko Haram is one of the immediate priorities of her husband when he assumes office on May 29.”
An unhappy milestone
Emmanuel Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer specializing in Africa issues, told World Watch Monitor that as of late April, the Chibok students “are now victims of the longest running terrorist mass abduction. The prior record, held by the ELN [a terrorist group in Colombia] which hijacked a plane and held passengers captive for 373 days, has now been superseded by the Chibok girls.”
Through all the uncertainty, a few shreds of hope have emerged.
On April 14, The BBC interviewed the Christian parents of two of the kidnapped girls. The father, Pastor Mark, described how his two daughters were taken, how he chased after them, and how since the incident he and his wife have had to continually deal with rumours about their fate.
One rumour had it that his oldest daughter was stoned to death for refusing to deny her faith.
"Even if my daughter has been stoned to death, I am the happiest man as a man of God who has brought up my daughter with that kind of faith," the father told the BBC.
He has since been told this daughter is in fact alive. He continues to pray, fast and hope that he will yet see his children.
Also on April 14, the BBC interviewed a woman who claimed to offer an eyewitness account confirming that at least 50 of the schoolgirls were seen alive in three weeks earlier. She said she saw the girls in the north-eastern Gwoza town before Boko Haram was forced out.
Courtesy: World Watch Monitor
Photo: Some of the hundreds of people, mostly women and children, rescued from Boko Haram camps in Nigeria's Sambisa Forest, in early May 2015.
Photo courtesy: Open Doors International
Publication date: May 11, 2015